December 9, 2023 Column Father De Celles

Lessons and Carols. Tonight (Sunday, December 10) at 7:00pm, we keep our Advent tradition of having “Lessons and Carols,” a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, Taking prophetic readings from the Old Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, our parish lectors lay out God’s amazing plan for the birth of His Divine Son. The choir then adds to the atmosphere of joyful expectation by leading us in popular Advent songs and a few more complicated choral pieces, reminding us of the angels singing over Bethlehem. This “tradition” is rather new, especially to Catholics, originally introduced by the Anglican Church at Cambridge’s King’s College in 1918, but it has recently become very popular in Catholic circles. I first experienced it over 35 years ago as a layman at a Catholic parish of Anglican converts in San Antonio. I’m happy to say it’s become a beloved Advent tradition at St. Raymond, with a crowd usually at about 300. Please join us, and stay for a light reception afterwards!

Advent Series with Holy Hour. Please join us this Friday December 15, from 7pm to 8pm, for our Advent Holy Hour of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. We’ll begin with Exposition, then Fr. Bergida with give a short talk (the annual “Advent Series”), followed by praying the Rosary and then Benediction. This year Father’s topic is “The Mystery of the Church in the Incarnation and Nativity.”  Please join us for the final two Friday Holy Hours during Advent.

Other Advent Events this Week. Don’t forget to visit our website to find out how you can help with this year’s “Giving Tree” to help to make Christmas a little merrier for some folks who are having a rough time this year—families of our parish and Our Lady of the Blue Ridge parish in Madison. The last day to turn in gifts is next Sunday, December 17, but the sooner the better for our hardworking staff and volunteers.

And don’t Forget: go to confession during Advent—we have confessions every single day of Advent.

Letters to Santa, or Jesus? It is a happy custom for children to write letters to Santa. But maybe it would be better if Catholics followed an older Christian custom: writing letters to the Baby Jesus. For example, the letter written to Jesus by a 7-year-old little boy in 1934:

“Dear Christ child! You will soon float down to earth. You want to bring joy to the children. You want to give me joy too. I wish for the Volks-Schott, a green chasuble and a Heart of Jesus. I always want to be good. Greetings from Joseph Ratzinger.”

A “Volks-Schott” is a book with the prayers of the Mass in Latin and German. Interesting note: little Joseph seems to have been “playing Mass”—like a lot of future priests do!

Christmas Creche. One of the most important and powerful images of the Advent Season is the Christmas Crèche or “Manger Scene.” At St. Raymond’s we follow the custom of a gradual display of the scene to draw us into the progression toward Christmas, ultimately completing the scene at Christmas Midnight Mass by processing with and placing the figure of the Baby Jesus in his manger. Does your home have a Creche set up during Advent? Do you have a Christmas Tree? The Manger is much more important than that.

For some background, I highly recommend the discussion of the Creche in Pope Benedict XVI’s book “The Infancy Narratives,” where he gives an incredibly beautiful and scholarly explanation of the Creche scenes we are so familiar with.  

For a less scholarly but interesting historical discussion, consider what Pope Francis wrote about the Creche in his 2019 Apostolic Letter, Admirabile Signum:

“…[L]et us go back to the origins of the Christmas crèche so familiar to us. We need to imagine ourselves in the little Italian town of Greccio, near Rieti. Saint Francis stopped there…[in] 1223. Francis had earlier visited the Holy Land, and the caves in Greccio reminded him of the countryside of Bethlehem….Fifteen days before Christmas, Francis asked a local man named John to help him realize his desire ‘to bring to life the memory of that babe born in Bethlehem, to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he was laid upon a bed of hay’. At this, his faithful friend went immediately to prepare all that the Saint had asked. On 25 December, friars came to Greccio from various parts, together with people from the farmsteads in the area, who brought flowers and torches to light up that holy night. When Francis arrived, he found a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey. All those present experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the Christmas scene. …At Greccio there were no statues; the nativity scene was enacted and experienced by all who were present…Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of Saint Francis, notes that this simple and moving scene was accompanied by the gift of a marvelous vision: one of those present saw the Baby Jesus himself lying in the manger…”

…Setting up the Christmas crèche in our homes helps us to relive the history of what took place in Bethlehem…It touches our hearts and makes us enter into salvation history as contemporaries of an event that is living and real in a broad gamut of historical and cultural contexts….”

Speaking of Mangers. Did you know we have the actual manger of the Baby Jesus? It (or the wood that remains of it) is in Rome, at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, in a beautiful golden reliquary under the main altar. (For centuries it was kept in the “Chapel of the Nativity” to the right of its current location, so if you go to Rome don’t be confused by this).

It was sent to Rome in 635 AD by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Sophronius, who asked Pope Theodore I to take custody of it, as he feared it would be captured or destroyed by the Muslim army that had besieged Jerusalem. It has remained there ever since.

Looking for a Good Christmas Movie? There’s a lot of hype about the new movie “Journey to Bethlehem,” a Hollywood musical spectacular supposedly about the Nativity. While it gets a lot of good reviews from the secular media, and from the secularized “Christian” media, it is NOT a Christian movie as it is only very loosely based on the Scripture and Christian tradition and is written to appeal to secular sensitivities and values. Hollywood knows there’s a demand for Christian movies, but since they don’t get Christianity, they haven’t a clue how to make an actual Christian movie. So, DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY OR YOUR BRAIN on this. If you want more details, look for a review in a solid Catholic publication or website, such as Brad Miner’s review, “Unkindest Cuts: a review of ‘Journey to Bethlehem,’” on The Catholic Thing.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles