TRUE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
by Rev. Edward J. Sutfin
Copyright 1955 by St. Meinrad Archabbey, Inc.
St. Meinrad, Indiana
FRANCIS J. REINE, S.T.D.
+ PAUL C. SCHULTE, D.D
Archbishop of Indianapolis
September 25, 1955
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The First Sunday in Advent
The Immaculate Conception
The Second Sunday in Advent
The Third Sunday in Advent
The "O" Antiphons
Ember Days and the Fourth Sunday in Advent
Ember Wednesday (Missa Aurea)
The Fourth Sunday in Advent
The Vigil and Feast of the Nativity of the Savior
The Vigil of the Nativity (Christmas Eve)
The Feast of the Nativity (Christmas Day)
The Court of the King-Savior
St. John the Apostle
The Holy Innocents
The Feast of the Circumcision and the Holy Name of Jesus
The Twelfth Night (January 5)
The Feast of the Epiphany (January 6)
First Sunday After Epiphany: Feast of the Holy Family
Commemoration of The Baptism of Our Lord
The Feast of the Purification: Candlemas Day
Other Feasts during the Year which belong to the Cycle
St. John the Baptist
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Name of Mary
A Christmas Jesse Tree: The Christmas Sky
Liturgical Usage of Scripture during the Cycle
IT is a pleasant experience to be requested by educators to
assist them in teaching the liturgy to children. The occasion for
the writing of these notes was the Ursuline Educational
Conference which took place at Mount Merici Academy in
Waterville, Maine, on February 23, 1953. I am deeply indebted to
Mother Gonzaga L'Heureux and to Reverend Mother Therese Walsh for
their encouragement and enthusiasm.
Many of the suggestions contained in these notes may appear to be
alien to our present-day American mentality. The treasury of
world literature and custom, however, should be more appreciated
in our country than in any other country in the world, for our
nation is made up of nearly every race and culture. Obviously,
coordination and integration is necessary in order to synthesize
our own cosmopolitan approach. It would be impossible to execute
all of the suggestions which are offered here. Our purpose has
been principally to develop the fundamental dogmatic background
of the Christmas Liturgy, and then to suggest ideas of every sort
by which the spirit of the Church may be brought to children. The
application of one or many of these ideas must depend upon the
home, school and cultural circumstances in which they are tried.
Even in Europe many charming folk traditions have been abandoned.
Our own ancestors often felt forced to adopt the customs and
language of the new world too eagerly. Folk-lore in the recent
past was regarded by many Americans as old fashioned and crude.
Today, we are beginning to realize that the vivid and lively
traditions of Europe are necessary in building up our own
culture. Children find in folk-lore a natural, unsophisticated
outlet of expression. We speak of our children as the hope of our
nation. Allow them to profit by liturgy and folk tradition, and
they shall integrate a truly American culture which is both
contemporary and open-minded to history and to the world at
large. The Church always finds old and new treasures of grace in
her storehouse of scripture and tradition. We must take every
means of helping our children to find them.
Three other educators have constantly been in mind while writing
these notes: My first grade teacher, Sister Mary Joan O.P., who
has done such admirable work upon the grade school curriculum at
the Catholic University of America; Miss Alma Savage of New York
City, who is the literary mother of so many American children;
and Miss Sara B. O'Neill, whose devotion to children, the liturgy
and Catholic books has helped so greatly to bring the fullness of
Christ to Catholics in our country.
EDWARD J. SUTFIN
(Our Lady of the Snows, 1955)
CHAPTER 1: THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT
(Station at St. Mary Major)
THE Collect Prayer of the first Sunday in Advent is an
impassioned plea which arouses family and school from the
lethargy of "just ordinary days." It begins, "Stir up Thy power,
we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come!" What a change and what a stir
the realization that we have come upon the first Sunday in Advent
makes within the soul! The warmth of new life and of a new year
courses through our veins, and everything inspires us with hope,
longing and excitement.
Therese Mueller, in "Our Children's Year of Grace," gives us some
idea of what should inspire Christian parents at the opening of
Advent: "With the beginning of a new year of grace, we parents
face the responsibility of keeping our children in close touch
with Mother Church, for she shows us the way to a fuller
understanding of the sacred mysteries of our religion, wisely
represented in the course of the liturgical seasons. Then let us
use in the 'mother school' or 'home school' everything that helps
our children to understand and to penetrate deeper into their
faith. There must be no exclusion of the little ones, for they
are still so near to the wisdom of paradise that they often
express things in simple ways more clearly than we do with many
words. So we tell the children that Advent means arrival, coming,
and emphasize that it stands first of all for the approach of the
promised Messias, and secondly for the return of the ascended
Christ at the end of the world. Both thoughts are expressed in
the liturgy of the Advent and Christmas season, including the
feast of the Epiphany, which not only celebrates the revelation
of the divinity of Christ...but also the final revelation of his
Kingship in the last judgment."1
During the week before the beginning of Advent, the father of the
family has to stir himself from his easy chair and take the
children out into the forest. Even if the family lives in a big
city, he has to make a trip to his friend the florist, or to one
of his friends who has a larger garden or a patch of woodland.
Evergreens of some sort must be gathered for the Advent wreath.
Because his boys are good scouts, they all choose branches which
will not harm the trees nor mar their beauty. Besides the Advent
wreath, a few extra branches should be gleaned in order to
decorate the Jerusalem of their home. Are not the pine cones
which they gather on the forest floor a wonderful reminder of the
need of new life?
Mother must make a shopping expedition with her daughters; and
what a job it is to find some violet ribbon, not too dark, not
too gay, but just the right hue to express the longing of the
Advent season. Then the candles must be obtained. Perhaps these
could be sought at church, for blessed candles lend solemnity to
the occasion and remind us of the pure beeswax which symbolizes
the wholesome and pure body of the resurrected Saviour. Of
course, we could buy several other things now, but it is so much
more fun to make several trips to the stores. This way each
succeeding feast of the season becomes a "special occasion."
On the Saturday evening before the first Sunday, the family
gathers to put the wreath together. The children learn that the
circle of the wreath represents eternity, or the unceasing flow
of the sun following its prescribed course; the four candles
divide the time, representing the "four thousand" years of
waiting for the arrival of the Saviour. When all is in readiness,
the wreath is suspended at some prominent place in the house, or
else it may be placed upon a table which serves as a family
altar. Then the family prepares for the Sunday Mass. "The King,
the Saviour, will come, let us adore Him" (Invitatory for
The first spiritual preparation of the family centers about a
full understanding of Holy Mass, of the three comings of our
Lord: as the child at Bethlehem, as the Judge at the end of the
world, and in sanctifying grace each day, provided we stay away
from sin, and remain always ready to offer Him the thanksgiving
which is the Mass and to incorporate ourselves into Him at Holy
Communion. At the end of this preparation, or at the Sunday
dinner, the father of the family begins the family prayer with
the blessing of the wreath, and the oration for the First Sunday.
In the light of the single candle the children lift up their
voices in an Advent song.
We may scarcely neglect the importance of music in the education
of the children, and we should do well to educate their tastes by
good music with verses which are theologically sound. Perhaps it
would be for the best if we were to forget many of the songs
which we as adults know and love, and place the musical education
of our children upon a basis as objective as possible. If we
remember the "Motu Proprio" of Pius X and the various documents
of Mother Church on the subject of religious music, we shall
wisely apply their sound counsel to the musical education of our
children. Instead of having the children learn "Jingle Bells,"
"I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," "Santa Claus Is Coming to
Town" and the like, let us turn to better and more appropriate
melodies and verses. The children will hear enough of all the
paganized versions of Christmas songs from mid-November on--the
stores and shops assure that. Further, it is not yet the time,
when we have come to the First Sunday of Advent, to be singing
Christmas songs. We shall sing these when Christmas arrives.
There are four songs which are appropriate and readily available
for early Advent. The first one is, of course, the "Rorate Coeli"
(well-translated into a singable English version, available from
St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minn.) The longing of the ancient
world for the coming of the Saviour, expressed in the words of
Isaias, is adequately voiced in this love song. Learn it well,
and the children will look forward to this hymn as the beginning
of the joyous Christmastide.
The Vesper hymn of Advent is even more simple and appealing to
"Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting light,
Jesus, Redeemer, save us all
And hear Thy servants when they call...."
Indeed, this Vesper hymn pertains to the very liturgy itself, and
along with the "Alma Redemptoris Mater" should become the theme
song of Advent. The latter antiphon may be sung on the simple or
the solemn tone. Some children seem to prefer the solemn one, and
you may well imagine the joy in Mary's heart when-she hears
children singing "Loving Mother of the Redeemer!" An old German
mediaeval carol may be added to our list, a splendid little
Advent song based on an ancient legend: "Maria Walks amid the
Thorn." The recurrent "Kyrie eleison" will help to teach the
children the Advent-like quality of the Kyrie at Holy Mass--the
longing appeal to the mercy of the Trinity through the
Incarnation and Redemption. May Isaias and our Blessed Mother be
the heart and soul of our children's Advent carols!
Life is not so simple, however, once Advent has begun. As
Florence Berger remarks in "Cooking for Christ": "At the very
First Sunday of Advent, we women hear the warning to get busy;
'Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come!' It is the
time to hurry home and stir up your plum puddings. In England
even today this is known as 'Stir-up Sunday.' The more you can
stir a pudding the better. Each member of the family should come
and give a good stir. Plum puddings are deliberate affairs. It
takes a bit of gathering and garnering before we begin. Look over
your favorite recipe for plum pudding.... Let it make the
children long for it during the entire Advent. If Advent is not a
season for Christmas parties, it is at least a season to mortify
the soul by good smells."2
Before our discussion of the first week of Advent becomes too
extensive, let's consider some appropriate readings for the
season. There are few better than the Scripture readings of
Isaias according to the Roman Breviary, the Rorate Mass of the
Blessed Virgin during Advent, the text of the Sundays of Advent
in the Missal, the "Christmas cycle" of Pius Parsch in "Das Jahr
des Heiles," or of Abbot Gueranger in "The Liturgical Year." A
hidden treasure chest of inspirations and ideas may be discovered
by digging about and uncovering the contents of these volumes. In
addition, there are many collections of Christmas stories, some
of which are associated with Advent. Perhaps you may choose the
story of "The Other Wise Man" by Henry Van Dyke But of all the
stories, none are comparable to the liturgy itself, and Pius
Parsch does wonderfully well in offering it to our twentieth
century. The great advantage of his work lies in the fact that he
centers our attention upon Holy Mass, the Divine Office and the
Ritual. With these, and a profound understanding and imagination
of our own, we cannot lead the children far astray.
One last comment. Children in the Middle Ages were taught the
Psalter instead of being obliged to memorize so many useless
ditties such as "Little Orphan Annie." The Advent psalms are
psalms 24, 79, 84 and 18. It must be admitted that the psalm of
the first week in Advent, psalm 24, is indeed a little difficult
for children to understand. But after all, this psalm is the
constant refrain of the First Sunday in Advent. Learn about it
yourself, meditate upon it a while, and then see if it is really
so difficult that you cannot interest children in its beauty.
ST. NICHOLAS (December 6)
Even though we resolve not to celebrate Christmas parties during
the season of Advent, Mother Church always seems to find some
reason or other to rejoice even during her most solemn
penitential seasons. The Spouse just cannot be unhappy and
joyless as long as the Bridegroom is present each day at Holy
Mass. Even during Holy Week we hear of the "happy fault" of Adam,
the "blessed Passion" of Christ, and the Cross becomes a symbol
of triumph, the joy of Christians. Almost at the very outset of
Advent, we gather the children together on the eve of St.
Nicholas to celebrate the feast of this famous bishop.
St. Nicholas is the patron of many different groups of people,
and for hundreds of years has been a popular saint in the East
and in the West, greatly venerated as a wonder-worker. He is the
patron of mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars and thieves!
One legend tells of an occasion when the saints were gathered in
heaven to converse and drink a little wine together. St. Basil
filled the golden cups from a golden jug, and while all were
engaged in conversation, it was noticed that St. Nicholas was
nodding. One of the blessed nudged him until he awoke, and asked
the cause for his slumbers. "Well, you see," he told them, "the
enemy has raised a fearful storm in the Aegean. My body was
dozing, perhaps, but my spirit was bringing the ships safe to
He is especially the saint of children, and is known in various
countries as Santa Claus, Kris Kringle and Pelznickel. Servants
have been invented to accompany him and to deal with those
children who have been disobedient and naughty. Since St.
Nicholas is considered too kind to give scoldings and
punishments, in Austria it is Krampus, in Germany Knecht
Ruprecht, and in Holland Black Peter who goes along with him
armed with a stout switch, while St. Nicholas merely hands gifts
to the children without even noticing the bad little boys and
girls. A very old legend tells of his kindness to three daughters
of a poor nobleman. Since they had no dowry, they were to be sold
into slavery. St. Nicholas learned of this and on three
successive nights dropped a bag of gold for them down the
chimney. This is said to explain the three balls over the shops
of pawnbrokers, and why St. Nicholas drops his gifts for children
down the chimney.
Nicholas was born at Patara in Lycia in the third century. His
parents, who had been growing old without having a child, are
said to have obtained him by force of prayer. Nicholas, losing
his father and mother at an early age, devoted his life to the
poor and afflicted of every kind. Late in his life, after he had
been made Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey)
Nicholas suffered imprisonment for his faith. He died tranquilly
in his episcopal city pronouncing the words, "Into Thy hands, O
Lord, I commend my spirit"--words which have become the short
responsory of Compline. Since 1087 his relics have been preserved
at Bari in Italy.
Devotion to St. Nicholas began in his native Asia Minor, and was
brought to Russia by an emperor who was witness to his miraculous
works. The devotion spread through Lapland and into Scandinavia,
thence to all Europe and across to the New World. In early times,
Nicholas was pictured as a kind, lean, ascetic bishop, but in
America he became fat and jolly. His miter turned into a winter
bonnet, his vestments became a snow suit. He retained his
reindeer from Lapland, his love for chimneys from his own Asia
Minor, and his love of children from all time.
A French legend relates that Our Lady once gave him the whole of
the province of Lorraine as a reward for his kindness. As the
children of that province hang up their stockings, they say:
"Saint Nicholas, mon bon patron,
Envoyez-moi quelqu'chose de bon."
In Holland, St. Nicholas puts in an appearance on the eve of his
feast, accompanied by Black Peter. As the children sing, the door
flies open and candies and nuts begin to fly all over the floor.
After the jolly saint leaves, hot punch, chocolate and boiled
chestnuts with butter and sugar are served. The following morning
children find their shoes filled with candy hearts spice cakes,
letter bankets (candies or cake bearing the child's initials),
ginger cakes, or taii-taii in patterns of birds and fish, and
even in the form of the saint.
In Switzerland, St. Nicholas parades the streets with his arms
full of red apples, cookies and prunes for the children. In
Austria and Germany he throws gilded nuts in at the door while
Krampus or Rupprecht may throw in a few birch twigs. In Poland,
if there is a red sunset on Saint Nicholas' day, it is said to be
because angels are busy baking the saint's honey cakes.
With this much background of legend and adventure, all sorts of
ideas could be brought to the fore for a celebration and party
for the children on the eve or on the feast of St. Nicholas
Ordinarily, it would be well to have the party on the vigil as a
preparation for the Mass of St. Nicholas on the following day.
After Mass the children could return home to find their stockings
filled with all sorts of good things. The person who takes the
part of St. Nicholas should really look like a bishop, and
preferably be dressed in the costume of an early Oriental bishop.
What a wonderful opportunity to study ecclesiastical attire in
the early Church as mothers and friends make vestments for St.
Nicholas and the costume of his servant! Each child may be
addressed personally by name by the bishop, praised for his good
deeds, given a little gift. The party could continue with
appropriate games and songs, with the story of St. Nicholas, and
explanations of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. There is no
longer any need for mothers and fathers to delude their children
with nonsense about mythical Santas in outlandish snowsuits. Let
us christianize our children's lives by retaining veracity and
reality and substituting for Santa Claus the lean and kind
ascetic bishop St. Nicholas. For inspiration and variety a little
imagination and a prayer to St. Nicholas will do the trick.
Perhaps at the party a prayer could be offered for the poor and
orphan children of the world.
As far as songs and poems are concerned, we remember well the
poem of Clement C. Moore, "A Visit From St. Nicholas" ("'Twas the
night before Christmas, when all through the house...."); also
the song "Jolly Old St. Nicholas, lend your ear this way....";
and in French the "Legende de St. Nicholas."
Recipes for the feast are never wanting. Florence Berger's
"Cooking for Christ," mentioned above, and Katherine Burton and
Helmut Ripperger's "Feast Day Cookbook" supply the need for
"speculatius," "ciastka miodowe" (honey cakes), and "rozijnon
hoekies" (raisin cookies). A little "bishopwyn" for the cold
vigil makes the parents glow with happiness. "Dutch Treat," an
Advent cooky, goes well with that.
THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
With such a glorious feast as this during the month of December,
we are almost tempted to give up all hope of doing much penance
during the season of Advent. On December 8 we celebrate the
wondrous moment when the Blessed Virgin began her existence in
this world. At the same time we celebrate the sublime privilege
by which Mary, alone among all human beings and in virtue of the
future merits of Christ, was preserved at the very first moment
of conception from the stain of original sin. It is true, of
course, that in origin and in principle this great feast does not
have any relationship with the time of Advent. It was fixed on
December 8 in order to separate the feast by nine months from the
date of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin on September 8.
However, in celebrating this feast we may easily enter into the
spirit of Christmastide, for the feast is like the dawn of the
Sun of Christmas. Mary is our hope, guide, and mother along the
path of salvation.
The vigil of the Immaculate Conception is an opportune time to
introduce the children to the practice of lighting a special
Advent candle in Mary's honor. The Advent candle expresses
symbolically the words of Isaias, "There shall come forth a rod
out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of this
root." A beautiful candle is placed in a candleholder, which is
covered with a white silk cloth tied together with ribbon. The
candle is then placed before an image, statue or ikon of our Lady
before which the family prays to the Mother of God. This ancient
custom preaches its lesson with an eloquent simplicity which is
comprehensible to little children. The covered candleholder
represents the rod out of the root of Jesse, Our Lady, from whose
womb will come the Saviour of the world. The candle represents
Christ, the Light of the World, who shall come to dispel all
darkness and stain of sin. In conjunction with this little
ceremony, one of the family could tell of the purity and
childlike simplicity of our Blessed Mother, and of how she came
to be the mother of us all.
Some of the prophetic lessons of Isaias could also be read, along
with Gertrude von le Fort's poem to Our Lady of Advent, from
"Hymns to the Church." The singing of the "Alma Redemptoris
Mater," or the beautiful "Tota Pulchra Es" of Dom Pothierwould be
a suitable conclusion for the little ceremony.
Several remarks may be added concerning the hymns which we teach
children in honor of Our Lady. Much bad taste, musical and
theological, has entered into the praises of Our Lady. It would
indeed be wise always to teach children only the best, and that
which is always truthful and in accord with reality. Would we
dare to compare "Macula non est in te," "Mother Dear, O Pray for
Me," "On This Day, O Beautiful Mother," or "Bring Flowers of the
Rarest," with the "Ave, Maris Stella" (sung in English, perhaps;
but you will find that the children easily come to love and
understand the Latin); the "Ave Maria," as edited by Solesmes;
the sequence "Inviolata"; the hymn "Maria Mater Gratiae," or the
"Tota Pulchra Es" of Dom Pothier?
Mother Church recommends the "Ave Maris Stella," which is the
vesper hymn of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Compare
the theology of this hymn with the sentimental ballads which are
customarily taught to children in honor of their heavenly Mother
Ave, Star of ocean,
Child divine who bearest,
Mother, ever Virgin,
Heaven's portal fairest.
Taking that sweet Ave
Erst by Gabriel spoken,
Eva's name reversing,
Be of peace the token.
Break the sinner's fetters,
Light to blind restoring,
All our ills dispelling,
Every boon imploring.
Show thyself a mother
In thy supplication,
He will hear who chose thee
At His Incarnation.
Maid all maids excelling,
Passing meek and lowly,
Win for sinners pardon,
Make us chaste and holy.
As we onward journey
Aid our weak endeavor,
Till we gaze on Jesus
And rejoice forever.
Father, Son, and Spirit,
Three in One confessing,
Give we equal glory
Equal praise and blessing.
--Ethelstan Riley translation
Should we desire other hymns in honor of the Immaculate
Conception, we may choose such hymns and carols as "A Child Is
Born in Bethlehem," or the superb German Advent carol "Behold, a
Branch Is Growing." The latter, a fifteenth-century carol
harmonized by Praetorius, is given below:
Behold a branch is growing
Of loveliest form and grace.
As prophets sung, foreknowing;
It springs from Jesse's race.
And bears one little flower.
