by Larry Rice

Throughout Christian history, it has been important for people to fix the date of Christ’s birth. Even the Gospels go to great length to establish the date of Christ’s Incarnation by references to Roman rulers and the year of the great Roman census. In modern times, scientists use astronomical data to try to establish a firm date of Christ’s coming into the world. All of these efforts help reinforce the core idea of the Incarnation: that God chose to become human and was born into human history to accomplish our salvation. For centuries, by tradition, Christian monasteries have recited the dates from the Roman Martyrology. This proclamation of Christ’s birth has become a popular way of beginning the Vigil Mass of Christmas.

We don’t regard many of the dates as historical, but the tradition still reinforces the historical placement of Christ’s birth: The Twenty-fifth Day of December, 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; when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace; in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees; in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt; around the thousandth year since David was anointed King; in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man: The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. (“The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the Roman Martyrology”)

Fact of Faith copyright © 2017, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
Washington, DC. All rights reserved.