Christmastide - Christmas Eve
An excellent introduction to the Christmas season and celebrations in the "Domestic Church" is found in the following excerpts from the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (on theVatican web site). Links to resources on our web site are provided.
106. During Christmastide, the Church celebrates the mystery of the Lord's manifestation: His humble birth in Bethlehem which was made known to the shepherds, the first of Israel to welcome the Savior; the Epiphany to the three wise men who had "come from the East" (Mt 2:1), the first of the Gentiles who recognized and adored Christ the Messiah in the child of Bethlehem; the theophany at the river Jordan in which the Father declares that Jesus is His "well-beloved Son" (Mt 3:17) at the outset of His messianic mission; the miracle of Cana in which Jesus "manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him" (John 2:11).
107. In addition to these celebrations recalling the primary meaning of Christmas, there are also other celebrations closely connected with the mystery of the Lord's manifestation: the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents (December 28) whose blood was shed because of hatred for Jesus and because of Herod's rejection of His lordship; the memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus, January 13; the feast of the Holy Family (Sunday in the octave of Christmas) celebrating the holy family in which Jesus "grew in wisdom and grace before God and men" (Lk 2:52); the solemnity of January 1, which recalls the divine, virginal and salvific motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and, although outside of Christmastide, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2), celebrating the encounter between the Messiah and His people, represented by Simeon and Anna, and the prophecy of Simeon.
108. Much of the richness and complexity of the mystery of the Lord's manifestation is reflected in displays of popular piety, which is especially sensitive to the childhood of Christ which reveals His love for us. Popular piety intuitively grasps:
- the importance of the "spirituality of gift", which is proper to Christmas: "a child is born for us, a son is given to us" (cf. Is 9:5), a gift expressing the infinite love of God, who "so loved the world that He gave His only Son" (John 3:16);
- the message of solidarity conveyed by the event of Christmas: solidarity with sinful man, for whom, in Christ, God became man "for us men and for our salvation"(118); solidarity with the poor, because the Son of God "who" was rich but became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of your poverty" (II Cor 8:9);
- the sacredness of human life and the wonderful event that is every birth, since the Word of life came amongst men and was made visible through his birth of the Virgin Mary (cf. I John 1:2);
- the messianic joy and peace to which man has aspired in every age: the Angels announce the birth of the Savior of the world to the shepherds, the "Prince of Peace (Is 9:5) and proclaim "peace on earth to men of good will" (Lk 2:14);
- the spirit of simplicity and poverty, humility and trust in God, suggested by the events surrounding the birth of Christ.
Popular piety, precisely because it can intuit the values inherent in the mystery of Christ's birth, is called upon to cooperate in preserving the memory of the manifestation of the Lord, so as to ensure that the strong religious tradition surrounding Christmas is not secularized by consumerism or the infiltration of various forms of neopaganism.
109. In the space of time between the first Vespers of Christmas and Midnight Mass, both the tradition of Christmas carols, which are potent means of conveying the Christmas message of peace and joy, and popular piety propose certain forms of prayers, differing from country to country, which should be cherished and, where necessary, made consonant with the celebration of the Liturgy: These would include:
- "Live cribs" and the inauguration of the crib in the homes of the faithful which is an opportunity for family prayer: this prayer should include a reading of St. Luke's account of the birth of Christ, the typical Christmas carols, as well as prayers of petition and praise, especially those of children who are the protagonists in such family moments;
- the inauguration of the Christmas tree. This event also offers an opportunity for family prayer. Apart from its historical origins, the Christmas tree has become a potent symbol today and is very diffuse amongst Christians; it evokes both the tree planted in the center of Eden (Gen 2:9), and the tree of the Cross, which lends it a Christological significance: Christ is the true tree of life, born of human stock, of the Virgin Mary, the tree which is always green and productive. In the Nordic countries, the tree is decorated with apples and hosts. "Gifts" can be added; but among the gifts placed under the tree, something should be included for the poor since they belong to every Christian family;
- the Christmas supper. The Christian family, which traditionally blesses the table and gives thanks to the Lord for the gift of food, performs this ceremony with greater intensity at the Christmas supper, which gives potent concrete expression to the joy of family ties.
110. Where possible, the Church desires that the faithful should prepare for the celebration of Midnight Mass on December 24 with the Office of Readings. Where such is not possible, it may be opportune to arrange a vigil of hymns, readings, and elements drawn from popular piety.
111. At Midnight Mass, an event of major liturgical significance and of strong resonance in popular piety, the following could be given prominence:
- at the beginning of Mass, the proclamation of the Savior's birth according the formula contained in the Roman Martyrology could be made in song;
- the prayer of the faithful should really be universal, and where appropriate, use several languages; and the poor should always be remembered in the presentation of the gifts;
- at the end of Mass, the faithful could be invited to kiss the image of the Child Jesus, which is then placed in a crib erected in the church or somewhere nearby.
See also Christmas Eve: Blessings for Tree and Crib - Mealtime Prayers for the Christmas Season
CHRISTMAS SEASON | Christmas Readings | Christmas Hymns & Carols | Christmas Meal Prayers | Christmas Tree & Crib (Creche) ] Origin of Christmas Customs
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