In midst of coldest winter,
At deepest midnight hour.
Isaiah hath foretold it
In words of promise sure,
And Mary's arms enfold it,
A Virgin meek and pure.
Through God's eternal will,
This Child to her is given
At midnight calm and still.
Even the cook is not allowed respite during the octave of the
Immaculate Conception, for it is time to make Moravian "Spritz"
for the children. Ordinarily these gingerbread cookies are made
for the vigil of the Immaculate Conception since Mary, too, "gave
forth sweet smell like cinnamon and aromatic balm and yielded a
sweet odor like the best myrrh." These cookies are loaded with
fine, aromatic spices, tempting the appetites of any child of
Mary. The spirit of mortification enters in readily, for the
cookies must stand for ten days in the refrigerator before
baking, and are then shaped into Christmas figures, especially
hearts and liturgical symbols. Later on in the season, when we
come to Candlemas, we could cut the cookies into the form of
candles and turtle-doves.
The Immaculate Conception is the Patroness of the United States.
How often our Holy Father has stated in recent years that the
hope of peace in the world does not lie in force of arms, but
rather in prayers and recourse to the intercession of Our Lady.
The octave of the Immaculate Conception furnishes an admirable
occasion for a renewal of true love for our country. Children
should be reminded that the part played by the Church in the
development of the United States was a very important one. The
flag could be raised over the school building each day during the
octave, and after the pledge of allegiance, it would be most
appropriate to sing a hymn in honor of our Patroness. The whole
week should foster in the minds and hearts of the children a true
conception of the meaning of piety, for piety is essentially the
devotion and love of the child for his parents and homeland. It
should never be forgotten, moreover, that St. Thomas Aquinas
associates the virtue of piety with religion as a part of the
cardinal virtue of justice.
1. p. 9.
2. p. 3.
CHAPTER 2: THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT
(Station at the Holy Cross of Jerusalem)
THE theme of this Sunday and of the entire week is the
preparation of the Spouse and her city, Jerusalem, for the coming
of the Bridegroom, the Saviour, at Christmas and the Epiphany.
This is the week during which the children should be made
enthusiastic about preparation for the Christmas decorations of
their home. A teacher, mother or father with a little imagination
may introduce the children to a little archeology. The youngsters
could be told how, long, long ago people lived in Asia, and how
with succeeding ages and civilizations and new peoples, cities
became covered with dust, and other people built cities upon the
foundations of the old. The stational church of today is the
Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, which always meant to
the Romans their own city of Jerusalem. This most ancient city
was that of the Jews, where Our Lord Himself began His divine
mission of salvation. The Jerusalem of Christianity, the Holy
Church, has supplanted this city with the new Jerusalem of the
law of charity. Today the Saviour is to come into the Church,
into the Jerusalem of the Christians. Upon the rock of the Church
is built the heavenly Jerusalem which shall be the permanent home
of the blessed. But the Saviour wishes also to come into a fourth
Jerusalem, that of our souls and it is especially important that
we decorate and adorn this last Jerusalem for the coming of the
At the Epiphany the Church announces a message of great joy: "Be
lighted, O Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord is risen upon
thee." This is the purpose of all Christmas decorations Today, in
order to receive the visit of the Great King we must prepare
ourselves in the Jerusalem of our souls. The Church tells us
today to "awaken our hearts in order to prepare the ways for Thy
unique Son, that we may serve Him with purified heart" (Oration).
The proper of the entire Mass of the Second Sunday in Advent
centers about this preparation, which takes place in the Church
and in the souls of all Christians: "Rise up and stand upon the
heights, O Jerusalem, and see the joy which comes from Thy God!"
The theological content of the preparation of the city and the
"ways" may easily be conveyed to children. Let the home or the
classroom become their "Jerusalem." It must then be swept and
kept very dean, and must be beautifully decorated The home and
the classroom become a symbol of the interior preparation of
their souls for the coming of the Christ Child. At home, the
children prepare a backdrop for their crib in the living room,
with a silhouette of Jerusalem in the distance; at school, a
corner of the blackboard could be decorated with a sketch of the
city. A few garlands of evergreen decorated with ribbons and pine
cones and other floral adjuncts may be added as the children
endeavor to prepare themselves more and more for Christmas.
It is high time this week to be thinking of the construction of
the crib and its figures, and of the ornamentation of the
The crib should be different each year. It may easily become a
family or classroom project, and each individual should
contribute something to this community enterprise. All the
talents of the girls and boys for carving, sewing, designing,
construction and the like should be utilized in the making of
this little home-like representation. The children should be
inflamed with the same love and the same enthusiasm which led St.
Francis of Assisi to popularize the crib. Cheap statuary must
cautiously be avoided since everything contributes to the
formation of the child: his "being" is proportionately diminished
by anything in any respect inferior. This does not mean that the
most rare and expensive figurines should be purchased for the
crib. Far from it. For if the statues are bought, even though
they may be exquisite in art and craftsmanship, they are not the
product of the creative spirit of the children. As the great St.
Thomas would put it, the child should be encouraged in every
manner to exercise his right as "second cause." It is the glory
of rational creation that it is able to exercise its causality
with the materials which are used in co-operation with the
Creator of his soul. Therefore allow the children to construct
their own crib--a new one each year.
The office of the teacher, according to St. Augustine in his "De
Magistro," consists in one of two things: (1) to allow the First
Cause to operate freely, or (2) to provide the occasion for the
student to learn directly from the created things themselves. The
parent or the teacher would do well to describe the city of
Jerusalem and of Bethlehem to the children. Accompany the
description with all the aids of visual education, such as
slides, pictures, paintings, or movies. Art begins with a real
foundation in things. The symbolic value of art and purity of
form, however, should never be neglected in the formation of the
child. The teacher should present the children with samples,
either pictures or real objects, of excellent models of cribs.
Even the most modern and most cleverly imaginative forms should
not be neglected. Perhaps even the rather charming and humorous
sets made by Lambert-Rucki would appeal to the children.1 After
this, the teacher should allow free reign to the operation of
grace, imagination and craftsmanship in the children, guiding
them suavely only according to their needs.
Honorable mention must be made of certain figures which are often
left out of crib sets. Where is Isaias, the great prophet of
Advent? Where is St. John the Baptist, whose spirit of penance
and preparation overshadows the whole season? It is remarkable
that after all this time the suite of the Great King never seems
to surround the Saviour: St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist,
the Holy Innocents, St. Anna and St. Simeon! Depending upon the
ingenuity of the children and their teachers, as well as the size
of the crib, all these figures should enter at the proper season
to offer their homage and gifts at the foot of the Incarnate
It is evident, moreover, that not all the figures that appear in
the Christmas cycle should appear at the crib simultaneously,
except perhaps during the octave of the Epiphany. From this
Sunday on, or as soon as the crib is completed, the various
personages who appear during the cycle make their entry at the
children's crib as they prepare the crib for the coming of the
Son, the boys may be taught to imagine that they are either
Isaias or St. John the Baptist; the girls may imitate our Blessed
In the spirit of the season of Advent the children should also be
preparing their own visit to the crib, bearing their own
spiritual or material gifts in homage to the Lord. The greatest
gift is the spiritual glorification of the Saviour by an act of
adoration, thanksgiving and gratitude. This is done chiefly by
the offering of the greatest act of thanksgiving, the Holy
Sacrifice of the Mass each day. At Mass, reality replaces the
external and the symbolic. Other gifts concern love of neighbor
as well as acts and objects offered at Holy Mass which represent
any or all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The teacher
must always, in season and out of season, lead children to
understand that the gift is brought to the Saviour in the reality
of His sacrificial Banquet, and that the crib is but a poor,
human exteriorization of what takes place upon the altar of God.
What a crime it is to divert the attention of children from the
altar of sacrifice to the crib to such an extent that the first
thing which caches their eye upon entering church is the crib
rather than the altar or the Eucharistic Host! Great care must be
taken to make the children understand that the crib is a homey
little reminder of the altar.
Need anything be said at all concerning the charlatanism of an
angel at the crib, who bows his head to say "thank you" as the
pennies of babies are brought to the Christ Child? Pictures and
stories from missionary society publications about children and
orphans in many lands foster the spirit of the Association of the
Holy Childhood. It is so very wonderful to children to see how
other little children from far-away lands celebrate the coming of
the Infant Saviour. Could anything more easily be employed to
teach children the mark of the universality of the Church?
The next exterior object which customarily decorates the
Jerusalem of our homes and school is the Christmas tree. During
the second week in Advent, those who go into the woods to cut
their own tree should be off to a picnic into the forest. City
children, for practical reasons, are perhaps obliged to purchase
their trees a little later on. Our concern at this time, however,
is rather for the future decoration of the tree. The ornaments of
the tree as well as the figurines and design of the crib should
be made by the children themselves and changed each year, so that
creative imagination may be developed and not stagnate. A little
competition at school, with suitable little prizes in impeccably
good taste and quality, might stimulate zeal.
Fundamentally there are two major elements associated with the
Christmas tree. First, there is the tree itself, which preferably
should be a living evergreen. (It is sad indeed that trees, at
least in rural communities are not left with the roots on and
later replanted). The second element is that of the lights, which
are the most glamorous decoration of the tree. We realize, of
course, that the Christmas tree is a relatively modern seasonal
decoration and that its symbolism may have had pagan beginnings.
With things as they are, however, the tree may be "baptized" as a
symbol of the Tree of Life, who is Christ Himself; and the lights
become symbols of the Light of the World. Holy Mass is divided
into two distinct parts: the fore-Mass or the Mass of the
Catechumens where the Light (PHOS) of faith is sought; and the
Mass of the Faithful, where we are given life (ZOE) by becoming
incorporated into Christ, the living Vine, the Tree of Life. The
Christmas tree then becomes a symbol of Holy Mass!
Since the Mass is symbolized by the Christmas tree, we may carry
our symbolism even further. Christ is the Tree of Life (Genesis
2,9; Apocalypse 22,2), and His Incarnation brings youth and
springtime to the Jerusalem of our souls. A "Chi-Rho," the
ancient Greek symbol for Christ, may very appropriately be placed
either at the top or in the midst of the tree. What other
decorations would most suitably be prepared by truly Christian
children for their Christmas tree? Let the children surprise you.
Regina Laudis, a Benedictine foundation in Bethlehem, Conn., has
offered the public in recent years some very appropriate
decorations based principally upon the "O antiphons." They are
made of plywood, gilded and decorated with gayly colored symbols.
This idea could very easily and inexpensively be extended even to
manufactured ornaments, let alone original "creations" of the
children. For example, if we were to adopt the designs for the "O
antiphons" which were executed by Gerald Bonnette in "Worship,"
(December, 1952) ordinary tree globes from the five-and-ten-cent
store could be painted with these symbols. On each of the last
nine days before Christmas Eve, a new ornament could be added to
the tree as the antiphon is sung. Other appropriate symbols are
the "Morning Star" (Ps. 109, 3), Or the Lamb of God. Myriads of
symbols, designs and shapes must replace the tawdry and
meaningless ornaments with which we ordinarily allow our trees to
be decorated. Would not an ornament in the form of a rose
symbolize the martyr Stephen, a lily the virginity of St. John
the Apostle, and violet ornaments, edged with white, the
multitude of the Holy Innocents? If inexpensive ornaments could
not be made, or purchased and retouched, then the girls could
busy themselves in the kitchen making goodies and candies
appropriately wrapped so as to represent the various symbols of
the season. Candy canes could represent the staffs of the twelve
Apostles, apples could become martyrs, marshmallows the Holy
Innocents. Cookies in the form of crowns, keys, stars and candles
could become "O antiphons." Indeed, it is time for the children
to busy themselves with the ornaments for their very own
Christmas tree! The tree will be part of their decoration of the
home Jerusalem, and not a surprise party brought in by Santa
At Sunday dinner, or perhaps the evening before the Second Sunday
in Advent as the Mass of the Sunday is prepared together with the
children, the second candle on the Advent wreath, along with the
first, is lighted. The oration of the Mass is read as the family
prayer. Psalm 79, the psalm of the week, could be memorized at
least in part with the father and the rest of the family
alternately reciting the verses:
"Give ear, O shepherd of Israel, thou who leadest
Joseph like a flock.
Thou who sittest above the Cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim, and Benjamin, and Manasses.
Arouse thy strength and come to save us.
O God, restore us and cause Thy face to shine,
that we may be saved...."
In speaking of the Third Sunday in Advent we shall treat more
extensively of the second element of the "preparation of the
ways" which lead to the city.
ST. LUCY (December 13)
With the feast of the valiant virgin-martyr, Lucy, we arrive at
another increase of the light of Christ, which shines across the
entire season of Advent. St. Lucy's name is privileged to be in
the canon of Holy Mass, along with the other "winter" virgins,
Cecilia, Agnes and Agatha. These four virginal lights illuminate
the season of physical darkness. Lucy succeeded in imitating
Mary's purity in her own life, and her feast is in perfect
harmony with the octave of the Immaculate Virgin. She was a
virgin of Syracuse in Sicily, noted for her love of the poor and
for her virginity. What a wonderful handmaid of Our Lady during
the octave of the Immaculate Conception!
The Gospel of the feast is imbued with the spirit of Advent. It
offers three parables of Jerusalem, the kingdom of God. The
kingdom is like a hidden treasure or a priceless pearl, for which
we sell all that we own; the Church is like a net which catches
all sorts of fish, which, at the second coming of Christ, the
Advent at the end of time, are separated--the good from the bad.
Our Advent preparation for the coming of Christ by grace at
Christmas is a reminder of that final coming, or "parousia" when
we shall remain in eternal possession of Christ in His kingdom.
The feast of St. Lucy is a beautiful one, especially for little
girls. Somehow or other, despite his great kindness for the three
girls, St. Nicholas seems to be of special interest to boys. Now
the girls are not neglected in being offered such a wonderful
model and patron as St. Lucy. In Sweden, Lucy's feast is the
opening of the Christmas season, and is celebrated with gay
singing and dancing. Lively children would really find folk
dancing very vigorous and interesting at their parties (cf.
Bibliography for books on folk dancing). Games may abound, and
the queen of the feast who is chosen each year to represent St.
Lucy is crowned with a garland studded with several candles!
Since little girls are supposed to take a particular fancy to
kittens, a special recipe for the feast is to be found in "St.
Lucy's cats." Yellow buns are shaped into the form of cats,
having eyes of black raisins, and these are the specialty of the
day. In "Cooking for Christ," Mrs. Berger makes a rather
interesting comment about her own experience in making St. Lucy's
"Since I was the one who wanted a cat in the first place, I bake
Saint Lucy's cats and feel like an old witch. It was an ancient
superstition, you know, that if you wanted to get rid of someone
or something you told the witch. She would make an image or
effigy of the hated one out of dough. After scorching him nicely
in the bonfire, she would eat him and charge you a pretty penny.
This is where our gingerbread men came from."2 (What a wonderful
day to tell the children the story of Hansel and Gretel!)
If a party may be held on this day, it would be a real feast for
the little girls of the classroom or family. A tableau could be
presented with Our Lady as the center of attraction. She could be
surrounded by the winter virgins, as well as many others, such as
St. Catherine, St. Bibiana, St. Barbara, St. Anastasia, St.
Prisca, St. Martina, and St. Scholastica. This is an excellent
occasion for girls to learn about their own patron saints, and
perhaps each girl could tell a story of her patron and the
meaning of her name. This could be in the form of a tableau, or
pantomime, or silhouette, or even a guessing game. After a prayer
in honor of St. Lucy (taken from the Mass of her feast), the
queen of the feast then distributes her cats St. Cecilia sings a
song, St. Catherine distributes taffy kisses as they do in French
Canada. St. Agnes serves her lamb cakes, and St. Agatha is the
good hostess and helpmate of her sister virgin St. Lucy. Lucy
herself is the lady in waiting to whom Our Lady would have the
children honor on her feast day.
1. Cf. "L'Art d'Eglise," 1951-1952, n. 2, p. 128; St. Andre,
2. Cf. "Cooking for Christ," p. 10.
CHAPTER 3: THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT
(Station at St. Peter's)
THIS Sunday introduces us into the second half of the season of
Advent, and at the opening of Matins our anxiety and joy are
given impetus: "The Lord is already near. Come, let us adore
Him!" (Invitatory) The entire week is one of the richest of the
entire year of grace, for during this week fall the magnificent
Ember Days and the beginning of the "O antiphons."
All of us are children this Sunday, for we are unable to restrain
our impatience at the coming of the Saviour. Our joy urges us to
celebrate in the great basilica of St. Peter, so that all mankind
may share it with us. The penitential violet of Advent is changed
to rose, and at the Gospel even the Precursor announces to the
city that "He is in our midst." Christ the Lord is even today
present through grace, as He will be with us forever in glory.
In our explanation of the Second Sunday in Advent we spoke of the
meaning of Jerusalem; today we speak of the "preparation of the
ways." Last Sunday the city was alerted to make itself ready for
the arrival of the King of Peace; today His scout and messenger
arrives to announce that He is almost there. ("The Life of
Christ" by Ricciotti, and one by Willam contain splendid
background material, based upon reality useful for this Sunday.)
The children should be led in spirit into the far-off Orient,
where there are deep blue skies and starry nights, and where
caravans from distant lands enter the oasis across the deserts
and wildernesses. Whenever a great potentate is to visit one of
the cities, there is great preparation, and the city is decorated
and embellished. Rare foods and spices are brought in: all
reflects the perfume of the Oriental night. The people of the
East, moreover, go even further in their preparations. A long,
straight, triumphal road is constructed in order that the caravan
of the potentate may arrive in splendor for the very first view
of the great city. The preparation of this road requires the
efforts and gifts of the entire city. It must be straight and
wide, the valleys must be filled in, and the mountains and hills
leveled off. Spiritually this means that our love must turn
directly to God and we must not be distressed by the temptations
of creation--pleasure, riches or power. The valleys are our sins
of omission, our shirking of homework, our catechism, the duties
in our state in life. The hills and mountains are the sins of
commission, our actually doing wrong by swearing, disobedience,
fighting and gossip. The messenger, St. John the Baptist, comes
as a herald of the King, in order that we may hasten to finish
our immediate preparations for the great reception in the city.
On the Saturday evening before this Sunday, or at the Sunday
dinner, we gather together with the family to light the third
candle on the Advent wreath. The brighter the lighting becomes,
the more impatient we become for the arrival of the Redeemer. The
most appropriate prayer for the evening is psalm 81, for at the
Sunday Mass it constitutes the dominant chant sung at the
Introit, the Offertory and the Communion. This psalm of
redemption should become an old friend during Advent, for on the
First Sunday in Advent we heard it at the Alleluia and at the
Communion. On the Second Sunday we heard it again at the
Offertory, and we shall hear it once again during the night of
"Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy, and grant us Thy salvation....
Mercy and faithfulness shall unite; justice and peace shall
Faithfulness shall sprout from the earth, and justice shall
look down from heaven.
The Lord will also give prosperity, and our land shall yield
Justice shall go before Him, and salvation in His
THE "O ANTIPHONS"
December 17! This day always falls during the third week in
Advent, and the children will be very busy that night. That
evening the family gathers to put up the Christmas tree and to
begin to decorate it, for at the Vesper hour of December 17 the
Church surrounds the Canticle of our Blessed Mother with the
first of the "O antiphons." These are the final preparation and
the most ardent appeal of Holy Mother Church for the coming of
her Bridegroom. They serve as the introductory theme and
conclusion to Mary's hymn of praise.
Let us begin with the Christmas tree. After the tree has been
firmly set up and the lights arranged, the program of the evening
begins with the blessing of the tree. The blessing, which may be
found inside the cover of the "Leaflet Missal" for the Christmas
Masses, may be led by the parents or by the children. The
blessing, even though it is not to be found in the "Ritual," has
a character very much in accord with the customary form of the
blessing of objects. Psalm 95 has been chosen for the blessing
because of the verses which are used as antiphon: "Then shall all
the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He is
come." After this psalm has been antiphonated by the family, one
of the children reads a lesson from the prophet Ezechiel:
"Thus saith the Lord God: I myself will take the top of the high
cedar, and will set it: I will crop off a tender twig from the
top of the branches thereof, and I will plant it on a mountain
high and eminent. On the high mountains of Israel will I plant
it, and it shall become a great cedar: and all birds shall dwell
under it, and every fowl shall make its nest under the shadows of
the branches thereof. And all the trees of the country shall know
that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, and exalted the
low tree: and have dried up the green tree, and have caused the
dry tree to flourish. I the Lord have spoken, and have done it."
