30 December 2007

The Fall & Rise of Many

What Christ born, destined to die? Or was He destined to live? In short, why was He born? That question sets the stage for today’s Mass. We shall hear St. Paul declare that “God sent his Son, made of a woman…that He might redeem them who were under the law.” (Epistle) Earlier in the same epistle, the holy Apostle had indicated how Christ would redeem those under the law: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written: Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” (Gal 3.13) No doubt, it is this self-chosen destiny to suffer death in our flesh that St Simeon had in mind when he flatly decreed that the holy Child in his arms was “set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted.” (Gospel)

But notice three things. First, the Lord’s destiny toward death is described in the softest terms. He is “set for the fall”—which indicates (as St Simeon goes on to say) that He also will rise. Furthermore, the words “fall” and “resurrection” evoke the opposite of what usually happens to famous men, who rise to greatness only to fall in shame or death. Second, Our Lord’s fall is merely His penultimate destiny. His ultimate destiny is the “resurrection of many in Israel.” In other words, His death is not the end but merely a means toward raising up those who have fallen, and restoring those who are downcast. Third, the Lord’s destiny is our destiny as well. For He is not simply destined for His own fall and resurrection, but for the fall and resurrection of many. In other words, those united to Him will both fall and rise with Him.

Our Lord’s fall, His resurrection, and our being caught up in His falling and rising—these three themes govern today’s Mass. That they may be faithfully appropriated by us so that we rise with Christ, we urge Our Father to regular our actions according to His divine will.


Brian P Westgate said...

Doesn't the Gospel say that he will be the falling and rising of many in Israel? In other words, the Jews will reject Him, but the Gentiles will believe on His Name.

Fr John W Fenton said...

Hi Brian,

You are quite correct that St Simeon said that the Christ Child "is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel" (Douay-Rheims; KJV). However, I'm not sure that it is necessary to ascribe "fall" exclusively to the Jews and "resurrection" exclusively to the Gentiles. Rather, Acts 2 seems to indicate that "resurrection" may refer to Jews as well as Gentiles; and that "fall" refers to unbelieving Jews, and not all Jews generally.

That is how Amphilochius sees it. (ACC) Or, as St Gregory Nyssa says, "The fall therefore is to them who are offended with the meanness of His Coming in the flesh; the rising again to those who acknowledge the steadfastness of the Divine purpose." (Aquinas, Catena)

Or have I misunderstood your question?