Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's a spooky day in the neighborhood

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Today is Hallowe'en, so I thought I'd post this picture of a house down at the end of my street. It has been decorated as a cemetery since early October. I'm glad it's not the house next to us. Me thinks they went a little overboard.

On a related note, I recommend the post "Top Ten Things to Do for a Catholic Halloween" by Taylor Marshall over at Canterbury Tales.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wedding photos

Melisa and I went up to Kansas City this weekend for a wedding. My sister, Mary Elizabeth, married Matthew Krogmeier on Saturday at Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Overland Park, KS. I was able to get a few pictures. Click on the images for larger versions.

Here I am with the bride and our mother Debbie Opel.

Here I am with my father, Bob Matkin.

Who are those lovely ladies? Here I am with my grandmother Mary Ann Smith and my mother Debbie.

Here I am with my stepfather Steve Opel.

Here I am with my mother Debbie before walking her into the church.

Here I am with Steve and Mom at the reception.

Here I am taking a closer look at the cake.

On Friday before the rehearsal, we did some sight-seeing around Kansas City. Melisa found a doll museum for us to visit in Kansas City Missouri, and then we went to Independence Missouri to see the great Temple of the Community of Christ (formerly, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the largest group of Mormons that did not follow Brigham Young to Utah).

The Temple, constructed in the 1990s, is a representation of God's creation based upon the design of the nautilus shell. The Temple is dedicated to the pursuit of world peace.

The acoustics are amazing inside the sanctuary; I imagine it must be wonderful to listen to music in that space.

Above, is the pipe organ in the sanctuary. Below, is the stained glass at the end of the spiral on the bottom of the building. It represents the local terrain of the area.

You may be wondering, Why Independence, Missouri? The answer is that the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith, Jun., received a divine revelation that Jesus would return to earth in that place and the New Jerusalem would be built there.

Above, is a sculpture of Christ over a grand staircase in the Temple. Below, is an oil painting of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith, Jun. We got to see the original, which stayed with the Smith family in Missouri, but were not allowed to photograph it ourselves.

There were works of art throughout the Temple. Above, in the lobby was this powerful sculpture about the suffering of hunger in the Ethiopian famine. Below is a quilt celebrating the creation and the pursuit of peace.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Awaiting the coming of the Lord in glory

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The Mass is as much about about the future as about the past. Here is part of an interview titled "Reorienting the Mass" from ZENIT (tip of the biretta to Fr Joshua Whitfield).

The posture "ad orientem," or "facing east," is about having a common direction of liturgical prayer. Father Lang of the London Oratory, and recently appointed to work for the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, is the author of "Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer." The book was first published in German by Johannes Verlag and then in English by Ignatius Press. The book has also appeared in Italian, French, Hungarian and Spanish. In this interview with ZENIT, Father Lang speaks about the "ad orientem" posture and the possibilities for a rediscovery of the ancient liturgical practice.

Q: How did the practice of celebrating the liturgy "ad orientem," or "facing east," develop in the early Church? What is its theological significance?

Father Lang: In most major religions, the position taken in prayer and the layout of holy places is determined by a "sacred direction." The sacred direction in Judaism is toward Jerusalem or, more precisely, toward the presence of the transcendent God -- "shekinah" -- in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, as seen in Daniel 6:10. Even after the destruction of the Temple, the custom of turning toward Jerusalem was kept in the liturgy of the synagogue. This is how the Jews have expressed their eschatological hope for the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the gathering of God's people from the diaspora.

The early Christians no longer turned toward the earthly Jerusalem, but toward the new, heavenly Jerusalem. It was their firm belief that when the Risen Christ would come again in glory, he would gather his faithful to make up this heavenly city. They saw in the rising sun a symbol of the Resurrection and of the Second Coming, and it was a matter of course for them to pray facing this direction. There is strong evidence of eastward prayer in most parts of the Christian world from the second century onward.

In the New Testament, the special significance of the eastward direction for worship is not explicit. Even so, tradition has found many biblical references for this symbolism, for instance: the "sun of righteousness" in Malachi 4:2; the "day dawning from on high" in Luke 1:78; the angel ascending from the rising of the sun with the seal of the living God in Revelation 7:2; and the imagery of light in St John's Gospel. In Matthew 24:27-30, the sign of the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory, which appears as the lightning from the east and shines as far as the west, is the cross.