After the customary verses and responses, the oration recalls the
need for us to be incorporated into the Mystical Body: "Holy
Lord, Father almighty, eternal God, who hast caused Thy Son, Our
Lord Jesus Christ, to be planted like a tree of life in Thy
Church by being born of the most holy Virgin Mary, bless, we
beseech Thee, this tree that all who see it may be filled with a
holy desire to be ingrafted as living branches into the same Lord
Jesus Christ...." Once the tree has been blessed, one of the
children may place the Chi-Rho at the top or in the center of the
tree in order to symbolize Christ as the Tree of Life into which
all must be grafted. After this, the Advent candle in honor of
our Blessed Mother is placed before the tree. Light and Life
become the theme of the season: Holy Mass is the core and center
of our Christmas celebration.
As an evening prayer, it is very appropriate for the family to
sing the Magnificat of Our Lady, repeating before and after it on
each successive evening the appropriate "O antiphon" as one of
the children places upon the Christmas tree an ornament decorated
with a symbol of the antiphon. In each of these antiphons, the
ardent imploring of the Old Testament and of the pagan world for
the Redeemer is manifest; they are the "Rorate coeli" of
humanity. In each of them, there is a progression of thought. In
the first antiphon (O Wisdom) we see the Son of God in His
eternal life before all creation; in the second, third and fourth
(O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David), we see Him in the
Old Law; in the fifth (O Orient) we see Him in the natural
created world; in the sixth (O King of the Gentiles), we see Him
as the Redeemer of the pagan world; and in the seventh and last
(O Emmanuel), we see Him as "God with us," the Redeemer who is
come, who gives us Light and Life in Holy Mass and the promise of
eternal glory at His Second Coming.
After the singing of the Magnificat with its appropriate "O
antiphon," the family concludes with the singing of an
appropriate Advent song possibly emphasizing the "Rorate coeli"
on the seventeenth, "Behold a Branch Is Growing" on the
nineteenth, "Emmanuel" for the twenty-third. Perhaps a single
song would be easier for the family, and if so the "Veni,
Emmanuel" from the Westminster Hymnal should be chosen, since its
seven verses are arranged in such manner that each verse
correlates with one of the great antiphons. On the shortest day
of the year, December 21, when darkness lies longest over the
land, the children could be told how the Church sings to the
Expected One: "O Orient, splendor of eternal light, Sun of
Justice: come, and shine with Thy light upon those who sit in
darkness and in the shadow of death."
Florence Berger offers a word concerning the culinary "treats" of
the "O antiphon" days:
"Another old custom which we revived is giving family treats. In
the monasteries long years ago, the different monks furnished
extra treats on these days before Christ's birthday. The gardener
gave the community some of his finest dried or preserved fruits
on December 19 when he called on Christ: "O Root of Jesse, come
to deliver us and tarry not." The cellarer unlocked the best wine
for his treat as he called: "O Key of David, come, and come
quickly." Finally, on December 23, the abbot gave his extra gift
to the brothers. Expense accounts which are still extant show how
generous and extensive a list of foods were used on the abbot's
"Each one in our family keeps his gift a deep, dark secret until
suppertime. We begin with the smallest child. Her treat may be
only a graham cracker for dessert. Freddie cracked and picked
some black walnuts for us. All pounding didn't give it away
because little boys are so often pounding. Ann made some Advent
wreath cookies and used up all the cinnamon drops for decoration
on the cookies, her face and her fingers. Mary made a big
casserole of baked beans and we couldn't quite decide whether she
was treating herself or the family. Finally, it was Mother's
turn, and then, at last Father's turn to produce something really
outstanding. At dessert time Father rose from the table without a
word, put on his hat and coat without a smile, and left us
sitting at the table with our mouths open in amazement. After
five minutes which seemed like hours he stomped back into the
house--with a big bowl of snow ice cream. The squeals of delight
would have pleased an abbot."1
The twenty-first of December, feast of St. Thomas, is celebrated
by charity to the poor and by the baking of pies. In
Gloucestershire, England, the poor went "a-Thomasing" for gifts;
in the Tyrol, it is pie day. "A great meat pie is baked for the
whole family. It is marked with the Cross and sprinkled with holy
water. Along with the great pie in the hot oven are smaller pies-
-one for each maid-servant in the house. When the crusts are
golden brown, the pies are cooled and frozen. This is very easy
to do in the bitter Tyrolean winters. Each maid takes her pie
home to her family. On the feast of the Epiphany, the pies are
thawed, reheated and eaten. The father of the house makes quite a
ceremony of cutting the Christmas pie which is baked in a
rectangular pan to resemble the manger."2 French Canada has
continued this custom with the familiar "Tourquiere." Noel and
"le Jour de l'An" would never be the same without those wonderful
1. Ibid., p. 12.
2. Ibid, p. 13.
CHAPTER 4: EMBER DAYS AND THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
THE Ember Days mark a very pronounced advance in preparation for
Christmas. We were told that the King shall come. Jerusalem is
made ready, and the ways are made straight. By grace He is in our
midst. Today the Church teaches us that the King will first
arrive in human form: He will assume the humble garment of our
human nature. The Masses of the winter Ember Days and of the
Fourth Sunday of Advent present us with the antecedents of the
birth and coming of the Saviour.
(Station at St. Mary Major)
In many respects, Ember Wednesday is the very heart of the season
of Advent. The stational church brings us once again to the
basilica of the crib and under the guidance of Mary as the
central figure--after Christ--of the Christmas cycle. The theme
of the Mass is one of thanksgiving for the harvest, a day of
praise and thankfulness for the benefits of the past season.
These material gifts, and especially the harvest of oil, are mere
shadows of the real Gift who is to come. Our eyes turn at once to
the golden mystery, the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb
of Mary. Despite all the wonderful gifts which God has bestowed
upon us in the past, the joy of our hearts moves towards the
perfect act of thanksgiving, Holy Mass, the continual Sacrifice
of the Incarnate Saviour
The Mass of Ember Wednesday is known as the "Missa Aurea," or
Golden Mass, because on this day the Church celebrates the
"golden mystery" of the Faith: Mary's "fiat" at the Annunciation
brought about the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity
in her womb. Throughout the ages, this Mass has been celebrated
with great solemnity. In the Middle Ages, the great St. Bernard
of Clairvaux preached his homilies on the Gospel of the day which
begins with the words "Missus est." If it is at all possible, we
should teach our children to observe this solemnity, first of all
by participating as a family and parochial group at the solemn
Mass of the day. Monsignor Hellriegel offers some very
interesting material concerning the "golden Mass," and suggests
an offering for the poor as an appropriate act of thanksgiving:
"Here at Holy Cross we celebrate, after proper instructions, this
day with great solemnity. The sanctuary is adorned with many
candle lights so that we may be more forcefully reminded of the
Light that shone into darkness. All the children receive
Communion in this Golden Mass, and while approaching the holy
table they chant the significant Communion anthem, 'Behold a
virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be
called Emmanuel.' Part of the celebration is an offering for the
poor, which the children, all of them, the first graders
included, make at the offertory of the Mass. Near the altar we
erect two large tables, covered with linen and burning candles,
on which the gifts are deposited. Every child offers something:
some bring fruit or preserves, others canned food, and the poorer
ones perhaps a potato or two; but all gifts are wrapped in white
tissue paper and neatly bound with a red ribbon. It is a grateful
giving to Him who, by His Incarnation, gives Himself to us. After
Holy Mass these offerings receive a special blessing and are then
carried from the altar of Christ, the Head, to the poor, the
'feet of Christ,' as the early Church loved to call the indigent
members of the community, in order to make their Christmas more
joyful and blessed."1
This is indeed the day to collect all the "Christmas baskets" for
the poor. It would seem that nobody was more fully imbued with
"the Christmas spirit" than was Pope St. Leo the Great in the
sermon which he gives us during the second nocturn of Matins of
the Third Sunday of Advent.
"The season of the year with its customary devotions reminds us,
dearly beloved, that it is our duty as shepherd of your souls to
exhort you to the observance of the December fast. Now that all
the fruits of the earth have been gathered in, it is most fitting
that this sacrifice of abstinence should be offered to God, who
has so bountifully bestowed them upon us. And what can be more
useful to this end than fasting? For by its observance we draw
near to God, we resist the devil, and overcome the temptations of
sin. For fasting has always been food for the strong. Moreover,
from abstinence proceed chaste thoughts, rational desires, and
sound counsels; and by voluntary afflictions the flesh dies to
its evil desires and the spirit is renewed in strength. But since
fasting alone will not obtain health for our souls, let us add to
our fasting, works of mercy to the poor. Let us spend in good
works what we deny to indulgence. Let the abstinence of him who
fasts become the banquet of the poor. Let us be zealous in the
protection of widows, in the support of orphans, let us strive to
comfort the afflicted, to reconcile those who are at variance.
Let us receive the stranger, and help the oppressed, let us
clothe the naked and care for the sick. And then may every one of
us who shall have spent himself in offering this sacrifice of
devotion to God the Author of all good, deserve to receive from
Him the reward of the heavenly kingdom. On Wednesday and Friday,
therefore, let us fast; on Saturday, however, let us celebrate
the vigil at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, by whose merits may
we be able to obtain what we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever
and ever. Amen."2
Mother and father and teacher may easily explain the merits of
"giving up" things for God and neighbor in thanksgiving; how to
become courteous and thoughtful of others; how always to give
good example; how to avoid "fights" and quarrels; how to share
toys and gifts as well as self with the other children.
These gifts for the poor become even more sacred by being offered
before the altar of God. Another quality of sacredness is added
if we acquaint the children with the simple and beautiful
blessings of many of those objects in the "Roman Ritual." Father
Weller's translation of the blessings ("Roman Ritual," Vol. 3)
makes them available in English to all the faithful. After the
Offertory and the blessings, the children should indeed have
their share in the distribution of the gifts. Priests, teachers
and parents should help and guide them in discretion and charity.
The students at Grailville offer some interesting suggestions for
a re-enactment of the Gospel story of the Annunciation:
"As at Christmas, the Nativity is simply re-enacted in many
Christian homes, why not on Ember Wednesday in preparation for
Christmas re-enact the Gospel of the angelic message of
Redemption? No scripts are needed, no elaborate costume, no long
rehearsals. The family or group could gather together and in a
prayerful spirit simply relive the words of the Gospel. The play
could be in two parts: (1) Prophecy and (2) Fulfillment.
"The first part is the reading of Isaias from the (Lesson and
Epistle of Wednesday) morning's Mass prophesying the virgin birth
of Jesus Christ (Isaias, 2: 2-5 and 7: 10-15). This might be done
to illustrate the foreshadowing of the advent of Christ in the
Old Testament. The song 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel' could be sung
as an interim. In the next part of the presentation the
fulfillment takes place. As a reader speaks the words of the
Gospel (Luke 1: 26-38) Mary is seen praying in her chamber, and
the angel appears to her. The play could be concluded with
everyone singing 'A Rose Sprang Up Unheeded' or another Advent
This little tableau could easily be performed either at school or
at home in the evening.
As dinnertime approaches, it is often difficult to find an
appropriate menu for a fast day. This need not be the case for
this Ember Wednesday, for we recall that on the feast of the
Annunciation the Swedish people serve excellent waffles. We could
anticipate the Vaffeldagen by about three months and make a
fitting fast day repast. It would be more than we could expect to
be able to use the little heart-shaped irons which Swedish ladies
have to make the waffles an even more enticing delight.
After dinner, with the singing of the "Magnificat" and the "O
antiphon," we may teach the children the last great Advent psalm,
number 18 since it fits in so perfectly with the Mass of the day.
The Introit of Ember Wednesday and the fourth Sunday of Advent
both employ this beautiful psalm:
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament
proclaims the work of His hands
There He has set up His tabernacle for the sun, which goes
forth like a bridegroom from his chamber and rejoices
like a giant, to run the course.
From one end of the heaven is its rising, and its course ends
at the other, nothing is hidden from its heat."
No more appropriate day could be chosen, however, to explain to
the children the beautiful custom of the recitation of the
Angelus. All of this beautiful prayer is taken from the liturgy
of Advent, and especially from the Golden Mass. The first two
versicles and responses are taken directly from the Gospel of
Ember Wednesday; the third versicle and response are taken from
the Last Gospel of St. John. The oration at the end is the Post-
communion prayer of the Mass "Rorate," which is the Mass of Our
Lady on Saturdays in Advent, and is really a simplification of
the Ember Wednesday Mass. The evening Angelus, which is recited
in honor of the Incarnation, is the most ancient of all. It began
long, long ago with the recitation of three orations by the monks
after Compline. Later on, the Hail Mary was introduced as an
antiphon, and three "Aves" in honor of the Incarnation became
popular at least by the thirteenth century. In a Franciscan
decree (1263 or 1269), the faithful were encouraged to follow the
monastic custom of reciting three Hail Marys after evening prayer
in honor of the Incarnation of Our Lord; for it was currently
believed that it was at this time that the Virgin Mary was
greeted by the Angel Gabriel. There was a special ringing of
bells during the recitation of the prayer. Our present method of
having the bells rung during the Angelus proceeded from this
The children should be told the history and meaning of this
ancient custom of reciting the Angelus in honor of Christ and Our
Lady in the hope that, once they have understood its meaning
well, they will adopt this little custom for a lifetime. As they
add on another "O antiphon" symbol to the tree at evening prayers
tonight, they could string some golden tinsel around the tree in
honor of the Golden Mass, and also add on a few little bells to
remind them of the evening Angelus in honor of the Incarnation of
their Saviour. It would be a splendid family tradition if the
whole family could assemble each day for the recitation of the
Angelus, especially at eveningtide. Each member could take turns
at reciting the prayers and ringing the bell.
Together with this new knowledge about the Angelus, the children
should be taught a little more about the beautiful Angelical
Salutation, and how this greeting became our familiar prayer. We
recall that the first part of this beautiful prayer is in memory
of the Annunciation: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with
thee; blessed art thou among women" (Luke 1:28). The next part is
taken from the scene of the Visitation: "Blessed is the fruit of
thy womb" (Luke 1:42): the greeting of St. Elizabeth. The
remainder was composed by the Church as a prayer for sinners. It
is really remarkable how much our beloved Hail Mary is associated
with the prayer life of the medieval Church. As devotion to Mary
developed, the "Ave" began to be used frequently in the Divine
Office as an antiphon, and in Holy Mass at the Offertory (cf. our
present Offertory at the Mass of the Fourth Sunday in Advent).
Given this background of the Angelus and the Hail Mary, our
children may be brought to understand that the most authentic
sources of our prayers and devotions are always to be found in
Holy Mass and in the Divine Office.
(Station at the Twelve Apostles)
The theme of Ember Friday follows closely upon that of the Golden
Mass: the second mystery of the Incarnation was that of the
visitation of Our Lady to St. Elizabeth If a single word could be
made to express the spirit of the day, it would be the word
"Christopher." We honor our Blessed Mother as the Christ-bearer
"par excellence," and we ourselves endeavor always to bear Him
with us in a soul filled with the purity of sanctifying grace.
The church of reconciliation is the stational Church of the
Twelve Holy Apostles. The penitents of the city of Rome received
absolution there on Holy Thursday. On the Fridays of each of the
Ember Weeks of the year we are called upon to expiate and to do
penance for the sins committed in the past quarter year. The
Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles is the only church in Rome
constructed in the style of the Greeks, and it was always
considered as a symbol of the union of all peoples, Eastern and
Western, in Christ through the sacrament of Baptism. The
spiritual renewal and unity of faith expressed in the Mass today
lead all immediately to preparation for the coming of the
Saviour. We are purified and repent of our sins as a preparation
for the visit of Christ at Christmastide. As the Blessed Mother
brings the quickening grace of her Son to St. Elizabeth and to
St. John the Baptist, so we are taught to increase His grace in
our souls in order that we may carry the sanctifying power of
that Life into the world.
On Ember Friday, the children could present a tableau of the
Visitation in much the same manner as that of the Annunciation.
The prophecy of Isaias in the Lesson at Holy Mass could be
explained, and this would be particularly appropriate for the
older children, who may soon be receiving the sacrament of
Confirmation. The gifts of the Holy Spirit repose in plenitude
upon the flower that springs from the Root of Jesse. The
fulfillment, it would be shown, is in the visitation of Mary with
her Son. Centering our playlet about the "Hail Mary" and the
meaning of being Christophers, we shall find that this is an
appropriate occasion to tell the children the legend of St.
Christopher, and why he is the patron of those who travel. For
the older children, it would not be too early to let them read
some of the literature of the Christopher movement. It is time
for them to learn what it means to act as confirmed adult
Christians who possess the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and who are
called upon to carry Christ into the world. The Advent candle is
the center of attraction in the home today. It impresses the
meaning of being a Christopher very simply and very forcefully
upon the mind of the child. Mary is our best model if we would
increase in grace and become bearers of Christ to others. St.
John the Baptist is our model of penance and the preparation of
Besides the other customs which we have mentioned in association
with evening prayer and the Angelus, this is the seasonable
moment to begin our caroling. The children should bring Christ to
others by means of song, which is really an exterior expression
of love and piety. From now on, Advent songs may be sung from
home to home, and the children could be taught many wonderful and
doctrinally sound carols which would impress the meaning of
Advent and of the coming of the Saviour upon their neighbors.
(Station at St. Peter's)
The celebration of this last Ember Day constitutes a resume of
all that has been developed in the Advent season. The Mass is
quite different in character from the themes of Wednesday and
Friday, which had an intimate and familiar flavor appealing to
the imagination and to the senses of the children. Today the
universal Church celebrates a solemn vigil in the great basilica
of St. Peter's. The symbol of the passage from darkness into
light is quite apparent throughout the Mass, especially in view
of the fact that this Mass was formerly celebrated as the
conclusion of the Saturday night vigils. It was on this day that
the ancient Church held the rite of ordinations in preparation
for the Christ Mass. Priests were ordained as shepherds of the
Church commissioned by Christ to guard over His flock until He
shall come, especially in His second coming at the end of time.
It is somewhat more difficult to suggest appropriate material by
means of which the children could be brought to realize the
significance of this solemn watch. Probably the point to
emphasize would be the virtue of piety, as we explain to them the
nature of filial love toward the Church and toward parents. If
the cathedral church of the diocese is nearby, a little
pilgrimage may be organized to this see of the apostle, which is
their own St. Peter's. At least a visit to the parish church
should be part of the program of the day, and perhaps a little
gift could be made to the pastor in gratitude to the shepherd of
their spiritual life and in remembrance of his ordination to the
This evening the children may be allowed to stay up a little
later than usual. There should be a little more serious note
about the occasion, recalling the Gospel of the First Sunday of
Advent, with its rather fearful descriptions of the last days and
the coming of Christ at the end of time. For if Christ comes at
Christmas, the purpose of His incarnation was our redemption from
sin. He is present to us at Holy Mass and by means of the
sacraments, and especially through the other-Christs who serve as
shepherds and ministers of His flock. Finally, when all of the
many centuries have passed, He will come once more to bring us to
our heavenly home forever. A gay note, however, enters into all
the seriousness of the evening. The Gospel tells us in the person
of St. John the Baptist that Christmas is almost here: "Make
ready the way of the Lord, make straight His paths. Every valley
shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought
low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways
smooth; and all mankind shall see the salvation of God" (Luke 3:
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
(Station at the Twelve Apostles)
Today's Mass is really a celebration of the Advent Ember Days for
those people who were unable to come to church during the
preceding week. Formerly the Saturday Ember Day Mass was actually
celebrated early Sunday morning, and the Mass of this Sunday is
now a composite of the Masses of the Ember Days.
With the lighting of the fourth and last candle on the Advent
wreath, the children are made to realize that the Saviour is
almost at the gate of their souls. Jerusalem awaits the great
King and Saviour in silent and awed expectancy. With the singing
of the Magnificat and the "O antiphon" of the day, a little
pageant could be organized to suggest the Mass of this Sunday.
The first figure (Introit) represents the first two weeks of
Advent, the long and ardent awaiting of the ancient world. The
second figure represent St. John the Baptist, who sounds the
joyous trumpet announcing the arrival of "Him who is to follow",
it is he who leads the Groom (Christ) to the Spouse (the Church),
as we read in the Gospel. The third and final figure is our
Blessed Lady. The Hail Mary of the Offertory tells us that the
period of preparation is drawing to a close. During all the Mass
of the Faithful, it is Mary who is our shepherd and guide. On
Sunday evening, Marian Advent hymns and carols remind home and
neighborhood that our hearts must be made ready for the coming of
Christ. The valleys must be filled and the hills leveled. What an
apostolic reminder of the need for a good confession before
Christmas! That is why the stational church of this Sunday is the
Basilica of Reconciliation. By means of the divinely instituted
powers given to the shepherds of the flock, the sacrament of
Penance makes us ready for the coming of the Redeemer. The purity
and simplicity of the children may remind their elders that in
order to enter heaven they must become as little children.
