The Mass of Christ
MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 26, 2013 - 12:00am

This column is mainly for Roman Catholics, who are supposed to believe in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (available in

What, exactly, are Roman Catholics supposed to believe?

According to the Catechism (sections 525-526), only this: “Jesus was born in a humble stable, into a poor family. Simple shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. In this poverty heaven’s glory was made manifest. … To become a child in relation to God is the condition of entering the kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little. Even more: to become children of God, we must be born from above or born of God. Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this marvelous exchange.”

That is all that Roman Catholics are asked to believe. Nothing else.

No one, whether Roman Catholic or not, is asked to believe that Jesus was born on Christmas Day. How could the shepherds have witnessed his birth in December, when they were not out in the field but in their own homes, keeping away from the winter cold?

No one, whether Roman Catholic or not, is asked to believe that there were three kings in the humble stable. The Catechism (section 528) itself says that the Magi or wise men (not kings, but scholars or priests or just intelligent people) came “to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews [to show] that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations.” Did we read that right? The Catholic Church says that the Magi went to Jerusalem, not to Bethlehem.

Was Jesus born in Bethlehem? The Catechism does not say so.

Was there a big star that lit the way of the shepherds? The Catechism does not say so.

Did angels come down from heaven singing Alleluia? The Catechism does not say so.

In fact, most of the customs and traditions we now associate with Christmas are not even Christian.

Gift-giving is not part of Christmas. The Magi did not come bearing gifts. If there were indeed three kings bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the family of Jesus would not have been poor! Imagine having gold in a place like Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would have been the equivalent of today’s millionaires.

Mary and Joseph were not turned away from any inns or homes. The Catechism does not even say that they were not in their own place. They were a poor family, which meant that their home might well have been a stable. Our own homeless would love being in a stable instead of being under a bridge or lying on a sidewalk. If Jesus were to be born today, he would likely be born on a sidewalk to a woman begging for alms. That would be more in the spirit of the Catholic faith.

There was no Christmas tree in the stable. It is well known that, long before Jesus was born, people brought in green things into their homes during winter. There were all kinds of feasts associated with this custom, such as the Roman Saturnalia (in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture) and the tradition of the Druids (who thought that green branches kept away evil spirits).

Germans recall that it was Martin Luther who started decorating a tree for Christmas Day. This story, if true, would then make Roman Catholics Lutherans!

The first commercial Christmas trees were sold only in 1851 in New York City. As in many things we think are universal, the Christmas tree is an American commercial export.

The Roman Catholic Church even used to frown on celebrating Christmas. Catholic Online ( recalls that “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen … asserts that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints celebrate their birthday; Arnobius can still ridicule the birthdays of the gods.”

Jaime Bulatao, S.J., coined the term “split-level Christianity” to refer to the kind of Catholic religion that Filipinos practise. There is no better example of how Filipino Catholics view their religion irreverently than the way Christmas is celebrated in the Philippines. Instead of a solemn feast where the faithful should meditate on how they are born from above, Christmas has become a nightmare for sales clerks and waiters, a drain on the pockets of parents and godparents, a game of pretending to believe in Santa Claus for digitally-sophisticated children, and a test of patience for drivers and passengers.

I will not say, “Bah! Humbug,” but I do want to remind not just Roman Catholics but all Filipino readers of this column that there is a lot more to Christmas than eating lechon, giving or getting gifts, and staying up for a midnight meal.

Merry Christmas to us all, and as Dickens puts it in the mouth of Tiny Tim, “God bless us every one!”



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