There is a close connection between eastward prayer and the cross; this is evident by the fourth century, if not earlier. In synagogues of this period, the corner with the receptacle for the Torah scrolls indicated the direction of prayer -- "qibla" -- toward Jerusalem. Among Christians, it became a general custom to mark the direction of prayer with a cross on the east wall in the apses of basilicas as well as in private rooms, for example, of monks and solitaries.

Toward the end of the first millennium, we find theologians of different traditions noting that prayer facing east is one of the practices distinguishing Christianity from the other religions of the Near East: Jews pray toward Jerusalem, Muslims pray toward Mecca, but Christians pray toward the east.

Q: Do any of the other rites of the Catholic Church employ the "ad orientem" liturgical posture?

Father Lang: "Facing east" in liturgical prayer is part of the Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian traditions. It is still the custom in most of the Eastern rites, at least during the Eucharistic prayer. A few Eastern Catholic Churches -- for example, the Maronite and the Syro-Malabar -- have lately adopted "Mass facing the people," but this is owing to modern Western influence and not in keeping with their authentic traditions. For this reason, the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches declared in 1996 that the ancient tradition of praying toward the east has a profound liturgical and spiritual value and must be preserved in the Eastern rites.

Q: We often hear that "facing east" means the priest is celebrating "with his back to the people." What is really going on when the priest celebrates Mass "ad orientem"?

Father Lang: That catchphrase often heard nowadays, that the priest "is turning his back on the people," misses the crucial point that the Mass is a common act of worship in which priest and people together -- representing the pilgrim Church -- reach out for the transcendent God. What is at issue here is not the celebration "toward the people" or "away from the people," but rather the common direction of liturgical prayer. This is maintained whether or not the altar is literally facing east; in the West, many churches built since the 16th century are no longer "oriented" in the strict sense.

By facing the same direction as the faithful when he stands at the altar, the priest leads the people of God on their journey of faith. This movement toward the Lord has found sublime expression in the sanctuaries of many churches of the first millennium, where representations of the cross or of the glorified Christ illustrate the goal of the assembly's earthly pilgrimage. Looking out for the Lord keeps the eschatological character of the Eucharist alive and reminds us that the celebration of the sacrament is a participation in the heavenly liturgy and a pledge of future glory in the presence of the living God. This gives the Eucharist its greatness, saving the individual community from closing in upon itself and opening it toward the assembly of the angels and saints in the heavenly city.

Q: In what ways does "facing east" during the liturgy foster a dialogue with the Lord?

Father Lang: The paramount principle of Christian worship is the dialogue between the people of God as a whole, including the celebrant, and God, to whom their prayer is addressed. This is why the French liturgist Marcel Metzger argues that the phrases "facing the people" and "back to the people" exclude the one to whom all prayer is directed, namely God. The priest does not celebrate the Eucharist "facing the people," whatever direction he faces; rather, the whole congregation celebrates facing God, through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pastoral Theology

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So would you describe this as a practicum in pastoral theology? Actually, it was more like an ecumenical matter, since I was playing with and against other pastors and church treasurers at the PSK golf tournament last week. My team shot a 63. They had some nice door prizes, and I won a dozen golf balls in a drawing. They also gave everyone a very nice thermal mug. Good job.

On the subject of pastoral theology, this entry below is a humorous take on ministry past and ministry future from Catholic seminarians in Missouri.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The new sectarianism

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I was looking through my latest issue of The Latin Mass magazine today. There was an insightful article by Edwin Faust called "Sects Appeal." I thought a few quotes were worth sharing, for every church is in a similar situation in regards to a new sectarian spirit.

"Now, when we look at the legacy of these past 40 years, we have to take into account, along with the cor­ruption of morals and doctrine, the balkanization of the Church. There has arisen, almost without notice and certainly without much com­ment, a collection of churches within the Church. Sects, if you will. We have the Charismatic Renewal, the Neo-Catechumenal Way, Foccolare, New Ways Ministry, WomenChurch, Call to Action, Tradition, Family and Property, the devotees of Bayside and Medjugorje and of other seers and apparitions. The Church is also awash in healers, many of whom travel the parish circuit laying on hands and stirring up emotions. And EWTN has provided us with televangelists, most of them "converted" Protestant ministers who somehow failed to leave the pulpit." . . .

"Every sect, whether it finds its provenance in the Catholic Church or in a Protestant setting, is always marked at the beginning by the desire of its members to know God in as intimate a way as possible, and it is this very com­mendable desire that tends to separate them from the main body of believ­ers who are content with a less vivid experience of religion." . . .

"The most prominent and universal mark of the sectarian is what Monsignor Ronald Knox in his monumental work Enthusiasm calls ultrasupernaturalism. It is possible for a man to think too much about God and too little about himself. The sectarian is prone to become impatient with the foibles of human nature and to distrust his own faculties of intellect and will. His desire for Divine instruc­tion often leads him to believe that he is in receipt of special communications and directives that come from God without the aid of any intermediary, such as the Church, its hierar­chy and its sacraments, or even his own God-given reason. He may begin to value his private inspirations more than codified morality and prescribed worship, and should there be a conflict, his prejudice is with the inner light, which is not his, but God's. Ironically, in trying to bypass human intermediaries, he has in effect deified what may well be only his own thoughts and impulses." . . .

"Some years ago, I wrote a little essay titled, 'The Pope as Guru' in which I cautioned against what appeared to me a personality cult forming around the late John Paul II. There seemed to me a danger of transferring to an individual the charism of the Holy Ghost that protects, within certain strictures, the Petrine office." [For us, it has become the General Convention instead of the Petrine office, though we have no doctrinal basis to support the power and authority that many have attributed to it.]

"The sectarian also tends to develop certain shibboleths, the most common of which is a vocabulary studded with certain words invested with special meanings known only to the initi­ates. This is the verbal equivalent of a secret handshake. It may be seen in some of the groups presently operat­ing within the precincts of the Church. And along with a special vocabulary, special practices are developed: liturgical customs, attitudes for receiving the sacraments, postures of devotion, etc. The most bizarre I ever encountered was a small sect of Catholics, devoted to a local seer, who received communion by passing the wafer from tongue to tongue. How do such vagaries get started? The inner light, of course." . . .

"Now, the animus of such sects may at their inception be an admirable desire to know, love and serve God in a more perfect way than is normal among the greater body of the Church, but pride is ever at our elbow, ready to whisper in pious accents that we are chosen to rise above our brothers in wisdom and sanctity. The sectarian at heart believes he has a special calling that transcends formal structures. If he remains within the Church, it is to reshape the Church in the image impressed upon his soul by the inner light." . . .

"We do, however, know this much: that every crisis in the Church has been resolved by an appeal to tradition."

Monday, October 08, 2007

Serrmon on Lazarus and Dives

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Click here to listen online. Given at St Alban's on Sept 30th.

If you were instantly killed in a car crash on the drive home today . . . And if, indeed as the Prayer Book says, “to thy faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended,” then how will your life be changed? What will you see? What will you hear? What emotions will you feel? What will you be doing? What would give you comfort, fear, or joy?

Some of us have given thought to these questions before. Ancient merchants used to write the words memento mori in their accounting books—it means “think of death.” Some of us have been afraid to even consider that question. Some of us are like the French King Louis XVI, who decreed that the word “death” never be uttered in his presence.

Jesus bids us to consider the subject today, in telling the parable about two dead men—Lazarus and Dives (the real name of the rich man is not given, but comes from the Latin Vulgate), whose lives are changed by the grave and gate of death.

The parable is a drama that unfolds in three acts. The first act describes the lives of two men who represents economic extremes. From the context, it seems that Dives is likely a Sadducee (and they were aristocrats who did not believe in an afterlife) He lives in luxury. All his needs are met, and so much more. Jesus put it, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God . . .
Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

The other man in the story is a poor beggar, appropriately named Lazarus, for the name means “one whom God has helped.” This is the only parable that uses a proper name, which may mean that it is a real story about real people, perhaps two recently departed people whom those in Jesus’ audience might have known personally. In any case, Lazarus is one who sits at the gate of the rich man’s home and begs for food from his overflowing table. He longs for scraps from the table, as he sits waiting for the trash to be put out, and yet he can’t even muster the strength to keep the dogs away. What a contrast of affluence and misery!

Dives is probably not a cruel man, but he is too absorbed in himself to see poor Lazarus, sitting at the door, longing for even a scrap from the table. Wealth is not necessarily wicked, but it has temptations that are hard for most people to resist. On the other hand, poverty is not necessarily a virtue, but it may bring forth faith by highlighting our common dependence upon the mercy of God.

One day, Act II arrives—both of these men die, and their experience of life is changed. This parable highlights the contrast between their lives before and after death. In earthly life, Dives enjoyed comfort and Lazarus was a poor beggar. After death, Lazarus enjoys the comfort of Abraham’s bosom and Dives is the beggar who longs for even a drop of water. Jesus tells us that at death, Dives descended to Hades and Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom. What are these places of which Jesus speaks?