Now that Advent is almost completed and the children are truly
prepared for rejoicing upon the heights of the Christmas-Epiphany
feasts, they should begin the preparation of their seasonal
greeting cards. Since the fullness of the Advent preparation is
achieved on the Feast of the Epiphany rather than on Christmas,
it is more in the spirit of the Church to send cards
representative of the themes of the Epiphany. We all realize very
well that the custom of sending Christmas cards has received
commercially inspired encouragement, which often impedes our
celebration of the solemnities of Advent because of social
obligations. This may be averted somewhat by placing our emphasis
upon the liturgically greater feast.
The children could very easily carve upon linoleum blocks simple
symbols which represent the major themes of the Epiphany of the
Saviour and they could hand print their own cards. The antiphon
to the Benedictus of Lauds of the feast of Epiphany (or the
antiphon of the Magnificat of second Vespers) could be used as a
text for the cards: "This day hath the Church been joined to her
heavenly Spouse, for Christ hath cleansed her crimes in the
Jordan; with gifts the Magi hasten to the royal nuptials, and the
guests are gladdened with wine made from water, alleluia." The
symbols and drawings made by the children may be varied in many
possible combinations, and free rein given to the artistic
talents of the child. The result of making these cards on the
days that follow would be for the child an increase of interest
and knowledge of the mind of the Church, a development of his own
talent and imagination with a corresponding possibility of an
increase in grace. For the recipient it would be a highly
personalized and spiritually inspirational Christmas card.
1. "Orate Fratres," Vol. xvi, Nov. 30, 1941.
2. "Liturgical Readings," 3rd Sunday in Advent.
3. "Advent Ember Days," p. 8.
CHAPTER 5: THE VIGIL AND FEAST OF THE NATIVITY OF THE SAVIOUR
OF all the feasts throughout the year the celebration of
Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are the most popular of all, both
for children and for adults. There are more traditions and
customs associated with Christmas in all Christian countries than
with any other feast. It is true, of course, that the logical
culmination of Advent is attained with the Epiphany; the season
of preparation, however, truly ends with the Nativity. The
celebration of these two feasts may be explained only upon an
historical basis. Christmas is the Occidental celebration of the
Nativity of the Lord, and the Epiphany is the Christmas of the
Orient. There is a very important difference to be noted between
the two great Paschal feasts and the two great Christmas feasts.
In the Easter cycle, Pentecost, with the mission of the
Paraclete, represents an organic development in the work of our
salvation; in the Christmas cycle, Christmas and the Epiphany
center about an identical theme: the Incarnation of the Second
Person of the Trinity as Saviour and King of Kings. The East
adopted Christmas from the West; the Occident received the feast
of the Epiphany from the Orient. These two Christmas feasts are a
venerable spiritual monument of the union of the Church in East
and West. In the Roman rite, the third, or Day-Mass, of Christmas
is really a Mass of Manifestation or Epiphany. The Station at St.
Peter's is the same station as that of the Epiphany and the Mass
is intended to be truly one manifestation of the new-born Saviour
to the City and to the World.
To Christians of the Western world, Christmas always seems to be
more important than the Epiphany, despite the fact that the
latter feast is of higher rank. It is very true that Advent, and
the period of waiting and preparation are concluded with the
feast of Christmas. The texts of the liturgy indicate this by
saying that "Tomorrow original sin shall be destroyed," and
"Open, ye Eternal Gates, that the King of Glory may enter in."
The realization of the glorious visit of the great King which
dominates the whole of Advent is not accomplished, however until
the feast of the Epiphany. The East has enlarged our perspective
of the spiritual meaning of the Incarnation. We are elevated
above the historical fact related by the Gospels to a perspective
of the kingship of Christ, which dominates all time and space. At
Christmas, we may be said to be reborn with Christ as the Sun of
the Nativity rises over the town of Bethlehem; at the Epiphany,
we celebrate the mystical wedding of the King with His Spouse,
the Church: the glory of the Lord shines forth in noontide
splendor over Jerusalem. On the feast of Christmas, Christ is
born to us in the intimacy of the family represented by Mary and
the shepherds; at the Epiphany, He manifests to the entire world
His glory and His kingship, which are represented by the
adoration of the Magi, the baptism in the Jordan, and the
marriage feast of Cana.
It is necessary, furthermore, before offering suggestions for the
celebration of Christmas in our cities and homes, to note some of
the historical developments of a truly Christian conception of
the holiday season. A readily available source of information for
families concerning the history of Christmas and its tradition is
to be found in "The Christmas Book" by Francis X. Weiser, S.J.
There is no historical record nor even a well-founded tradition
which gives the date of the birth of Christ. The date of December
25 was established about the year 320, and the Popes seem to have
chosen the twenty-fifth day of December principally to divert the
attention of the people from the celebration of a pagan feast of
the Mithras cult which was called the "Birthday of the
Unconquered Sun" (Natalis Solis Invicti). This does not in any
manner indicate that Christmas is merely a "christianized" pagan
feast, for Christians of that time realized with St. John
Chrysostom: "The pagans call December 25 the Birthday of the
Unconquered. Who is indeed so unconquered as Our Lord?... or, if
they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of
Throughout the Middle Ages, Christmas came to be celebrated more
and more. Especially during the period from the twelfth to the
sixteenth centuries all the arts and crafts of the Christian
nations were made serviceable to the festivities associated with
the Nativity of the Saviour. Plays and songs, carols and dances,
spices and flowers, images and statues--all creation was made to
serve the celebration of the feast. The foundation of all these
customs and traditions was always Holy Mass--the Christ-Mass--the
Divine Office and the sacramentals. In many countries of Europe a
sharp change in the Christmas solemnities came with the
Reformation during the sixteenth century. The spiritual and
scriptural foundation of the liturgy, including the Mass itself,
was ridiculed and forbidden. The Calvinists and Puritans in
particular condemned all religious celebration of the feast, and
when the "new" method of celebrating Christmas was revived it
tended to become only a more or less pagan feast of good-natured
and humanitarian reveling. The attempt was particularly
successful in England, and post-Reformation English attitudes
concerning Christmas have affected most of our own notions
concerning the celebration of the holidays.
When the Puritans came to political power in England, they
immediately proceeded to outlaw Christmas. It was their
contention that no feast of human institution should ever outrank
the Sabbath (Sunday). Since Christmas was the most important of
the non-Sunday festivals, it was abolished altogether. The first
ordinances issued forbidding church services and civic
festivities on Christmas came in 1642, finally, on June 3, 1647,
Parliament enacted a ruling that the feast should no longer be
observed under pain of punishment. Riots and strife broke out
among the people, but the government stood firm and even broke up
celebrations by force of arms, though the punishments were not
too severely inflicted. With the restoration of the monarchy in
1660, the observance of the "old" Christmas returned with a "new"
attitude. The religious observance of Christmas was almost
entirely replaced by amusement and reveling over plum pudding,
goose, capon, minced pie and roast beef, with decorations of
mistletoe, holly and ivy, and the yule log. Two of the best
exemplifications of this "new Christmas without Christ" are to be
found in the "Christmas Stories" of Charles Dickens, and the
"Sketch Book" of Washington Irving. We must admit that our
present-day celebration of Christmas is greatly affected by these
works. The only thing that may be said in favor of these well-
written books is that they do contain interesting stories
upholding a spirit of good will to men and of generosity to the
poor. Christ the Saviour and the King of Kings is indeed very
remote in the background.
The unfortunate zeal of the Puritans has certainly influenced the
American celebration of Christmas. It is very difficult in our
day to realize that Christmas was outlawed in New England until
the second half of the last century. As late as 1870, classes
were held in the public schools of Boston on Christmas day, and
any truant pupil was gravely punished or even publicly dismissed
from school. Through the influx of German, Irish and French
immigrants, together with the multiple immigrations from all the
European nations, Christmas has been more fully restored within
the last seventy years in this country. Two currents are now
manifest: the pagan, good-natured humanitarian sort of
celebration represented upon Christmas cards by sleigh bells,
Santa Claus, peppermint sticks and the like; and the Christian
spiritual and traditional customs originating from medieval
Christian Europe. In view of the objective principles found in
the liturgy of Holy Mass, the Divine Office and the sacramentals,
we shall try to outline certain ancient and modern customs which
are truly Christian in foundation and based upon Christian
Doctrine and practice.
THE VIGIL OF THE NATIVITY
(December 24: Station at St. Mary Major)
Christmas Eve is unique among all vigils. Joyous anticipation
fills the hearts of both child and adult, and all the Christian
world has tried to express this sentiment in a superabundance of
images, customs and traditions. It would be impossible to
consider all of them. Not only nations but even individual
families have devised splendid little customs to celebrate
Christmas. Let us first of all outline briefly the spiritual
foundation for these customs as it is found in the Mass, Office
and Martyrology of Christmas Eve.
The entire liturgy of Christmas Eve is consecrated to the
anticipation of the certain and sure arrival of the Saviour:
"Today you shall know that the Lord shall come and tomorrow you
shall see His glory" (Invitatory of Matins for the Vigil of the
Nativity). Throughout Advent we have seen how the preparation for
Jesus' coming became more and more precise. Isaias, John the
Baptist and the Virgin Mother appeared throughout the season
announcing and foretelling the coming of the King. We learn today
that Christ according to His human nature is born at Bethlehem of
the House of David of the Virgin Mary, and that according to His
divine nature He is conceived of the Spirit of holiness, the Son
of God and the Second Person of the Trinity.
The certitude of His coming is made clear in two images. The
first is that of the closed gate of paradise. Since our first
parents were cast forth from the earthly paradise the gate has
been closed and a cherubim stands guard with flaming sword. The
Redeemer alone is able to open this door and enter in. On
Christmas Eve we stand before the gate of paradise, and it is for
this reason that psalm 23 is the theme of the vigil:
"Lift up your gates, O princes,
Open wide, eternal gates,
That the King of Glory may enter in...."
The Introit, Offertory, and Communion of the Mass are entirely
consecrated to this image. The second image is that of the
Blessed Mother. The last historical development of the season of
Advent is expressed in the Gospel of today. The great suffering
and doubt of St. Joseph concerning his spouse is allayed by the
reassurance of an angel. He who is to be born is not of Joseph
but truly of the Holy Spirit: "She shall conceive a child and you
shall give Him the name of Jesus (Saviour), for He shall ransom
His people of their sins."
Since the Vigil of Christmas is a fast day it is only normal that
the odor of cooking throughout the house all day long should
accentuate our anticipation of the feast. Where is the victory
where there is no fight? Even the children should be restrained
from nibbling at all the delicacies reserved for Christmas. In
our country this day of fast and abstinence is quite difficult.
It is truly in the spirit of Advent, and it requires the patience
of Job not to celebrate ahead of time. Popular custom has made
Christmas Eve a feast day, since the majority of people tend to
have parties, exchange presents, and carry on general feasting
throughout the eve. Is it asking too much to request the penance
of resisting over-anxiety? The anxiety should be there, and so
should the spirit of joyful anticipation, but Mother Church still
demands a final mortification before we taste of the heavenly
joys of Christmas. Perhaps Christmas night would not fall so flat
in many families if Christmas Eve were observed as a true vigil.
It is our last preparatory offering to the Christ-Child, who
accepted the humiliation of the stable at Bethlehem.
Culinary art has exceeded itself at this season. Since tomorrow
is the feast, the greater portion of the cooking must be done in
advance. "Cooking for Christ" and the "Feast Day Cookbook" should
be consulted in detail. Swiss "krabeli," Greek "malachrino"
(spice cake), and German "lebkuchen" and "stollen" would delight
the hearts of all. The very shape of "stollen" is supposed to
represent the Christ Child, and the folds on top of the loaf
swaddling clothes. "Lebkuchen" or life cake is an excellent
reminder of the Bread of Life. Among English recipes are to be
found everything from boar's head to plum pudding, with accent
upon hot buttered rum and eggnog.
Since the vigil is a fast day, fish is in order. Whereas in
Brittany the codfish takes the honors of the day, American custom
associates piping hot oyster stew with Christmas Eve. Sponge cake
or an Italian cream tart would make an excellent dessert, quickly
prepared by the older girls. The Polish Christmas Eve supper,
called the "wigilia," is perhaps the most complicated culinary
celebration of the vigil. "In the homes of that country," the
"Feast Day Cook Book" tells us, "stalks of grain are placed in
the four corners of the dining room with a prayer for plenty in
the years to come. Then bits of hay, symbolic of the manger in
Bethlehem, are strewn beneath the tablecloth, which must be hand
woven. The youngest child is set to watch for the first star of
the evening, and when it appears he runs to tell the rest of the
family. Then supper begins, as tradition has ordered it, with the
breaking of the "oplatek," a semi-transparent unleavened wafer
made in an iron mold and stamped with scenes of the Nativity.
Each one at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol
of their unity in Christ...."2 The soups are three in number,
followed by three fish dishes accompanied by noodles, cabbage and
dumplings. The desserts are also three, one of which is always a
fruit compote with twelve dried fruits symbolic of the Twelve
Apostles. At the end of the supper, carols are sung and presents
are exchanged. The remainder of the food is often given to the
animals in the hope that all living things may prosper by the
food served in memory of Our Lord's first night on earth.
"In Austria on Christmas Eve, every house is filled with the
aroma of "fruchtbrot" as it receives the visit of the
"anglockler" or bell-ringers, who go from place to place singing
carols, sometimes two of their number impersonating Mary and
Joseph seeking shelter at the inn. In Germany the Christmas
observances go back to the start of Advent, when a wreath is
hung, usually from the ceiling of the dining room, and to it a
silver star is added each day, and each week a red candle. Also
in advance is prepared the "Christstollen" (a long loaf of bread
made with dried fruits and citron) as well as the "lebkuchen" and
the marzipan, regarded as important holiday foods. On Christmas
Eve the family gathers beneath the Advent wreath and sings
carols. Then the Christmas tree is lighted and the gifts are
The opening of the eternal gates through which the King of Glory
may enter is indicated by the wreath on the door of our homes at
Christmastide. The Advent wreath, which accompanied the family
throughout the season of preparation may be taken down. The
violet ribbons are removed, and it is gloriously decorated with
white and gold. It is then placed upon the door as a symbol of
the welcome of Christ into our city, our home and our hearts. On
Christmas Eve the whole house should be strewn with garlands and
made ready for the Light of the World. The crib is set in a
special place of honor, for tonight the central figure of the
Nativity scene is to arrive.
The Jews celebrate their feast of lights (Hannukah) during the
month of December in honor of the rededication of the Temple.
Tonight we celebrate the arrival of the Messias who is the light
and life of the world. The liturgy itself has preserved the
symbolism of light as representative of the Redeemer, and this is
most dramatically brought out in the blessing of the paschal
candle at Easter. On Christmas Eve, a huge candle is set up in
the home. It was often the custom to surround this candle with a
laurel wreath, symbolic of victory over Satan, and then to keep
the light burning throughout the holy night and every night
during the festival season. Nearly every nation has adopted the
Christmas candle. In Ireland the family lights a holly-bedecked
candle and prays for the living and the dead. The Ukrainians
place their candle in a loaf of bread, reminiscent of the Bread
of Life and the Light of the Nations. In South America the candle
is sometimes placed in a paper lantern decorated with Nativity
scenes. In France the Christmas light often consisted in the
molding of three individual candles into one at the base in order
to give honor to the Most Holy Trinity. In Germany the Christmas
candle was sometimes placed upon the "lichtstock," a wooden pole
decorated with evergreens. The pyramid of candles which later
became customary was replaced by the Christmas tree during the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The Irish are particularly fond of placing a candle in the
window. During the English persecutions priests were obliged to
go into hiding, and it was the hope of every Irish family to have
the refugee come into their home for the celebration of Mass on
Christmas Eve. The candle in the window indicated his welcome
into their home. When the English authorities requested an
explanation of this custom the Irish simply explained that they
lit the candles and kept the doors unlocked so that if Mary and
Joseph were looking for a place to stay they knew that they would
be welcome. This "superstition" was considered harmless by the
English, and the Irish were often rewarded by the Real Presence
of Christ at Holy Mass.
The Christmas fires burning on the peaks of the Alps in central
Europe are a colorful sight. As Father Weiser writes: "Like
flaming stars they hang in the dark heavens during Holy Night,
burning brightly and silently as the farmers from around the
mountainsides walk through the winter night down into the valley
for midnight Mass. Each person carries a lantern, swinging it to
and fro; the night seems alive with hundreds of glow worms
converging towards the great light at the foot of the mountains--
the parish church--shining and sparkling, a 'Feast of Lights'
indeed. No one who has witnessed this scene on Christmas Eve in
Austria, Bavaria or Switzerland will ever forget it."4
This is the evening for the telling of Christmas stories to the
children. The collection of Christmas stories in "Christmastide"
by William J. Rohrenbeck would serve well both for tonight and
throughout the holiday season. During the long evening before the
midnight Mass a story could be read. The little Christmas Eve
program available from Conception Abbey, Conception, Mo., with
its readings from the Martyrology and the Gospel of St. Luke
could be enacted. The last preparations of the Christmas tree and
crib are made. The close association between the evergreen tree
as the symbol of life, and the Christmas candle as the symbol of
light should be retained. When the great Ansgar preached Christ
to the Vikings he referred to the fir tree as a symbol of the
faith, for "it was as high as hope, as wide as love, and bore the
sign of the cross on every bough." Instead of exchanging presents
and having a little feast during the evening, we should imitate
the bountiful "Reveillon" breakfast after the midnight Mass. The
fasting is over and the joys of Christmas are at hand; with the
Giver of all gifts we extend our gifts and love to family and
The singing of hymns and carols is the natural adornment of
Christmas customs and stories at home. The great wealth of
Christmas carols from many times and many lands should be
discovered by American families. Most of these carols have a
popular appeal and nearly all of the important ones have been
translated into singable English. Many indeed are available in
recordings, both in the original tongue and in English. For this
reason we have omitted the mention of familiar American and
English carols, as well as such hymns and carols as "Silent
Night" and "Adeste Fideles"; these are all well known to American
homes and shall indeed be fostered by our people. Ancient Latin
and foreign carols broaden our understanding of Christmas. They
are easily understood by children since they belong to the
international treasury of folklore. The children may be given an
early appreciation of the universality of the love which all
nations have offered to the Infant Saviour.
The hymns which are nearest to the heart of the Church as the
Bride of the heavenly Spouse are those which are found in her
liturgical books. It would be very appropriate, for example, on
this holy night to sing the Vesper antiphon, "Jerusalem gaude,"
followed by the Magnificat of our Blessed Lady on the solemn
tone. The Vesper hymn "Jesu Redemptor omnium" reflects a movement
of joyous peace which lies at the heart of Christmas. Some of the
simpler elements from the Masses of Christmas are easily sung by
children. This is clearly seen as we listen to the recordings of
Father Hellriegel's choir of children. For example, the English
version of the rhythmic fourteenth-century Latin carol called
"Quem pastores laudavere" is pleasing to the pure minds of
It would be totally impossible to mention all of the carols which
come from various countries in celebration of Christmas Eve. For
Christmas Eve we recommend in particular the following carols:
"Come, All Ye Shepherds" (Czech); "Behold a Branch Is Growing,"
"Sing, O Sing" (German); "Carol of the Children of Bethlehem"
(Austrian): and the French carols "Bring Your Torches, Jeannette,
Isabelle," "Whence, O Shepherd Maiden" (inspired by the
responsory of the second nocturn of the Sunday within the octave
of the Nativity), and "Oh, Publish the Glad Story."
This last-named song is often executed in Austria, France and the
Spanish countries. Father Weiser describes it, saying: "It is a
dramatic rendition of the Holy Family's fruitless efforts to find
a shelter in Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary, tired and weary, knock
at door after door, humbly asking for a place to stay. Realizing
that they are poor, the owners refuse their request with harsh
words, until the Holy Family finally decide to seek shelter in a
stable. Usually the whole performance is sung and often it is
followed by a happy ending showing a tableau of the cave with the
Nativity scene.... A similar custom is the Spanish "Posada" (the
Inn), traditional in South-American countries, especially Mexico.
On an evening between December 16 and 24, several neighboring
families gather in one house, where they prepare a shrine,
handsomely decorated, and beside it a crib with all its
traditional figures, but the manger is empty. At night a priest
comes to the house, reads prayers and burns incense before the
pictures of Mary and Joseph. Then a procession is formed, the two
images carried at the head. The group moves through the house,
reciting a litany and chanting hymns until it reaches a room on
the top floor where a carol is sung in which St. Joseph begs for
a shelter. The people stationed within the room respond, refusing
St. Joseph's request as part of the carol. The procession then
proceeds to the place where the altar has been prepared. Pictures
of Joseph and Mary are put in the shrine, venerated with prayer
and incense, and all those present are blessed by the priest.
