If you attended Mass on Christmas Eve, you may have heard the “Christmas proclamation.”
This is a beautiful, poetic announcement of the birth of Christ.
It says when Jesus was born, dating it from nine different events.
But the ways that they dated events in the ancient world are different than the ones we use today.
Here’s how you can understand the Christmas proclamation when you hear it read . . .
About the Christmas Proclamation
Scott Richert notes:
This Proclamation of the Birth of Christ comes from the Roman Martyrology, the official listing of the saints celebrated by the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Traditionally, it has been read on Christmas Eve, before the celebration of Midnight Mass. It situates the Nativity of Christ within the context of salvation history, making reference not only to biblical events but also to the Greek and Roman worlds. The coming of Christ at Christmas, then, is seen as the summit of both sacred and secular history.
In the 1980’s, Pope John Paul II restored the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ to the papal celebration of Midnight Mass. (It had been removed during the reform of the liturgy.) Many parishes have followed the Holy Father’s lead [SOURCE].
The rubrics for the Christmas proclamation state:
The announcement of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord from the Roman Martyrology draws upon Sacred Scripture to declare in a formal way the birth of Christ. It begins with creation and relates the birth of the Lord to the major events and personages of sacred and secular history. The particular events contained in the announcement help pastorally to situate the birth of Jesus in the context of salvation history.
This text, The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, may be chanted or recited, most appropriately on December 24, during the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. It may also be chanted or recited before the beginning of Christmas Mass during the Night. It may not replace any part of the Mass.
The Proclamation Begins
The proclamation begins by solemnly announcing the day on which the birth of Christ is traditionally celebrated:
The Twenty-fifth Day of December
It then tells us in which year this occurred, dating it in nine different ways. . . .
1. From the Creation of the World
The proclamation first dates the birth of Christ relative to the creation of the world:
when ages beyond number had run their course
from the creation of the world,
when God in the beginning created heaven and earth,
and formed man in his own likeness;
This offers a non-specific date. It is merely after “ages beyond number.”
The traditional version of the proclamation is much more specific: It says “In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world.”
This follows an ancient system of reckoning that differs from the Ussher chronology (developed by the Anglican archbishop, James Ussher, 1581-1656), which held that the world began in 4004 B.C.
The currently approved English translation, however, avoids mentioning any specific number of years.