In the Old Testament, the abode of the dead was called Sheol in Hebrew. It was seen as kind of dark and sleep a place of rest for the departed. In the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament, the Greek word Hades is used to translate Sheol. In English, it is sometimes rendered as “hell,” but “abode of the dead” would be more accurate. Everyone went to Sheol or Hades.

As time went on and revelation progressed, the understanding came along that the afterlife was better for the righteous than the wicked. At the last day, Sheol/Hades would bring forth its dead for resurrection and judgment and eternal life.

St Hippolytus of Rome, writing at the turn of the second century, described it: “Now we must speak of Hades, in which the souls both of the righteous and the unrighteous are detained. Hades is a place in the created system, rude, a locality beneath the earth, in which the light of the world does not shine. And since the sun does not shine in this place, there is necessarily perpetual darkness there. This place has been destined to be, as it were, a guard­house for souls. The angels are stationed there as guards distributing temporary punishments for characters, according to each one’s deeds. And in this locality there is a certain place set apart by itself, a lake of unquenchable fire, into which we suppose no one has ever yet been cast. . . .

But the righteous (who will obtain the incorruptible and unfading kingdom) are indeed presently detained in Hades, but not in the same place with the unrighteous. For to this locality there is one descent, at the gate of which we believe an archangel is stationed with an army. When those who are conducted by the angels who are appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not all proceed down one and the same path. Rather, the righteous are conducted in the light toward the right. And being hymned by the angels sta­tioned at the place, they are brought to a locality full of light. And there all the righteous persons from the beginning dwell. They are not ruled by any necessity. Rather, they perpetually enjoy the contemplation of the blessings that are in their view.

Also, they delight themselves with the expectation of other blessings, ever new. In fact, they consider the new blessings as ever better than the first ones. And that place brings no labors for them. In that locale, there are neither fierce heat, cold, nor thorns. But the faces of the fathers and the righteous are seen to be always smiling, as they wait for the rest and eternal revival in heaven that follow this loca­tion. And we call this place by the name of 'Abraham's bosom.'

However, the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels who are ministers of punishment. These souls no longer go of their own accord. Rather, they are dragged as prisoners by force. And the angels appointed over them hurry them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when the souls are brought there, those appointed to that task drag them on to the vicinity of Gehenna. And those who are so near (to Gehenna) hear incessantly its agitation, and they feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, already feeling the power of their punishment.

And again, when they see the place of the fathers and the righteous, they also suffer punishment merely from seeing this. For a deep and vast abyss is set there in the midst, so that neither can any of the righteous in sympathy think to cross it, nor do any of the unrighteous dare to cross it. I think I have said enough on the subject of Hades,” Hippolytus wrote, “in which all souls are detained until the time that God has determined. And then He will accomplish a resurrection of all—not by transferring souls into other bodies—but by raising the bodies themselves.”

At the moment of death, Dives is surprised to open his eyes to a new world. It was probably much different than anything he might had expected to see. He does not see family and friends, nor the saints and patriarchs of old. Instead, he finds himself alone, standing in a burning garbage pit outside the city. He cries out in pain and misery, unable to free himself. He is in dire thirst—both for water and for some relief. Lazarus takes notice of this beggar at the city gate and has compassion on Dives, but cannot do anything for him.

Thus begins Act III in our tale from Jesus’ lips. Dives’ pain of fire and thirst cannot compare with his pain of regret. He is overwhelmed with regret. He cannot save himself. But perhaps he can return to warn others about his fate. But his hopes are flawed. First, the Bible tells us that no one returns from Sheol. Second, even if someone could come to admonish the living, it would do no good for those who are not listening anyway.

Dives himself had not heeded the admonishment of the Law and Prophets, what difference would one more voice of warning make? Even a visitor from Sheol cannot change a selfish will. After all, King Saul was confronted by the ghost of the dead Prophet Samuel, and it did not change him for the better or help him return to God. Likewise, King Herod did not change his evil ways even when he thought Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead.

As Jesus put it, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God . . . Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.” This life is the hour of opportunity. As St Paul said, “Now is the day of salvation.” One second after you are dead is one second too late to get right with God.

Do not let your pride or your self-absorption keep you from hearing this admonishment from Jesus, the one who did return from Sheol and has opened the gates of heaven to all believers. Jesus has made reconciliation with God possible for us through his shed blood. Which means we are able to find a home share God’s household. We can be at home with Abraham and his descendants, and with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a place of refreshment, of light, and of peace.