Thus the religious part of the "Posada" ends. Then comes a gay
party for the adults consisting of games and refreshments, while
the children are entertained with the "pinata." This is a fragile
clay jar suspended from the ceiling and filled with candy and
other goodies. The object is to break the jar with a stick so the
contents spill and everybody rushes pell-mell for some of its
treasures."5 Should you wish to try this type of Nativity play
with your children, an Austrian version may be found in the
"Trapp Family Book of Christmas Songs."6
Children love to sing and to light candles. They also love the
ringing of bells, and they should be given every opportunity to
do so with the arrival of the Saviour at midnight on Holy Night.
In many churches the bells are rung during the solemn vigil which
precedes the midnight Mass. In other places a concert of chimes
and carillon music is rung from all the towers and steeples.
There is a quaint medieval custom which is observed in some
places in the British Isles. It is symbolic of the renewal of the
life of grace which was brought about by the new Adam. One hour
before midnight the big bell of the church begins to toll as if
for a funeral. This continues for a whole hour, but at the stroke
of twelve the joy of the world is expressed by a glorious ringing
out of Christmas joy and redemption.
The temptation to speak of myriads of other interesting customs
which solemnize the vigil is very great. Though a complete
account here is impossible, it is our hope that these few
suggestions may inflame the imagination of our American families
and inspire them to go more deeply into the spiritual meaning and
wealth of the Holy Night. Among the Slavic nations, for example,
the small children are permitted by their parents to sleep on the
floor in a bedding of hay and straw before the midnight Mass.
While this practice is scarcely advisable in our own country--
where so many have no access to a rural environment anyway--
parents may wish to permit children to make some small sacrifice
of comfort on this night of nights, in order to share in the
humble circumstances of the Saviour's birth. After the midnight
Mass, as they come home for the "reveillon" around the crib and
the Christmas tree to receive their presents, their joy would be
even greater, for they would have experienced some little
reminder of the sufferings of the Christ Child. St. Gregory
Nazianzen has vividly summarized this spirit of the Gospel and of
St. Paul: "Let us be as Christ, for Christ is also as we. Let us
become gods for His sake, for He also was made man for us. He
took upon Himself what was poorer that He might give what was
more glorious; He was made poor that we might be enriched by that
poverty; He took the form of a servant that we might be set at
liberty. He descended that we might be elevated.... Let everyone
give all things; let him offer all things to Him who gave Himself
as the price of redemption for us and as a recompense for our
fault. But he can give nothing as great as when, rightly
understanding this mystery he offers himself and becomes for the
sake of Him everything which He has become for our sake." (Second
nocturn of Easter Sunday.) 7
CHRISTMAS: THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY
During the past few centuries the only vigil which has been
celebrated with the nocturnal Office and Holy Mass was that of
Christmas. Happily our present Holy Father has decreed that the
vigil of Easter should be restored to its proper place of supreme
importance. These two feast are the only ones in the Roman rite
which are fully celebrated by the people as a whole, and in
consequence their importance should be emphasized more forcibly.
The ancient Church had made the night office a permanent
institution. As Our Lord very often went up on to the mountain to
pray during the night, so the Church offered her night watch for
the "parousia" of the Saviour. Night was made for a prayer or
meditation of love and not merely for sleep. In the spirit of the
liturgy the nocturns of Matins in monastic houses are still
assigned to the night. Many religious still rise from sleep in
order to pray and watch with the Church. About ten thirty or
eleven o'clock on Christmas Eve the bells are rung calling the
monks to Matins of Christmas. It is a splendid privilege to be
able to join them at the monastery in their bounteous celebration
of the Nativity. It would, of course, be beyond our range here to
explain in detail the ceremonies of Matins: this may be found in
the works of Parsch and Graf concerning the Breviary.
In Germany a beautiful arrangement of the Christmas Gospel has
been made on the tone of Christmas Matins ("Die Frohbotschaft der
Geburt des Herrn"). It would be excellent if this could be
translated and placed in the hands of American parents to be sung
around the home crib before the family goes to the midnight Mass.
The children in this country would at least enjoy some echo of
the more complete spiritual celebration with which the Church
receives her Bridegroom. The only substitute which we could
recommend at present is a common reading or meditation on the
birth of Christ as found in the readings and psalms of the Divine
Office. Reading, however, is a rather remote substitute for
children as it is likewise for adults. We prefer to do, to see,
to hear and to sing ourselves.
The explanation of the reason for the celebration of three Masses
on Christmas day is so very simple and clear in "Das Jahr des
Heiles" of Pius Parsch that we feel obliged to translate. When
this great work is translated completely into English, every
family should read it frequently during Christmastide. It is
replete with the Christmas spirit.
"The holy day of Christmas is characterized by a triple
Eucharistic Sacrifice. The ancient Roman Church followed, in this
matter, the example of the venerable Church of Jerusalem. The
faithful there assembled during the night at the grotto of the
Nativity in order to sanctify the hour of the birth of the Lord
by the celebration of Holy Mass. At the end of this Mass they
returned to Jerusalem. In the Church of the Resurrection in that
city, what better means could they take than to celebrate
Christmas with the shepherds? This was the second Mass. During
the day they again assembled in church for the solemn Office of
the feast. In this manner it became customary to celebrate three
Masses on Christmas Day. This custom was initiated at Rome. The
first Mass was celebrated during the night in the church of the
crib at St. Mary Major (the stational church of St. Mary Major
was considered to be the Bethlehem of the Roman people). The
second Mass was celebrated in the Roman church of the
Resurrection. The third Mass was celebrated at the basilica of
St. Peter. This custom spread from Rome to the entire Occidental
church. Since the time when priests of the Roman rite were
permitted to celebrate Mass each day the custom became
established that every priest might celebrate three Masses on
"Three elements unite in each Mass: the divine Light, the
corresponding time of the day or night, and the historic fact
expressed in the Gospel for that hour. In the three Masses, there
is a progressive development of the feast. The spirit of Advent
is still noticeable in the first Mass. The God of Majesty,
surrounded by light, manifests Himself. Luminous angels fly above
the earth, and the Mother, the most pure Virgin, is the only
earthly creature who approaches the divine Infant. Humanity is
still waiting in the shadows of the night. The meaning of
Christmas develops with the second Mass, which is celebrated at
dawn at the rising of the sun. That divine Light which appeared
mysteriously upon earth, clothed in the garments of night, rises
for us like the sun. He is full of creative power and enters into
relation with us as our Saviour. In the third Mass, the meaning
of Christmas attains its perfect development: Jesus is manifested
in all His power to all men.
"Christmas is a feast of light. This is evident from its very
beginning. The date of December 25 is not the historical day of
the birth of the Saviour (this day is unknown). This day of the
winter solstice was chosen in order to supplant the pagan feast
of the sun god ("sol invictus"), and to substitute a Christian
feast on that day. Christ is the true God and Sun who combats the
powers of darkness and overcomes them. This is the reason why the
feast of His birth is well placed at the very moment when the sun
begins its ascension. The thought of light, so touchingly
expressed by the Christian people by their illuminated Christmas
tree, is to be found in all three Masses The symbolism of light
is particularly noteworthy at the midnight Mass; at the second
Mass the rising sun offers a living symbol, and that is why the
Introit sings out with joy: 'A Light shines for us today.' At the
third Mass the symbol of Light is to be found in the Gospel
itself: 'The Light shines in the darkness.'"8
The spirit of the Masses of Christmas may be expressed in the
Midnight: The birth of the Son of God in Eternity by His
procession from the Father. Mary alone, overshadowed by the Holy
Spirit, witnesses and recognizes Him in His historic birth at
Dawn: The birth of the Son of God upon earth by means of the
Incarnation is recognized by the chosen people, represented by
the shepherds. He becomes our redeemer, the Saviour and Head of
His Mystical Body and Spouse, the Church.
Noonday: The birth of the King in majesty, the God-Man who is
revealed as the Redeemer of all men and King of all creation. All
mankind, by rebirth in grace, and in virtue of His victory over
the kingdom of Satan, may wait in joy and expectancy for the
opening of the eternal gates of heaven by the Lamb who was slain:
the "parousia," or final coming of the Saviour at our death, and
especially at the end of the world.
The celebration at home on Christmas Day should be filled with
joy and rest, as is emphasized in the Matins for the feast: "Our
Saviour is born today. Dearly beloved, let us rejoice! It would
be unlawful to be sad today, when it is the birthday of Life: the
birthday of that Life which, for us dying creatures, takes away
the sting of death and brings the bright promise of eternal life
hereafter. No one is shut out from a share in this happiness. All
men have an equal share in the great cause of our joy, for Our
Lord...is come to make all free."9 The great King for whom we
have been preparing during the whole season of Advent has come,
and we may no longer fast now that the Bridegroom is in our
Christmas dinner is customarily the high point of the family
celebration. It should be remembered that the feast is not the
time for the mother of the family to spend long hours in the
kitchen. The greater portion of the meal should have been
prepared beforehand, and help in serving and dishwashing is a
mark of the charity of all. The blessing for the meal should be
taken directly from the "Ritual" today, and if possible, all
could sing it.10
Community reading, caroling and folk-dancing are traditionally
appropriate. We suggest that many ideas for the celebration of
the holiday season may be found in "The Christmas Book."
It is interesting to learn how Christmas was celebrated in the
Middle Ages, to read about the nativity plays, including even a
sample of an Epiphany play as presented by the Huron and
Algonquin Indians, and to glean information about all the flowers
and decorations used everywhere at Christmastide--the holly,
mistletoe, ivy, laurel, rosemary, bay, cherry and poinsettia.
Many stories can be read to the children and a play may be
enacted after the Christmas dinner.
In the event that Mother has received a poinsettia plant, the
children could enact the legend telling why the Mexican people
call this the "flower of the Holy Night." Father Weiser recounts
it thus: "On a Christmas eve long ago a poor little boy went to
church in great sadness because he had no gift to bring to the
Holy Child. He dared not enter the church and, kneeling humbly on
the ground outside the house of God, he prayed fervently, and
assured Our Lord with tears how much he desired to offer Him some
lovely present. 'But I am very poor and dread to approach You
with empty hands.' When he finally rose from his knees he saw
springing up at his feet a green plant with gorgeous blooms of
dazzling red. His prayer had been answered; he broke some of the
beautiful twigs from the plant and joyously entered the church to
lay his gift at the foot of the Christ Child. Since then the
plant has spread over the whole country; it blooms every year at
Christmas time with such glorious abandon that men are filled
with the true holiday spirit at the mere sight of the Christmas
flower, symbolic of the Saviour's birth."11
Children and adults both enjoy caroling, either at home or going
from house to house. Besides the customary American and English
carols, we should suggest a few of the following ones. The hymn
for Christmas Lauds, "O Solis Ortus," has been well-arranged for
vernacular singing in "Hymns of the Church."12 Two Latin hymns
have a catchy melody which children love: "Puer natus in
Bethlehem,"13 and "Resonet in laudibus," an excellent fourteenth-
century carol which may be found in the "St. Gregory Hymnal." The
latter melody is so popular and modern that some young people are
reminded by it of the advertisement for Super Suds.
"The Trapp Family Book of Christmas Songs" is replete with songs
and ideas. From it we recommend the following songs for Christmas
Day: A "Child Is Born in Bethlehem," "We Whom Joyous Shepherd
Praised" (a moving fourteenth-century Latin carol), "Maria on the
Mountain" (a lullaby carol traditional in Germany), "The Darkness
is Falling" (an Austrian carol which could serve as a Christmas
night prayer for the children); and "Fum, Fum, Fum" (full of the
rhythm of Christmas in Spain).
The word carol comes from the Greek word "choraulein," which is
constructed from the two words "choros," the dance, and "aulein,"
to play the flute. The ancient Greeks and Romans danced in ring
form. Their carols were brought in Roman times to Britain and
Gaul. Even in medieval England a carol meant a ring-dance
accompanied by singing: the children's game of ring-around-a-rosy
very likely comes from the Middle Ages. Sweden and Austria still
maintain the dance-carol. Gradually the meaning of the word carol
came to be applied to the song itself rather than the dance. A
carol usually pertains to folklore and is joyful and festive.
However, in our day we apply the word carol to all Christmas
songs, including many which are more solemn and should more
appropriately be called hymns. The birthplace of the true
Christmas carol was Italy. Besides the gift of the Christmas crib
to the world, modern caroling may be ascribed to St. Francis of
Assisi. From Italy the carol extended to Spain, France, and
finally to all Europe. The earliest modern English carol was a
The old forms of the dance-carol persisted even in church itself,
relates Father Weiser. "Dance carols, usually ring-dances
accompanied by singing, were greatly favored in medieval times.
The altar boys, for example, in the Cathedral of Seville, Spain,
used to dance before the altar on Christmas and other feast days
accompanied by song and the sound of castanets. In the Cathedral
of York, England, until the end of the sixteenth century choir
boys performed a dance in the aisle of the church after morning
prayer on Christmas Day. In France it was customary to dance a
"bergette" (shepherd's dance) in churches at Christmas time.
Dancing in churches was prohibited by an ecclesiastical council
at Toledo in 590, but the custom had become so much a part of the
Christmas festivities that in some places dancing survived until
the thirteenth and fourteenth century, and in England, right up
to the Reformation (in Spain even longer)."14
It is for these reasons that we greatly favor caroling and folk-
dancing for the children during Christmastide. In the
bibliography may be found several books on folk-dancing which
will be very useful even to the amateur. Parents should wisely
familiarize their children with simple folk dances and melodies
before they become too spoiled by our modern tunes and dances,
the greater portion of which do not compare in interest and
culture with the earlier carols and dances. It must be remembered
that folk-dancing and caroling really belong to the people, and
in consequence they are essentially attractive to children and
adults alike. They are, in addition to being of the people,
usually based upon the folk celebration of the liturgical feast
A final remark concerning caroling at Christmas is to encourage
the reader to plumb the mysteries of yodeling. We are not all
Swiss and Austrian and yodeling is not particularly easy. Yet it
is a very popular form of music in mountainous countries, and one
beloved by the people. Should you desire to try a little yodeling
with the children, we recommend the Austrian yodel-carol from the
Tyrol, "To Christ Our Lord We Raise This Song."15 The children
will like it as if by instinct.
For those families who are more sophisticated in taste, or whose
talents are not developed for self-expression, Christmas night
often brings dull moments and a nostalgic loneliness. Very
beautiful and inspiring substitutes for Christmas cheer may be
found in concerts and recordings. It is desirable at this season
to take the older children to a performance of Handel's "Messiah"
or to listen to the Christmas compositions of Corelli and
Vivaldi, for example. Children indeed should at an early age be
introduced to refinement in music. Folk singing and dancing serve
as foundation blocks to modern musical compositions. The
movements of concertos, partitas, sonatas and various other
musical forms are essentially dance forms whose origin is to be
found in mediaeval folklore. Parents and teachers in our country
may balance the self-expression of children in using their own
talents with a graduated development of interest and
understanding of more developed musical compositions. In music as
in all the arts the classic is that which is the common heritage
of all peoples, imitations and the exaggeration of rugged
individualists soon pass away.
"From lands that see the sun arise
To earth's remotest boundaries,
The Virgin-born today we sing
The Son of Mary, Christ the King."
--Lauds for the Nativity16
1. St. John Chrysostom, "On the Solstice and Equinox," quoted in
"Catholic Encyclopedia," Vol. III, pg. 727.
2, Burton-Ripperger, "Feast Day Cook Book," p. 155 ff.
3. Ibid., pp. 159-160.
4. "The Christmas Book," pp. 114-115.
5. Ibid., pp. 98-100.
6. "The Trapp Family Book of Christmas Songs," p. 77.
7. From the Benedictine Office, "Liturgical Readings," St.
8. Parsch, Pius, "Das Jahr des Heiles," Vol. I, pp. 239-31.
9. Homily of St. Leo from the second nocturn of Matins.
10. Cf. Weller, "The Roman Ritual," Vol. III: "The Blessings."
11. "The Christmas Book," pp. 133-134.
12. Dom Ermin Vitry, p. 11.
13. "Cantus," Fisher and Bros., N.Y., pp. 24-25.
14. "The Christmas Book," p. 71.
15. Weiser, "The Christmas Book," pp. 77-78.
16. J. M. Neale translation.
CHAPTER 6: THE COURT OF THE KING-SAVIOR
ST. STEPHEN (December 26)
(Station at St. Stephen's on Mt. Coelius)
ANCIENT tradition tells us that while Advent brought God to man
through the Incarnation of the Word, so the twelve days between
Christmas and the Epiphany were to bring man to God. On the very
first day after Christmas we meet the first member of the suite
of the Great King. The Saviour's immediate attendant is St.
Stephen of Jerusalem, the first martyr, for there is no greater
love for the newborn King than to lay down one's life for Him.
Even though the Mass of the day indicates that this feast was
originally independent of the Christmas cycle, the Divine Office
unites this feast with Christmas in the most intimate fashion.
The children, especially small boys, would be happy to hear the
story of St. Stephen as it is written in Matins of his feast day:
"Yesterday we celebrated the temporal birth of our Eternal King;
today we celebrate the triumphant passion of His soldier. For
yesterday our King, clothed in the garb of our flesh and coming
from the palace of the virginal womb, deigned to visit the world;
today the soldier, leaving the tent of the body, has gone to
heaven in triumph. The one, while preserving the majesty of the
everlasting God, putting on the servile girdle of flesh, entered
into the field of this world ready for the fray. The other,
laying aside the perishable garment of the body, ascended to the
palace of heaven to reign eternally. The One descended, veiled in
flesh; the other ascended, crowned with blood.
"The latter ascended while the Jews were stoning him because the
former descended while the angels were rejoicing. 'Glory to God
in the highest,' sang the exulting angels yesterday; today
rejoicing, they received Stephen into their company. Yesterday
the Lord came forth from the womb of the Virgin; today the
soldier of Christ has passed from the prison of the flesh.
"Yesterday Christ was wrapped in swathing bands for our sake;
today Stephen is clothed by Him in the robe of immortality.
Yesterday the narrow confines of the crib held the Infant Christ;
today the immensity of heaven has received the triumphant
Stephen. The Lord descended alone that He might raise up many;
our King has humbled Himself that He might exalt His soldiers. It
is necessary for us, nevertheless, brethren, to acknowledge with
what arms Stephen was girded and able to overcome the cruelty of
the Jews that thus he merited so happily to triumph.
"Stephen, therefore, that he might merit to obtain the crown his
name signifies, had as his weapon charity, and by means of that
he was completely victorious. Because of love for God, he did not
flee the raging Jews: because of his love of neighbor he
interceded for those stoning him. Because of love he convinced
the erring of their errors, that they might be corrected; because
of love, he prayed for those stoning him that they might not be
punished. Supported by the strength of charity, he overcame Saul,
who was so cruelly raging against him; and him whom he had as a
persecutor on earth, he deserved to have as a companion in
heaven." (St. Fulgentius, Third Sermon on St. Stephen)1
The charity of St. Stephen is the reason for the songs and
customs which have become the traditional manner of celebrating
his feast. The old English carol "Good King Wenceslaus" tells the
children how King Wenceslaus went out on St. Stephen's day to
bring charity to the poor . The snow was covered with the blood
of his freezing feet: "Heat was in the very sod which the saint
had printed." The good king knew that whatever he did to the
least of his subjects he did for Christ in honor of the first
holy martyr. In Yorkshire, England, large goose pies were made
and distributed to the poor. Indeed, the feast was known as
Boxing Day, since the earthen banks or boxes of the apprentices
were filled with money gifts by their masters. This was the
direct forerunner of the piggy bank. Would it not be appropriate
if the children's piggy banks were painted red, or had a streak
of red on them in memory of the charity of the martyr, Stephen?
Mothers and fathers often buy banks for children to teach them
saving. This is an excellent practice. Would it not be wise as
well to teach them to be frugal with themselves in order to share
their charity with their neighbor?
One of the oldest folk-songs of Sweden, "Saint Stephen was
Riding" (Staffansvisa) is sung at Christmastide in honor of St.
Stephen, telling the delightful "Miracle of the Cock." According
to this story, Herod would not believe Stephen when he was told
that "One greater than thou has been born this holy night." The
proof of his words came when a roasted cock rose up out of the
gravy and crowed as he had crowed at the break of day. "The
"Staffan" of the song has the features of two entirely different
personalities, those of the deacon, St. Stephen of Jerusalem,
whose feast is celebrated on December 26 and therefore closely
connected with Christmas, and those of the eleventh century
missionary, Staffan, who traveled far in the north. The latter
was killed by pagans; and an unbroken foal brought his body to
Norrala, where a chapel was built over his grave. In all Germanic
lands he became the patron of health and of horses, and being
confused with St. Stephen of Jerusalem he shares in his honors on
December 26, such as the 'Stephen-Cup,' drunk to good health, and
horseback rides around churches and through villages."2
With St. Stephen as their teacher the children learn quickly that
as Christ came to us on Christmas Day so we must follow in the
footsteps of the holy martyrs in our way to God. Psalm 62, used
on the feast of St. Stephen, is the first lesson which the young
deacon teaches the children:
"O God, Thou art my God: earnestly do I seek Thee,
My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh longs for Thee,
like a dry and thirsty land, without water.
So do I gaze upon Thee in the sanctuary, to see Thy
might and Thy glory...."
Antiphon: My soul cleaves to Thee, because my flesh was stoned
for Thee, my God. (Lauds for the feast of St. Stephen, 3rd Psalm
ST. JOHN THE APOSTLE (December 27)
(Station at St. Mary Major)
The second teacher in the suite of the great King is the beloved
disciple St. John. So greatly did Christ love this disciple that
He confided His own Mother, the Blessed Virgin, to his care. That
is the reason why the feast of St. John is celebrated in the
great Basilica of Our Lady. The dominant theme of the feast and
the basis for its corporate unity with the coming of the Saviour
is to be found in the Mass of the day. At the Gradual, Gospel and
Communion, we read: "I wish him to remain thus until I come."
Yesterday we celebrated the charity of the Saviour in the
martyrdom of St. Stephen; today we celebrate the virginity of St.
John. Our Lord wishes the children to learn from St. John that
they must retain an innocence and purity of life similar to that
of His beloved disciple in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Virgin Mother whom He gave on the Cross to the virgin
disciple became the Mother of us all. Through her guiding hand
and intercession the entire world comes to the Saviour.
St. John is particularly noted for his great charity. As he
became a very aged man in Ephesus, much of his time was spent in
teaching the precept of his Master: "Little children, love one
another." The "Roman Ritual" contains a blessing for wine on his
feast day "in remembrance and in honor of St. John who without
any ill effects drank a cup of poisoned wine." After the last
Gospel of the feast the priest blesses the wine or other
beverages, reciting the psalm of the Good Shepherd. The oration
speaks of the apostolic care necessary for all who are on their
journey to God:
"Holy God, Father almighty, eternal God, who didst will that thy
Son, equal to Thee in eternity and substance should descend from
heaven and in the fullness of time take temporal birth of the
most holy Virgin Mary, so that He could seek the lost and wayward
sheep and carry it on His shoulders to the sheepfold, and could
cure the man fallen among robbers of his wounds by pouring in oil
and wine, do Thou bless and sanctify this wine which Thou hast
vintaged for man's drink. Whoever partakes of it on this holy
solemnity, grant him life in body and soul. By Thy goodness let
it be to him strength in the pilgrimage to prosper him on the
way, that his journey may come to a happy termination. Through
the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.
"O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst call Thyself the true vine and
Thy holy apostles the branches, and didst desire to plant a
chosen vineyard of all who love Thee, bless this wine and impart
to it the power of Thy benediction. And as Thy beloved disciple
John, Apostle and Evangelist intercedes for them that partake
thereof, grant them security from all deadly and poisonous
afflictions and constant good health of soul and body. Who livest
and reignest forever. Amen."3
This is a very good occasion to teach children the proper usage
of spirituous beverages. The introduction of a little blessed red
wine on the feast of St. John at the principal meal of the day
would have only a salutary effect upon the children. Theresa
Mueller makes the following comments upon the days immediately
"The liturgy, then, which we study night after night before the
crib, sees to it that we do not get lost in the concentration on
the childhood of our Saviour, calling our attention on the day
after Christmas to the great martyrdom of St. Stephen the Deacon,
who died praying for his enemies. On the third day is the feast
of St. John, the Apostle, 'whom Jesus loved.' A beautiful custom
is some old countries is the drinking of 'St. John's love' on
that day. Wine, blessed with a special blessing and prayers, is
served in the home before the main meal: the father lifts the cup
towards the mother. 'I drink you the love of St. John'; she
having answered: 'I thank you for the love of St. John,' drinks
to the eldest child and so on including guests and servants. The
simple beauty of this ceremony gives character and dignity to our
family supper, too, especially if there is a John in the family,
who celebrates the day of his patron saint."4
If any of the young boys of the family happens to belong to the
Boy Scouts, it should not be forgotten that the eagle, which
represents the highest Scout rank, symbolizes the apostle St.
John. His wings spread for flight towards the Sun of Justice,
whose rays give light and life. By the strength of sanctifying
grace which comes from the Saviour, the scout is able to turn
from the world, the flesh and the devil and to soar with the
strength of the eagle drawn heavenwards to the heights of the
resurrected and ascended Christ.
THE HOLY INNOCENTS (December 28)
(Station at St. Paul's)
After the feast of the martyr and the virgin apostle we celebrate
the feast of the infant martyrs. In this respect, today's feast
represents a high point in our reception of the suite of the
King-Redeemer. The Church is very dynamic in her consideration of
the Holy Innocents and does not stop at a mere meditation upon
these historical figures. The infant saints completely realize
the ideal of the early Church based upon the Apocalypse of St.
John as found in the lesson for the Mass of the feast. Adorned
with the purple of martyrdom and the white lily of virginity,
they form the escort of honor of the Lamb.
Modern piety expresses a tendency to center attention about the
crib and all of the heartwarming aspects of childhood. We tend to
forget that the Incarnation is the beginning of the redemptive
act of the Word of God. It would be wise indeed to teach the
children by means of word, song and example that the crib and the
cross go together. In ancient times this fourth day in the octave
of the Nativity was not consecrated to the Holy Innocents, but
rather to the exile of Christ, the flight into Egypt. Both of
those themes mingle together as they actually do in the Gospel of
the day and in the Divine Office. At Matins we hear the psalm
characteristic of the feast:
"Why are the nations in tumult, and why do the
peoples devise vain things?
The kings of the earth rise up, and the princes
take counsel together against the Lord and
against His Anointed...."
We have already heard this ominous note on Christmas Day, in the
martyrdom of Stephen, and in the poisoned drink of St. John. We
shall hear it again on the Sunday within the octave and on the
feast of the Circumcision, when the Child shall shed His first
blood for our redemption. This reminder constitutes a transition
from the Christmas cycle to the Easter cycle, for the Incarnation
is but the prelude to the great sacrifice of the redemption.
Since ancient times the bodies of five of the Innocents have been
honored in the stational church of St. Paul. Their bodies are
interred in a sarcophagus which is deposed in a place of
distinction beneath the apse of the basilica.
The second and third nocturns of Matins develop the Gospel
account of the feast. In the second nocturn St. Augustine tells
us that "Today we honor the birthday of those infants whom the
text of the Gospel relates to have been slain by Herod, that most
cruel king. And therefore let the earth rejoice with the greatest
exultation as the fruitful parents of his heavenly throng and of
such great virtues. Behold, this wicked enemy could never have so
greatly benefited the blessed children by honor as he did by
hate. For as today's most sacred feast shows, as much as iniquity
did abound against the blessed children, so much the more did the
grace of benediction flow out upon them. Blessed art thou, O
Bethlehem in the land of Judea, which endured the cruelty of King
Herod in the slaughter of thy children; who deserved to offer to
God at one time a snow white army of defenseless infants.
Fittingly, indeed, do we celebrate the birthday of those whom the
world brought forth into eternal life more happily than did birth
from their mothers' wombs. Indeed, they possessed the dignity of
eternal life before they partook of the enjoyment of the
In the third nocturn emphasis is placed upon the flight into
Egypt in the homily of St. Jerome: "When Joseph took the Child
and His Mother to flee into Egypt he took them in the night and
in the darkness, because he left the night of ignorance to those
infidels from whom he fled. But when he returned into Judea,
neither night nor darkness are mentioned in the Gospel because at
the end of the world the Jews shall be enlightened, receiving
faith as if receiving Christ returning from Egypt."6
There are many ways by which the great themes of the feast of the
Holy Innocents may be made comprehensible to children. Many
pastors, for example, invite the mothers to bring their children
to church on that day or on the following Sunday, in order to
receive a special blessing. (We shall treat of this blessing in
our development of the Sunday within the octave of the Nativity.)
In schools and convents the youngest are given a turn at being
"Superior"; and at home they may preside at the table, offering
their own ideas on how to sing and pray, eat and play. There are,
moreover, several beautiful carols which are particularly
suitable. The "Coventry Carol" was sung in the fifteenth century
"Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors" by the women of Bethlehem,
just before Herod's soldiers came to slaughter their children:
"Lulla, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.
Thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay
. . . Herod the king in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might
In his own sight,
All young children to slay...."
A seventeenth century Italian carol, "Herod Dead," is again in
keeping with the feast as is the lovely traditional German carol,
"Maria on the Mountain."
A birthday cake in honor of the birthday into heaven of the
little saints would make a timely dessert. Mrs. Berger tells us
that "German cooks created a Bavarian cream with either a
strawberry or cherry sauce to symbolize the blood spilled. They
felt that blanc-mange would be suitable for little children and
grownups after too much Christmas feasting."7
1. "Liturgical Readings," St. Meinrad's Abbey, pp. 22-23.
2. "The Trapp Family Book of Christmas Songs," p. 128.
3. Weller, "The Roman Ritual," Vol. 3: "The Blessings," pp. 33
4. "Our Children's Year of Grace," p. 17.
5. "Liturgical Readings," pp. 27-28.
6. Ibid., pp. 28-29.
7. "Cooking for Christ," pp. 27-28.
CHAPTER 7: SUNDAY IN THE OCTAVE OF CHRISTMAS
THE FEAST OF THE CIRCUMCISION AND THE HOLY NAME
THE link which unites the nativity of Christ with His passion and
resurrection is very apparent in the Mass of this Sunday. The
theme of the Sunday transports us already to the time of the
presentation of the Child in the Temple: He is established "for
the fall and the resurrection of many...and as a sign of
contradiction." The soul of Mary shall be pierced as by a lance.
The Mass today, although replete with the joy of the nativity of
the Saviour, is at once a forceful reminder of the purpose of the
Incarnation. Insofar as the instruction of children is concerned,
we may leave off a full explanation of the mysteries developed in
the liturgy of this Sunday in order to dwell upon them more fully
during the succeeding feasts.
This would be a most apt day to emphasize the blessings for
infants and children which are contained in the "Ritual." Psalm
112, "Ye children, sing praise to the Lord...," could be
explained to the children, and they could use it as their morning
and evening prayer. If it is possible, the pastor may provide an
occasion this afternoon for the formal blessing of the children
"O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, born before all
ages, in time Thou didst will to become an infant, for Thou
lovest the innocence of such. Thou who when children were brought
to Thee didst lovingly embrace them and bless them, hasten with
Thy sweetest blessings to this infant and keep its mind free from
malice. Ask him to advance in wisdom, age and grace, thereby ever
pleasing Thee, who livest and reignest with God the Father in the
unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen."1
This Sunday as well as all of the days in the octave of the
Nativity are called "daft days" in Scotland. We are in the midst
of the holiday season, and even work hours should become happy
and sacred. Insofar as the children are concerned, they shall
enjoy the parties and sports of the season with few
responsibilities of school and study. It should be remembered
that if we have restrained them from the celebration of Christmas
parties during the time of Advent, now is the time for all sorts
of joyous and innocent, even holy, recreation. These are the days
of caroling at home and on the streets. On this Sunday within the
octave, we recommend in particular the traditional Spanish carol
"A la Nanita Nana."
THE FEAST OF THE CIRCUMCISION
(Station at St. Mary across the Tiber)
THE FEAST OF THE HOLY NAME OF JESUS
(Sunday between the Circumcision and the Epiphany, or if this
does not occur according to the calendar, on January 2)
The Feast of the Circumcision is probably the most ancient feast
of the Virgin Mother. Formerly the venerable church of St. Mary
of the Martyrs, the ancient Pantheon, was the stational church
where the Pope celebrated Mass on this feast. The Church is most
grateful to Mary because of the great part which she played in
both the Incarnation and the Redemption wrought by the Saviour.
The first effusion of the blood of Christ conjures up thoughts of
His supreme sacrifice of love on the cross. Today for the first
time Mary is co-offerer of the sacrifice.
Truly, the first day of the year is a family feast. In imitation
of the Canadian custom, the children should receive the
benediction of their father the first thing in the morning. Our
Lord came into the world to do the will of the heavenly Father,
and remained obedient and submissive to Joseph and Mary
throughout most of His life. The children learn that all their
little sacrifices throughout the year should be in union with
these of the Child of Bethlehem.
For centuries the beginning of a new year has been the source of
many customs and ceremonies in every land. We find the Druids
with their boughs of mistletoe, the wassail bowl, the
"rauchnacht" or incense night in Austria, the search for the
"elbetritch," the Roman celebrations in honor of the two-faced
Janus, the "etrennes" of the "Jour de l'An." When the Roman
emperors were Christianized, they did not prohibit all the
customs which came from pagan times, but an attempt was made to
"baptize" them, or at least to avoid any superstitious practices
The Church celebrates the octave of the Nativity and the feast of
the Circumcision on the first day of the year. As a loving
mother, she recognizes that the first day of the civil year is a
holiday in every land, and as a consequence has made this day a
holyday of obligation, desiring that we bring our first
thanksgiving and homage to God. May the New Year cause all men to
remember that the precious gift of time which God has given us is
to be used according to His divine providence in the attainment
New Year's Eve, along with its innocent gaiety, is really a day
for serious reflection. It is true that for the Christian the
real beginning of the year takes place with the First Sunday in
Advent, and the children should be taught to make their annual
day of recollection before that Sunday, which celebrates the New
Year of grace. However, on the eve of the civil New Year as well
the children may join their parents in prayer and thanksgiving
for the gifts and benefits which God has given them in the past
year, and pray for necessary graces in the forthcoming civil
year. After all, the first fruits of the blood of the Infant
Saviour were offered on this feast day of the Circumcision. We
too should offer the "new beginning" as a morning prayer in honor
of the Most Holy Trinity.
One of the most profitable and interesting things which the
children may do on the last day of the year would be to help
mother prepare a Scripture Cake. There is nothing quite like the
kitchen to stir up an interest in Scripture. Following the Douay
Version of the Bible, the Feastday Cookbook2 offers this
(1) Four and one half cups of III Kings, iv. 22;
(2) One and one half cups of Judges, v, 25;
(3) Two cups of Jeremias vi, 20;
(4) Two cups of I Kings, xxx, 12;
(5) Two cups of Nahum iii, 12;
(6) One cup of Numbers, xvii, 8;
(7) Two tablespoons of I Kings, xiv, 25;
(8) Six articles of Jeremias xvii, 11;
(9) A pinch of Leviticus, ii, 13;
(10) A teaspoon of Amos, iv, 5;
(11) Season to taste with II Paralipomenon ix, 9;
(12) Add citron and follow Solomon's advice for making a good
boy, Proverbs, xxiii, 14, and you will have a good cake.
If the kitchen is not completely upset by this time, perhaps some
snowballs could be made according to Mrs. Berger's recipe,3 who
says they are a traditional treat for New Year's, when
"...as the birds lighting upon the earth, He scattereth snow: and
the falling down thereof is as the coming down of locusts. The
eye admireth at the beauty of the whiteness thereof: and the
heart is astonished at the shower thereof."
--Ecclesiasticus 43, 19-20
The Grailville publication, "New Life for New Year's Eve,"
contains several good suggestions both for adults and for
children. The theme chosen as motif for the evening is that of
the bells. It is suggested that bells as a symbol of the
gathering of Christians be used upon the invitation cards, that
bell cookies and cakes be served, and that the bell be rung
gloriously at midnight, especially in the event that there is a
midnight Mass in the parish. "Bells have always been connected
with New Year's, and are pictured on our greeting cards, but
we've pretty much forgotten what bells signify. The meaning of
the bell reaches far back in human history. The bells have called
Christians of many ages to pray, to rejoice, to mourn, as one.
They summon us to Mass, announce marriages, toll deaths, ring out
the feasts. Thus the theme of the bells can bring to mind the
Christian life which we share in common. The bells serve as a
beautiful symbol introducing a new year to be spent together as a
community of families or a group working in the lay apostolate."4
Bells indeed are the traditional means of calling the Christian
community to prayer. Even at home bells should be readily
associated with the Angelus and the familiar call to Sunday Mass.
Children love to ring bells just as they are fond of lighting
candles and playing with matches. Each child should have his turn
at ringing the Angelus at home, preferably at the same time that
it is rung at church. On New Year's Eve, the whole family could
participate in ringing bells as they sing the "Gloria in Excelsis
Deo," the "Te Deum," or one of the psalms of praise. A little
extra glamour is added by playing a good recording of cathedral
Before using an object it is excellent pedagogy to instruct the
child concerning the meaning and symbolism of the object. Since
bells and candles, wassail and the yule log are seen so very
often upon Christmas greetings and New Year's cards, the children
should be taught what they mean. In this country, New Year is
replete with old English tradition. The decking of the halls and
the lighting of holiday candles should be associated with the
Christmas wreath and the Advent candles. The yule log, an old
custom connected with the winter solstice, when the time of light
is shortest, is a pagan custom which may be Christianized.
Gathering around a fire denotes unity, and the lighting of the
fire and candles signifies the dispelling of darkness when the
Light came into the world at Christmas. The Grailville booklet
wisely suggests that the yule log be blessed by a prayer adapted
from the first Mass of Christmas day. After the children carry
the log or large Christmas candle into the room, the father
explains its meaning and lights it saying, "O God, who hast made
this most holy season to shine forth with the brightness of the
true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that we who have known the
mystery of His light upon earth may attain the enjoyment of His
happiness in heaven. Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the
unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen."
As light and fire symbolize the coming of the Redeemer and the
unity of all men in Christ, so the wassail bowl is associated
with the charity of St. John. The ringing of bells and singing of
Christmas songs echo the purity of heart which is the cause of
rejoicing for the family. New Year's Eve is an excellent day to
explain to the children the meaning of the blessing of church
bells. The booklet published by the Newman Press could be
reviewed, quoted, and its content explained. Songs such as "Deck
the Hall," the "Wassail Song," "The Holly and the Ivy," and the
"Coventry Carol" are in season, as well as poems such as "Ring
out, Wild Bells," sections of Tennyson's "In Memoriam," and "The
Bells" by Poe.
Hospitality is a hallmark of the evening. Christmas spirit should
embrace the aged, the stranger, the poor and the lonely. None
should be excluded from the family festivities on New Year's Eve.
The Chinese, who are particularly devoted to elderly members of
the family, could be imitated in their respect and deference to
the aged. Family spirit during this season shows love and
kindness to the patriarchs and matriarchs of the family.
A serious note is added to the evening by an "Hour of Watching."
The prayer hour should be carefully timed so that it reaches a
climax at midnight. There is no better way to conclude the
closing of the civil year and the opening of the New Year than by
family prayer followed by midnight Mass. There should be
contrition and thanksgiving for the past, and a prayer of peace
and holiness during the oncoming year. The easiest way to
conceive this midnight service of the New Year liturgically is to
compare it with the Ember Days. We recall that Ember Wednesdays
are consecrated to our Blessed Mother, Ember Fridays are days of
penance and prayer for the past, and Ember Saturdays are days of
thanksgiving and renewal concluding with a vigil service which
leads into the Sunday. The New Year hour of prayer should contain
practically the same themes, concluding with the ringing of the
bells and assistance at midnight Mass. Further treatment of this
material may be found in "Deo Gratias" by M. B. Hellriegel.
Today and on the Feast of the Holy Name, which is but a
complement to the feast of the Circumcision (the Gospel is indeed
the same), the name of the Saviour should be explained to the
children. During Advent Isaias called the Messias Emmanuel, but
this is not to be taken as a personal or proper name but rather
as a symbolic name meaning "God with us." St. Paul always called
Him the Christ-Jesus. The word "Christ" was not originally a
proper name, but always designated Our Lord in virtue of His
ministry as the Anointed One, the Redeemer. The name "Jesus" is
His own personal name, which is preferred today by modern piety
even though the "Christ-Jesus" of St. Paul is preferred by the
objective piety of the liturgy. When we speak of "Christ" we
think of the divine High Priest who renews His sacrifice upon the
altar, or the divine King seated upon the throne of God, who
shall come to judge the living and the dead. The proper name of
the Lord, Jesus, refers more to the human side of Christ insofar
as He was the God-Man who lived and died for us, who is the Good
Shepherd leading our souls to heaven. It is because the name
"Jesus" is proper to the God-Man that an inclination of the head
is prescribed at that name rather than at the title of Christ.
"At the name of Jesus all who are in heaven, on earth or in hell
must bow; and all tongues must confess that our Lord Jesus-Christ
is in the glory of the Father." (Introit of the Feast of the Holy
Name). This is the only name by which salvation shall be
Beside caroling and family festivity on these feast days of Mary
and Jesus, a little guessing game may interest the children.