Take heed of the warning of Moses and the Prophets. Hearken to the voice of the one who returned from Sheol and who calls you by name into the fellowship of his kingdom. Choose this day, and choose wisely. In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you remember?

I was thinking today on the morning drive to church that for me, it is generally easier to remember things I have heard than things I have said. How about you?

I am wondering if it is connected to the introvert/extrovert personality type. As you may know, introverts process information better by listening to others and thinking about what they say. Extroverts process information by "talking it out." Perhaps this relates to memory as well.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A little on Heaven's Queen Mother

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Today in the book club we touched on some questions about Mary, so I wanted to devote some space to fuller answers.

One question was about the virginity of Mary. In the New Testament (see Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:34-36) as well as the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, we have a straightforward affirmation that Mary was a Virgin, at least until the birth of Jesus. The part most people aren't sure of is, What about after Jesus was born?

There are about ten instances in the New Testament where "brothers" and "sisters" of the Lord are mentioned (Mt 12:46; Mt 13:55; Mk 3:31–34; Mk 6:3; Lk 8:19–20; Jn 2:12, 7:3-10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor 9:5). Yet, from the earliest times the Church Fathers have continuously affirmed that Mary also remained a virgin after Jesus was born and for the rest of her life.

The perpetual virginity of Mary was reconciled with the biblical references to Christ’s brethren through a proper understanding of the meaning of the term "brethren." Because neither Hebrew nor Aramaic (the language spoken by Christ and his disciples) had a special word meaning "cousin," speakers of those languages could use either the word for "brother" or a circumlocution, such as "the son of my uncle." The understanding that the brethren of the Lord were Jesus’ stepbrothers (children of Joseph) rather than half-brothers (children of Mary) was the most common one until the time of Jerome (fourth century). Jerome speculated about the possibility that Christ’s brethren were actually his cousins, since in the Jewish idiom "cousins" were also referred to as "brethren."

Hilary of Poitiers [AD 354] made a strong point about the relationship in this comment: "If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ [John 19:26–27], as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate" (Commentary on Matthew 1:4 ).

"Ever-Virgin" has been used in the earliest written liturgies to describe Mary. Likewise, Pope Leo the Great in his Tome (which was accepted and used by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 to articulate the orthodox teaching about Christ) called Mary "ever-Virgin" and went on to explain, "Doubtless then, [Jesus] was conceived of the Holy Spirit within the womb of his Virgin Mother, who brought him forth without the loss of her virginity, even as she conceived him without its loss."

Mary's perpetual virginity continued to be held and taught in the Church through the centuries, including by the Reformers. In keeping with traditional Christian interpretation on the matter, Martin Luther made the straightforward assertion that, "It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a Virgin." Calvin indicated in his writings that these "brothers of the Lord" are cousins. Likewise, Zwingli wrote, "I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin." Also, Anglicans continued to hold the belief, like Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who wrote: "I believe that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, without any manner of sin, and without any breach of her virginity."

Another question that came up in our discussion was about the sinlessness of Mary. Often the two issues are closely related in Christian literature. Her virginity is hailed as an outward sign of her purity of soul. The Greek Liturgies of St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom call Mary Panagia (the "All-Holy One") and Panagiota (the "All-Sinless One").

At first glance, it seems incompatible with scripture since in Romans 3:23 we read, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." However, Paul is making this statement about the general condition of humanity. It was always understood that our Lord and our Lady were exceptions to this description. It is not hard to see the reason behind this spotless condition, which is to provide the immaculate humanity from which the divine Logos would take flesh at the Incarnation. She was redeemed by a special grace and preserved from sin for sake of the plan of salvation. The continuation of her obedient manner of life seems fitting with her character and consonant with scripture. It is also reflected in the Church Fathers and in the Reformers.

St Ephraem the Syrian wrote in a Poem to Christ, around AD 350, "Thou, and Thy Mother are alone in this. You are wholly beautiful in every respect. There is in Thee, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in Thy Mother."

About AD 390, St Augustine of Hippo wrote, "Every personal sin must be excluded from the Blessed Virgin Mary for the sake of the honor of God." And in Nature and Grace, Augustine noted, "Having excepted the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins--for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin?--so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women, when they were living here, and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?"

Martin Luther wrote that Mary's "conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin..."

Likewise, the old eucharistic preface for Christmas in the Book of Common Prayer reads: "Because thou didst give Jesus Christ, thine only Son, to be born as at this time for us; who, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, was made very man, of the substance of the Virgin Mary his mother; and that without spot of sin, to make us clean from all sin."

You can read more Anglican quotes in my post "Without spot of sin."