About our various parish churches there are some mysterious signs
whose meaning could be guessed. What is the meaning of the "Chi-
Rho," the IHC and the IHS? Why should the fish be a symbol of
Christ? What is the "Majestas Domini"? The Christmas tree recalls
the meaning of PHOS and ZOE, which form a monogram in the form of
a cross. The proper song for the day is naturally the simple
little Vesper hymn of the Holy Name: "Jesus, the very Thought of
Thee" (Jesu Dulcis Memoria). What happened to the decoration of
the Scripture Cake? Well, of course, it must be decorated with
one of the monograms of the name of Jesus. Perhaps it could even
be shaped as a fish-mold with the ICTHUS written in red icing:
Jesus-Christ, the Son of God, the Savior.
For the contentment and edification of the mother of the family
and the little girls, it is well to point out that January 2 is
the feast of St. Macarius, patron of pastry cooks and
confectioners. Until middle life, St. Macarius the Younger was a
sugarplum merchant. These sweetmeats were formerly used to
designate candied fruits, but the word has come to be applied to
all forms of pastry and candy. By making or eating sugarplums or
glaceed fruits on his feast day, we can honor this patron--who
became a great hermit and who was known for his kindness to
1. Weller, Ibid., p. 19.
2. P. 7.
3. "Cooking for Christ," p. 32.
4. P. 5.
CHAPTER 8: JANUARY 6: THE EPIPHANY
(Station at St. Peter's)
THE entire Christmas cycle may be compared with a trip up into
the mountains. We start from the plain, slowly mounting the
gentle grade of the time of Advent until we arrive at the first
peak, the feast of Christmas. The liturgy dearly indicates that
the feast of the Nativity marks the end of the penitential season
of preparation for the coming of the Saviour. Despite this entry
into the joyous feast days, however, we have felt constantly that
there is a gradual ascent towards an even higher summit, that the
true culmination of Advent preparation comes only with the great
theophany, or manifestation of the Saviour as King of the
Universe. This second great peak, which we reach by continuing
our joyous walk along the crest of the range, is the great feast
of the Epiphany. After this celebration we gradually descend
again onto the plains, the ordinary or ferial days which complete
the Christmas cycle and lead to its conclusion on the Feast of
Another concept of the Christmas cycle which is very apparent in
the liturgy is to view the entire winter season as the
celebration of a great marriage feast. It is very probably true,
historically, that the cycle of the Incarnation marks the
conclusion of the liturgical year rather than its beginning. The
age of the Church fathers was always turned toward the second
coming of the Saviour at the end of time, when the Church becomes
the heavenly Spouse of the Saviour for all eternity. Pius Parsch1
has outlined this marriage festival in a very illuminating
Subject of the Mystery: the manifestation by Grace of the Divine
A. The Drama begins (Advent): Preparations for the arrival of the
I. He comes:
1. He is seen in the distance (First Sunday in Advent):
2. Jerusalem, the Spouse (the Church) prepares for His
arrival. (Second Sunday in Advent.)
II. He is already near:
1. First joy at His coming (Third Sunday in Advent);
2. The King vests in the humble garments of our human
nature (Ember Days),
3. Last-minute preparations and ardent appeals of the
Spouse (O Antiphons);
4. Before the eternal gates (The Vigil of Christmas.)
B. The high point of the drama
I. The King comes in His garment of a slave (Christmas);
1. His suite:
a. The martyr (St. Stephen);
b. The virgins (St. John the Apostle);
c. The children (virgin-martyrs. The Holy Innocents);
2. He looks towards the cross (Sunday in the Octave of
II. The King comes in majesty (The Epiphany)
1. He assembles the guests for His nuptials (The Magi);
2. He purifies His spouse (Baptism in the Jordan)
(Octave Day of the Epiphany);
3. He gives His nuptial banquet (Second Sunday after
III. The Spouse prepares her nuptial robe (Candlemas:
C. The drama is completed (Sundays after the Epiphany);
I. The Saviour: Gentiles and sinners enter into His
kingdom (Third Sunday)
II. The Conqueror: He calms the tempest of combat
against Satan by His paschal victory (interior
enemies) (Fourth Sunday)
III. The Wise Judge: He separates the good and the
evil at the end of time (Exterior enemies) psalm 96:
IV. The increase of His Kingdom: (Sixth Sunday)
Exteriorly: as the mustard seed which becomes a great
tree whose branches are inhabited by the birds (all the
Interiorly: as the yeast which penetrates the entire loaf
(the whole being of men) and increases the dough in size
(the Church as the ever-growing Mystical Body of Christ).
According to either one of these very profound and penetrating
symbols, King and Bridegroom, we easily realize that we have
arrived at the great climax of the Christmas cycle. The Epiphany
is the feast of Christ the King. He is manifested (as we see in
the choice of the stational church of the world, St. Peter's), as
God and Man, as the Saviour, King and Messias who shall redeem
all nations. He gathers them into the bosom of His Church, the
Spouse, in order to incorporate them all into His Mystical Body
which is so agreeable to the heavenly Father. The establishment
of the kingdom of Christ is the perfect creative work of the most
Holy Trinity by which all men enter the intimate life of God for
All these theological considerations may seem to be impractical
in our effort to teach children to know and to love God by means
of the liturgy. In point of fact, it is most necessary to
understand Scripture, tradition and theology if we are to guide
children with a sure hand. The feast of the Epiphany is Oriental
in tone and is above all a feast of the Saviour. Whereas
Christmas is the intimate celebration of the Christian family,
the Epiphany is a world-wide feast of the universal Church. At
Matins of the Epiphany, Pope St. Leo distinguishes these feasts
with classical precision: "He who on that day the Virgin bore, on
this, the world acknowledged."
On the feast of Christmas we celebrate an historical event. The
people rejoice at the thought that Christ is born, and gather
about the manger to sing Him carols of Christian love and homage.
Few seem to meditate upon the directive idea of the feast: the
coming of the Redeemer. On the feast of the Epiphany there is
less celebration of an event than of an idea: the world
recognizes Christ as God. On Christmas we celebrate the fact that
God actually became man and dwelt among us. This is an historical
fact, the most magnificent and important fact of all history. But
it is quite another matter, and one which requires proof, to show
that this Man, this humble Child, is God. This is the very reason
for the feast of the Epiphany: to manifest that Jesus, the Son of
Mary, is the Son of God. The birth of Christ would have little
meaning for us unless we were to recognize that He is God. This
is the reason why this second great peak of the cycle is truly a
theophany. It is in proof that the Second Person of the Trinity
appeared in the world not only by assuming our human nature, but
also manifested Himself as God, in His divine nature and
How did Christ manifest to the world that He is God? The signs
and miracles of Christ had but one purpose: to demonstrate to man
that He was the Son of God. Indeed, His entire life on earth is a
manifestation of His divinity. During the Christmas cycle, three
important miracles are used by the Church to prove the divinity
"A day holy and adorned with three mysteries we are celebrating:
(1) This day a star has led the Magi to the manger,
(2) This day wine has been made from water at the wedding;
(3) This day at the Jordan Christ willed to be baptized in
order to save us, alleluia."
--Antiphon to the Magnificat, second vespers of the Epiphany
The West has nearly always been impressed with the historical
event of the arrival of the Magi at the crib. There is a profound
reason for this. The Magi were the first pagans who received
faith to recognize the Son of God; we of the West, the successors
of these Gentiles, celebrate the gift of faith which came to the
pagan world. Since the establishment of the kingdom of God on
earth, the Church, we receive both faith and grace through the
Spouse to whom God confided the keys of His kingdom.
Whereas we Christians of the West prefer to call the Epiphany the
feast of the Kings, oriental Christians call it the feast of the
Jordan. If we wish to understand the feast more deeply it will be
necessary to consider the customs of Oriental wedding feasts. In
the East whenever a great sovereign visits a city in solemnity he
is received after many preparations and only after the city has
been decorated and illuminated. Upon his arrival over the
principal highway into the city he declares a sumptuous feast and
offers many gifts and privileges to the inhabitants. This is
called an "apparition" or an "epiphany" at which all the elements
of magnificence and munificence are displayed. In the event of a
royal wedding feast the arrival of the groom-king would require
even greater solemnity. The several days which are required in
order to celebrate Oriental marriage-feasts long since became a
symbol of happy and opulent life. The Offertory and the Communion
banquets are readily symbolized by the wedding festivities.
The baptism of Christ marks, at the very outset of His public
life, the consecration of His mission of vicarious atonement. The
redemption of humanity by the waters of baptism is shown by His
offering to make satisfaction in our place for offenses against
God. He who is without sin takes on the sins of the world in
order that His Spouse, the Church, which is His kingdom on earth,
may be purified from all sin, original and actual. His
substitution for the Church at the Baptism in the Jordan is truly
a substitution for all of us. The public acts of redemption begin
with His baptism in the Jordan. The marriage feast at Cana
recalls the first miracle which He performed at the beginning of
His public career during which he manifested that He is truly
God, the Messias who has come, the Redeemer of all mankind. At
the Epiphany, Christ celebrates His marriage with the Church and
with our souls. The light of faith and of grace shines as
brilliant as the noonday sun over the manger.
Our Christmas tree takes on a new meaning. Light is at its
fullest through the faith which comes through baptism and
purifies us from the darkness of sin; life comes from our
offering of human gifts which are transformed into the Eucharist
at the sacrificial feast of Christ the King. The entire mystery
is concisely and superbly expressed in the antiphon to the
Benedictus of the Epiphany:
"This day hath the Church been joined to her heavenly Spouse, for
Christ hath cleansed her crimes in the Jordan; with gifts the
Magi hasten to the royal nuptials, and the guests are gladdened
with wine made from water, alleluia."
In view of the foregoing considerations, we readily comprehend
why it is that the Advent preparation is really completed only by
the Feast of the Epiphany. The purpose of Advent is the
preparation of our souls for union with Christ as our Redeemer,
that we may witness His manifestation as God and the Messiah who
found His kingdom that all men may be saved. This is the
fundamental reason why it would be more to the point to send
Epiphany rather than Christmas cards, and that the exchange of
presents belongs essentially to the Epiphany. The Magi represent
our gift to God in return for the perfect gift of union which He
has given us.
The Epiphany is such a glorious and significant feast that it is
impossible to celebrate it within the space of a single day. An
entire octave, and several successive Sundays are necessary in
order that we may be able to assimilate and comprehend all of the
content of the feast. In much the same way that the Church allows
us twenty-four Sundays after the feast of Pentecost to meditate
upon the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Church, so she
extends the celebration of the Epiphany for six Sundays in order
that we may celebrate their nuptials and learn about the
extension of the kingdom of Christ. During the octave itself
there are many intervening highlights. These various feasts and
Sundays could be taken separately, but since they form an
integral part of the feast itself and are contained therein, it
would seem expedient to offer a wealth of material for the
children, leaving a choice of emphasis from one year to another.
We shall make only a most general division realizing that what is
in itself one great feast must be taken in succession because of
the immensity of its symbolism and importance.
THE TWELFTH NIGHT: (January 5)
Twelfth Night is more a feast day than a vigil, and has lost all
character of penance. The Mass of the day, with the exception of
the gospel is the same as that of the Sunday within the Octave of
the Nativity, and we find it in its proper place as a transition
between Christmas and the Epiphany. Since time immemorial it has
been an evening of plays, parties and carnivals: for adults,
Falstaff and Sir Toby Belch are found at rollicking parties. A
more serious and joyful meaning should be attached to the vigil
because of the splendid symbolism and total joy of abandon which
the feast contains.
During the twelve days after Christmas the crib has occupied a
central place in the home; perhaps the Magi were seen in some
far-off easterly corner of the room gradually approaching the
Christ-Child. This evening it is time to rearrange the crib and
to transform it into a throne worthy of the Mighty King: "Behold
the Lord, the Ruler is come: and the Kingdom is in His Hand, and
power, and dominion." Let the children scout around the house for
some pieces of gold, some regal tapestry, or whatever else may be
considered as worthy of the Infant King. Gold cloth and purple or
red velvet line the crib; the Savior receives a crown and a royal
sceptre, and the entire crib should take on the character of a
throne-room. These changes in the aspect of the crib are easy and
simple but their meaning brings across the significance of this
feast of Christ the King very forcibly to the children. The
contrast between the quiet, home-like and humble arrival at
Christmas and the triumphant world manifestation at the Epiphany
is eloquently expressed in this simple custom.
The mass of the feast may be prepared before the crib. It is one
of the most beautiful and moving Masses of the entire year: the
lesson from Isaiah is a summary of all the Advent preparation;
the gospel shows how all nations adore the Savior and bring Him
gifts. The entire family should bring their gifts neatly wrapped
in beautiful Christmas motifs--fit for a king--and place them
before the crib. The mother and father add to these gifts an
offering of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the blessing the
following morning. Looking ahead just a little we recall the
beautiful Epiphany blessing of the symbolic gifts of the Magi
after the Mass of the Epiphany. It would be a beautiful custom if
the children were to bring their own gifts for family and friends
and the poor to Mass the following morning, offering them to the
Christ-Child for His blessing. If they are too large, perhaps the
greeting cards which are often tied on to the packages could be
taken to Mass as symbols of the gifts. The children will readily
understand how their gifts thus assume a spiritual and
sacramental value which they did not previously possess, and that
the Advent sacrifices which made these gifts possible, are
offered to God.
The responsory to the first lesson of Matins during the octave
tells us very succinctly the meaning of the gifts of the Magi:
"There were three precious gifts which the Magi
offered the Lord in that day, and they contain in
them a divine mystery:
Gold, that it may show His Kingly power,
Incense, that we may recognize Him as the great
high Priest; and
Myrrh, in honor of the burial of the Lord."
St. Gregory the Great offers us a very beautiful explanation of
these symbolic gifts in his homily on the third day within the
"The Magi offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God indeed is
fitting for a king; incense is offered in sacrifice to God, while
the bodies of the deceased are embalmed with myrrh. Therefore the
Wise Men proclaim also by their mystic gifts Him whom they adore:
by the gold they proclaim Him King; by frankincense, God; by
myrrh, a mortal Man. However, there are some heretics who believe
that He is God, but by no means believe that He reigns over all.
These indeed offer Him frankincense, but they do not wish to
offer Him gold too. And there are some who recognize Him as King,
but deny that He is God. Hence these offer Him gold, but will not
"And there are some who acknowledge Him both as God and King, but
they deny that He assumed mortal flesh. These, of course, offer
Him gold and frankincense, but they refuse to offer the myrrh of
assumed mortality. Let us, therefore, offer gold to our newborn
Lord, that we may confess that He reigns over all; let us offer
frankincense that we may believe that He who has appeared in
time, existed as God before all times; let us offer myrrh in
order that we may believe that He whom we knew to be immortal in
His divinity also became mortal in our flesh.
"However, in the gold, frankincense, and myrrh something else can
also be understood. For by gold wisdom is designated, as Solomon
testifies, who says: 'A desirable treasure abideth in the mouth
of the wise.' But by frankincense, which is burned unto God the
power of prayer is expressed, as the Psalmist testifies, who
says: 'Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight.' And by
myrrh the mortification of our flesh is symbolized. From this
Holy Church says of her laborers who strive for God even unto
death: 'My hands have dropped myrrh.'"
Gold, frankincense and myrrh are blessed in church in memory of
the symbolic gifts of the wise men. Gold may be offered for the
sacred vessels of the parish, incense may be brought home to be
used at family prayer; myrrh may be used on the little cuts and
sores which occur so often in the family. What a beautiful day
for the blessing of gold rings and medals and other little
sacramentals! A note could be added here regarding the blessed
chalk, but we shall speak of this later along with the blessing
of the home.
After an explanation of the meaning of their gifts, it would be
an excellent time before the children go to bed to tell them one
or two little Epiphany stories. Besides the story of the "Other
Wise Man" which we mentioned before, there is the charming story
of the old woman who was cleaning her house as the Magi passed
by. She asked them to wait for her until she had finished her
work, but they were unable to delay, and she could not catch up
with them. Of course, the real reason for her delay was that she
wanted to wrap up a nice little gift for the Child. Ever since
that time she is said to wander all over the world, seeking the
Christ Child in order to give Him her gift. In Italy, as Befana
(a corruption of Epiphany), she leaves many gifts at the homes of
children in the hope that she may find the Child whom she seeks.
Another interesting story is told in the "Feast Day Cook Book"
(op. cit. p. 13): "When Mary heard the tramping feet of the
camels, she picked her baby up and held him close, fearing that
someone had come to take him from her. And so the Wise Men found
them exactly as they had been foretold. When they went home
again, the story continues, they resigned their high offices and
estates and went forth to teach the gospel of the Prince of
Peace; and years afterward Saint Thomas found them in India,
baptized them and ordained them priests. Later they were
martyred, and the Empress Helena is said to have found their
bones and enshrined them in the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in
Constantinople. During the crusades these relics were taken to
Milan and later to Cologne where today they are to be found in
the cathedral of that city in a chest of gold incrusted with
THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY
An Epiphany party, topping all home celebrations of the season
should be held during the Octave of the Feast. Perhaps the
children would like to dress up in the costumes of the Wise Men
for their caroling during the week. Little could be added to the
charming description of such an occasion given by Florence Berger
in "Cooking for Christ."
"Then comes the greater feast of the Epiphany when the 'Gentiles
shall walk in Thy light and kings in the brightness of Thy
Rising.' It was amazing to find how many of our friends and our
children's friends had never heard of the Epiphany. Some were
Catholics who had never realized that this day is really the
Gentile's Christmas, our day of Christ's manifestation. They had
heard of 'Twelfth Night,' but only as a night of feasting. Why
there was feasting they had never thought to ask. Some were non-
Catholics who had never heard of the three kings and their gifts.
For this reason, we always plan to do a little entertaining and a
little manifesting as well.
"One year it was a children's party. As the young guests arrived
they were introduced with due pomp and ceremony to the three
kings who stood in state on a velvet-covered table. The kings'
hair and features were made with floss, and their regal clothing
was cut from cast-off Christmas wrappings.
"Next we told the children of a great star which had appeared in
the sky, and 'when the Wise Men saw the star, they said to one
another: "This is the sign of the Great King; let us go and
search for Him, and offer Him gifts, gold, frankincense and
myrrh."' Freddie was the gift bearer. The rest of the group was
divided into three sections, each belonging to one of the kings.
They pretended to be camel drivers or soldiers, or retinues.
"Then began the exciting journey. The children had made a paper
road to Bethlehem beset with pitfalls and terrors. The kings
advanced much as the pawns in Parcheesi, but such troubles they
had! Camels were sloughed in the mud of the Jordan, robbers lay
in wait near Jericho. Still the kings advanced with their rooting
retinues until they found the crowned Christ child in the crib
under the Christmas tree.
"For refreshment we served the traditional Twelfth Cake. Ann was
1 cup shortening 1/2 teaspoon salt
2-2/3 cups sugar 1-1/2 cups milk
5-1/2 cups flour 2 teaspoons vanilla
5 teaspoons baking powder 6 beaten egg whites
Cream shortening and sugar. Add milk alternately with sifted dry
ingredients. Fold in beaten egg whites. Add vanilla. Bake in
three 9-inch greased layer tins in a moderate over (375 ) for
about 30 minutes.
"Ann topped the cake with a beautiful crown of gum drops. Inside
the cake, she hid three beans. The child who received a piece of
cake with one of the beans became one of the kings for the rest
of the party. Anyone who forgot to address him by his correct and
kingly name had to give a forfeit. This was religious education
which appealed to eye, ear, nose, touch, taste and tummy."2
With very little imagination, parents and teachers could interest
the children in many variants of this party. Instead of the
division of the group of children into soldiers, camel drivers,
and attendants of the kings, there could be found on the table
surrounding the Twelfth Cake a series of little shells. Under
each shell could be hidden a symbol of St. Stephen, St. John the
Baptist, St. John the Apostle, Isaiah, the Holy Innocents, St.
Agnes, St. Lucy, St. Cecilia, or any other of the host of
attendants in the suite of the Great King. After the cake had
been eaten and the kings chosen, each of the other children
chooses a shell, lifting it up to discover what character he
should assume for the party, and be costumed or be given a symbol
of the one whom he represents. When the kings arrive at the crib,
each of the children tell whom they represent and what they would
like to offer the Christ-Child. Later on in the evening the kings
assign tasks to their "subjects" corresponding to their own
gifts: gold symbolizing wisdom and love, frankincense symbolizing
prayer, and myrrh symbolizing self-denial. In this manner the
forfeits themselves assume a spiritual meaning.
In some homes, an Epiphany play could be acted out or pantomimed.
The "Epiphany" feast day book, published by Grailville, offers a
suggested outline: "The play could begin with a Prologue in which
the liturgical meaning of the feast of the Epiphany is explained
either as a talk or reading. The first scene would be the visit
of the Magi to Bethlehem. The narrator can read the passage from
the gospel (Matthew, Chapter 2) while several of the members act
it out in pantomime. The second scene, the baptism of Christ in
the Jordan (John 1:24-34) and the third scene, the miracle at the
wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-12) could be pantomimed or
symbolically interpreted. The fourth scene is the manifestation
of Christ on the last day. One person can stand holding a large
cross, while the ten virgins dressed in white kneel before it
with burning candles in their hands. The narrator reads the
gospel of the second coming of Christ (Matthew 24:15-35). This
scene can end with all standing and singing the 'Christus vincit,
Christus regnat, Christus imperat.' Before each scene the people
could sing the appropriate verse of the hymn, 'We Have Come With
Our Gifts.' It may be well to end the play with a few final words
on the spirit of Epiphany in relation to the lay apostolate. The
speaker can, for example, stress that the Divinity and Kingship
of Christ must again in our time be recognized in every sphere of
life, and that it is our task as Christians of the twentieth
century to manifest Christ to all nations."
Out in the yard, the children would enjoy making snow men in the
form of the three Wise Men, and then sing carols in the evening
in their honor. A little competition among the children of the
various homes and classes would make it doubly interesting. Among
the songs which could be chosen for the feast, perhaps the most
appropriate would include the American carol, "We Three Kings
From Orient Are," translations of the Latin carols, "A Child is
Born in Bethlehem" and "He Whom Joyous Shepherds Praised," the
old English carol to the tune of "Greensleeves," "What Child is
This?" and the traditional "Twelve Days of Christmas." If parents
are a little more ingenious, perhaps the children could be taught
the Latin of the responsory of Terce for either Christmas or the
Epiphany, and its meaning explained to them. At the party,
however, a great deal of life could be added by two songs. One is
the traditional Swedish dance carol, "Yuletide is Here Again,"
which should be danced, and the other is the intriguing "Green
Grow the Rushes, Ho!" In this last song, we learn that "five is
for the symbols at your door," and this leads us to the wonderful
custom of the blessing of homes on the Epiphany and the placing
of the symbols of the Magi Saints at the doors. We shall speak of
this a little later.
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY
Since the octave day of the Epiphany is chiefly concerned with
the beginning of the public life of the Saviour by His baptism in
the Jordan, this Sunday occupies the position of bridging the gap
between the childhood of Christ and His public ministry. The
Church today progresses in the development of the Christ-life by
offering us the example of the youthful Christ at the age of
twelve: the finding in the temple. The gospel especially tells us
the reason for His manifestation: He is come to do the Will of
This important manifestation of the Saviour on the first Sunday
after Epiphany has been supplanted in modern times by the Feast
of the Holy Family, even though the same gospel has been
retained. Modern piety has seen fit to offer a subject of
meditation and a moral lesson by the idealization of the Holy
Family, whereas the ancient Church preferred to see another
manifestation of the redemptive actions of the Messiah. Both of
these ways of presenting Christ to us are valid and good, even
though the ancient manner would seem to be more in accord with
the spirit of the Epiphany. For Our Lord manifests His "glory" at
each important turn in His life: at the Incarnation, by means of
the visit of the angel to Mary, and by her visit to her cousin
Elizabeth; at His birth by the "Gloria" of the angelic hosts, the
visit of the shepherds, and by the star which led the Magi; at
His presentation, by the prophecy of Simeon; at the age of
twelve, which we celebrate today, by the affirmation of His
divinity in the temple at the very age when He attained majority;
at the age of thirty, when He began His public ministry, by the
manifestation of the entire Trinity at His baptism in the Jordan;
by the miracle at Cana, when He performed His first public
action. The reason for these manifestations is in order to recall
to our minds the important steps in the Redemption, and to renew
these manifestations each year by an increase in grace. It is
noteworthy, as well, that since Mary is the Mediatrix of all
graces, in the majority of His manifestations she is close by,
participator and co-offerer in His sacrifice.
Today should be a family feast "par excellence," since the day is
devoted entirely to a consideration of the Holy Family as a model
for Christian family life. The children must learn to see in
their father the foster-father St. Joseph, and the Blessed Mother
as the perfect model for their own mother. The lesson to be
learned is both practical and theoretical, in that the children
must learn how to obey and to love their parents in thought, word
and action, just as Christ was obedient to Mary and Joseph.
Helping mother in the kitchen and in the house work, and helping
father in his odd jobs about the home thus take on a new
significance by being performed in a Christ-like spirit.
The family assembles today for the recitation of the Joyous
Mysteries of the Rosary in honor of the Holy Family. The
Annunciation is brought to our minds several times during the
year (March 25; the Immaculate Conception; the Holy Name of Mary;
the "Missa Aurea" on the Ember Wednesday in Advent). The
Visitation is celebrated twice: during the Friday in Advent Ember
Week and on July second as a special feast. The Nativity is
celebrated at Midnight Mass; the Presentation in the temple is
celebrated on Candlemas Day, which concludes the Christmas Cycle,
and the Finding in the Temple is celebrated today. The Rosary in
common today would constitute a veritable summary of the
Christmas Cycle. It could be followed by hymns in honor of Mary
As the children get a little older, and begin to approach twelve
years of age, the Gospel today recalls to their minds the great
sacrament of Confirmation. The work which Christ came to perform
in the world was confirmed and manifested by the coming of the
Holy Spirit on the occasion of His baptism, and even at the age
of twelve years when He first came of age His wisdom was
manifested to the doctors in the temple. We recall from our
reading during Advent how the Messiah who was to come would be
filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaias 11:1-2). The
boys and girls of today, in imitation of Christ at the age of
twelve, must be taught to assume the responsibilities of bearing
Christ to others and to manifest the faith and the grace which
they have received at Baptism and Confirmation.
COMMEMORATION OF THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD
The second mystery which is celebrated in the triple
manifestation of the feast is accentuated principally on January
13. In the Orient, to be sure, the manifestation of Christ is
principally associated with baptism, in remembrance of the
baptism of Christ in the Jordan. "This day the heavens were
opened, and the sea was made sweet; because that Christ is
baptized of John in the Jordan." According to an ancient
tradition which is often cited by the Fathers of the Church,
Christ hallowed all the waters of the earth through His baptism.
From the lighted candle held at baptism, the Greeks gave the
feast the name "Feast of Lights"; indeed we read in the second
nocturn of the octave day that "Christ is enlightened, or rather
He enlightens us with His own effulgence; Christ is baptized, let
us also descend at the same time, so that with Him we may
likewise ascend (Sermon of St. Gregory Nazianzen)." The Latin
rite has adopted a blessing of water for the Feast of the
Epiphany, and this prayer was officially introduced on December
6, 1890. The Bishop or celebrant, preceded by acolytes with
processional cross and lighted candles, proceeds before the altar
for the solemn blessing of the water which is to be used for the
blessing of homes during the season of the Epiphany ("Roman
Before we proceed with the blessing of the home, which is the
important element in our participation in the liturgy of the day,
there is another most interesting blessing which takes place
after Holy Mass on the Epiphany. Chalk is blessed and distributed
to the parishioners that they might write the names of the Three
Wise Men over the lintels of their doors during the blessing of
"Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk to render it helpful to
men. Grant that they who use it in faith and with it inscribe
upon the entrance of their homes the names of thy saints, Caspar,
Melchior, and Baltassar may through their merits and intercession
enjoy health of body and protection of soul. Through Christ our
The custom of going from room to room in the home, blessing it,
and inscribing the names of the Magi over the door probably
originated in the words of the gospel, "and entering into the
house, they found the child with Mary, His Mother, and falling
down they adored Him." The blessing is often given from the doors
of the parish church in the four directions of the parish in the
event that the parish is too large to be visited during the
octave. At each home, however, it would be a splendid practice
for all of the members of the family and their guests to receive
this blessing from their pastor, or at least to receive the
blessed water and chalk and then to proceed to the private
blessing of their individual homes. The prayers, including the
antiphon to the "Magnificat," are most inspiring:
"From the East came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and
opening their treasures, they offered costly gifts: gold to the
great King, incense to the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His
"Let us pray.
"O God, Who by the guidance of a star didst this day reveal thy
Sole-Begotten Son to the Gentiles, grant that we who now know
thee by faith may be brought to the contemplation of thy heavenly
majesty. Through the same Jesus Christ....
Responsory: "Be enlightened and shine forth, O Jerusalem, for thy
light is come, and upon thee is risen the glory of the Lord,
Jesus Christ born of the Mary Virgin.
V. "Nations shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brilliance
of thy origin.
R. "And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
"Let us pray.
"Bless, O Lord, almighty God this home that it be the shelter of
health, chastity, self-conquest, humility, goodness, mildness,
obedience to the commandments, and thanksgiving to God the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May blessing remain for all time
upon this dwelling and them that live herein. Through Christ our
As the home is being blessed, by the sprinkling of the Epiphany
water, and then incensed during the chanting of the Magnificat,
the lintels of the doors are inscribed with the number of the
"Year of the Lord" and the initials of the Magi: who were
traditionally named Kaspar, Melchior and Balthassar, e.g., 19 K M
B 55. (The first initial "K" is sometimes varied with "C" for
Caspar in English, or "G" for Gasparis in Latin). These "symbols
at the door" remind all who enter and leave that they should as
the Magi be ready to leave everything, and to follow the star of
The "Roman Ritual" has been our guide for the celebration of the
octave day of the Epiphany. Truly, the blessing of homes is
really intended to take place on the feast itself as well as
during the octave. The blessing of water should take place on the
vigil of the feast. But since the allusion to the baptism of
Christ is principally accentuated in the Roman liturgy on the
octave day, we have placed the explanation of both the blessing
of the water and of homes at this point. The feast is to be taken
as a unity, but our discussion of the details must be taken
Even though we have accentuated the ritualistic blessings on this
day, we may easily conceive how the children may be instructed
and brought to participation in these excellent sacramentals. The
blessing of the home naturally requires quite an occasion for the
children, and gaiety could be given to the feast by having the
children mark the doors and sing Epiphany hymns, giving an extra
spirit of liveliness by the singing of "Green Grow the Rushes,
Ho!" By the time that parents and teachers have answered all the
questions which these home ceremonies shall have occasioned, the
spiritual and educational content of the day will have been
1. "Das Jahr des Heiles," I Band, pp. 25-26.
2. Berger, op. cit., pp. 32-33.
3. "Roman Ritual," p. 39.
4. Ibid., pp. 39-43.
CHAPTER 9: FEBRUARY 2: FEAST OF THE PURIFICATION
CANDLEMAS is the last feast day of the Christmas cycle, and
constitutes a transition between the seasons of Christmas and
Easter. Even though the feast is named for the Purification of
the Blessed Mother which occurred forty days after the birth of
the Saviour, the day is consecrated principally to the
Presentation of the Child in the Temple. The understanding of the
importance of this presentation depends upon our realization of
the meaning of the feast as the third high point in the cycle,
along with Christmas and the Epiphany. The Latin rite tends to
follow a stricter chronology in presenting the life of Christ in
the liturgical year, and we have seen already that owing to the
introduction of the feast of the Epiphany from the Greeks, the
manifestation of the Saviour included not only the visit of the
Magi, which may have occurred even two years after His birth, but
also His baptism and His first miracle at the marriage feast of
Cana. If we were to be less preoccupied by exact chronology and
seek rather the meaning and symbolism of the feasts, we should
find a splendid progression in the three major feasts of the
This progression may be seen both in the symbol of light and in
the participation of humanity in the manifestation of the
Redeemer. Pius Parsch has explained the meaning of the feast of
the Purification with remarkable lucidity:
"At Christmas time, the Light 'shines in the darkness' and there
are only a few who 'receive it' (the Mother of God, the
shepherds). At the Epiphany, the Light shines over Jerusalem (the
Church), 'the glory of the Lord is risen over Jerusalem,' and the
pagan world gathers together from the darkness towards the city
of light. Today, on Candlemas Day, the Light is in our hands, we
carry it in procession at the Mass; light today is an essential
part of the liturgy. It is also to be noted, however, that today
the Church advances as a Spouse before the Lord and 'lovingly
receives Mercy (become Man) in her arms (Introit of the Mass).'
It is precisely this progression which makes this feast so
beautiful. At Christmas, the Church is still in the background,
the Divine King who is born dominates the entire liturgy; at the
Epiphany, the Church appears as the Spouse 'clothed in the
vestment of salvation as a Bride adorned with jewels.' The
liturgy celebrates her marriage. Today, the feast signalizes an
important step: the Bride decorates her nuptial chamber, and goes
forth to meet the Bridegroom. This is why we sing the nuptial
chant (First Antiphon of the Procession at Candlemas).
'O Daughter of Sion, adorn thy bridal chamber
And welcome Christ the King;
Embrace Mary, for she who is the very gate of heaven
Bringeth to thee the glorious King of the new light.
Remaining ever Virgin, in her arms she bears her Son
Begotten before the day-star,
Whom Simeon receiving into his arms, declares unto all
To be the Lord of life and of death and the Saviour of
This participation of humanity in the manifestation of the
Saviour is the very essence of the feast. The Greeks call the
feast the Hypapante, the Meeting, since all men meet the Saviour
in the temple (the Church). "Behold the sovereign Lord comes into
His holy temple; Sion, go before thy God, full of joy and
gladness (Invitatory of Matins)." Psalm 47 dominates the entire
Mass of the day: "We have received thy mercy in the midst of thy
The symbolism of light is very closely associated with the
meeting of humanity with the Redeemer, for light represents
Christ and the divine life in us through grace. The feast,
indeed, was originally instituted to replace the pagan
"Lupercalia" in honor of the goddess Februa. In ancient Rome the
month was dedicated to the gods of the underworld, and candles
represented Ceres who was trying to find her daughter Proserpina,
stolen from her by Pluto and carried by him to the lower world.
Outrageous feasts were held during the night by the light of
flaming torches, and it is in reparation for the immorality of
these feasts that the Church uses violet vestments for the
blessing of the candles. The feast of the presentation of the
Saviour and the Purification of the Virgin Mother is a splendid
manner of teaching the Christian the virginal purity of the
Christ-life received by grace. Candles are blessed today for the
liturgical ceremonies of the Church, but it is most important to
note that they are placed in the hands of the faithful, recalling
the baptismal candle of Eastertide, and reminding us to be
prepared with lighted lamps in order to go before the Bridegroom
when He comes for the heavenly nuptials.
The blessing of the candles is one of the most beautiful
ceremonies of the entire year: "A light for the revelation of the
Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel." We carry in
procession today the lighted candles, symbol of the Christian
life and reminder of how we must be Christophers, Christ-bearers.
As members of the Bride we sing the nuptial antiphon as the
procession returns to the altar, greeting the Lord and Saviour.
The candles are kept lighted during the Gospel and during the
Canon of the Mass, since at those times the Bridegroom is with us
by His Word and by His Sacramental Presence. Christ is given to
the church that she may bring all nations to Him and manifest His
mercy and His glory to the end of time.
The Mass of the Feast today is devoted to the Presentation of the
Child and to the Purification of the Virgin Mother. Mary had no
need to fulfill the ancient prescription for the purification of
the mother after childbirth, since she was full of grace and was
conceived without original sin. In her humility, however, and as
the type of mothers whose first desire is to return to the Church
after their period is over, she comes to offer God the sacrifice
of the poor: two turtle-doves. For the Infant Saviour, however,
His Presentation is really the Offertory of His holy Sacrifice.
God the Father did not liberate His only-begotten Son: it was He
who is to liberate mankind from the dominion of sin and of Satan.
Today, the divine Lamb is, so to speak, placed upon the paten and
offered as a pure and spotless Victim to the Heavenly Father. It
is at this point that we see how the feast of Candlemas is the
link between the seasons of Christmas and Easter. During the
Easter Cycle, Christ will consummate His sacrifice by His death
and resurrection; today He is offered as the Victim to be slain,
and who the Church as the Bride is invited to unite with His
sacrifice in perfect communion of charity.
Vespers and Compline of the Feast of the Purification are of
incomparable beauty. If we examine vespers closely, we find that
the antiphons and the chapter show how all of the ardent desires
of Advent have been fulfilled: the commission of the Son by God
the Father to save the world, the yearning of Isaias for the
heavenly Dew, the sighs of the "O" Antiphons, the preparation of
the ways by St. John the Baptist, and finally the birth of the
Saviour and His recognition as God by Simeon:
"O wondrous exchange! the Creator of man, having assumed a living
body, deigned to be born of a virgin, and having become man
without man's aid, enriched us with His divinity.
"By Thy ineffable birth of a Virgin the Scriptures were
fulfilled; like rain upon the grass Thou has descended to save
mankind; Thee our God we praise.
"We recognize in the bush which Moses saw burning and yet not
burnt, thy virginity gloriously preserved; O mother of God,
intercede for us.
"The root of Jesse germinated, a star is risen out of Jacob, a
Virgin gave birth to the Saviour; we praise
"Behold, Mary hath given birth to the Saviour whom John seeing,
exclaimed: "Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him who taketh away
the sins of the world.
Chapter: Malachy 3:1: "Behold I send My Angel, and He shall
prepare the way before My face. And presently the Lord whom you
seek and the Angel of the testament whom you desire shall come to
--From the first vespers of the feast
"Today the blessed Virgin Mary presented the Child Jesus in the
temple: and Simeon, filled by the Holy Spirit, accepted Him in
his arms, and blessed God for all eternity. (Ant. to the
Magnificat of Second Vespers of the Feast)."
The figure of Simeon is very moving. All during his lifetime he
had awaited the coming of the Saviour, for he had been promised
that before the end of his days he should see the Messiah. Today,
rejuvenated by the presence of the Child, he sings his even-song:
"Now dost Thou dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, in peace according to
Thy Word. . ." This song of Simeon has been adopted by the Church
as a canticle at the close of the day: may we, too, be able to
receive the Saviour into our arms at the end of our days. He is
our salvation, our light throughout the way, our glory and our
eternal reward. There is no greater assurance of eternal life,
nor of a life well-spent in the service of God: it is the perfect
night prayer for each day, especially at the close of our
The completion of the drama of the Christmas Cycle is achieved in
the remaining Sundays after the Epiphany (3-6). The Saviour, as
conqueror and judge, protects His Bride, the Church, from all
enemies, interior and exterior, and extends her realm to include
even Gentiles and sinners. She is compared with the mustard seed
and the yeast, ever growing until the end of time, penetrating
more deeply and entirely into the souls of all men. It is she who
prepares all humanity for the Second Coming of the King which is
foretold in the gospel of the First Sunday in Advent: at the end
of time the Kingdom of Christ, His Mystical Body, shall be
complete and eternal in the everlasting union of heaven.
* * *
This rather lengthy introduction to our celebration of the feast
of the Purification may seem to be slightly out of place, since
our principal concern here is to offer suggestions whereby
children may be instructed by means of the liturgy of the Church.
Candlemas, however, at the present time would seem to be one of
those great festivals whose real import is not well understood.
It appears to many as a second-rate Christmas feast, often
overshadowed by the time of Septuagesima. Few see its
significance as the finale of the Christmas drama and the logical
transition to the cycle of Easter. It is very important to
restore this third climactic feast, and without the theoretical
and theological knowledge necessary for thorough understanding it
would be impossible for parents and teachers to attempt to convey
its beauty to children.
The great advantage of the Candlemas, in comparison with two
other great feasts of the season, is that it allows a direct
participation by the children in the liturgy itself, rather than
simple home celebrations based upon liturgical sources. Pastors
of souls should indeed seize every opportunity to have
parishioners and children take part actively with lighted candles
in both the procession and the Mass on Candlemas Day. It may
require a little ingenuity to protect carpets and pews from a
slight coating of wax, but the result is worth all the effort:
let the little ones come with lighted lamps in the suite of the
Spouse who comes to meet her Lord and Saviour! Therese Mueller
finds that "the rites of the blessing and the prayers of the
procession are so beautiful that we should repeat them at home in
the evening, when the family members who could not attend the
morning service are present. Each one carries his own candle
lighted--Baby's is put in a safe place and burns too--so we go
singing and praying, led by the father of the family, through all
our rooms, blessing them and our life and work in them for the
coming year. 'Hear thy people, O Lord, we beseech thee, and grant
us to obtain those things inwardly by the light of grace, which
thou grantest us outwardly to venerate by this annual devotion
(Prayer preceding the procession).' The candles can be used
often; not only on sick days, in sorrow, or temptation, but on
all feast days, anniversaries, name days, and before important
personal decisions. The symbolism of light is one which the
Church uses constantly in her liturgy. Why should we not, too,
make frequent use of this beautiful symbol in our homes."2
Mothers should be especially interested in this feast of the
Purification. One day the children will be grown-ups, and if
today mothers rejoice with Mary at the successful deliverance of
their children, they realize, too, that the children are gifts of
God who must be reconsecrated to the glory of God. Their vocation
in life and their early training are subjects of the deepest
concern for apostolic families who desire to see the Christian
life carried to the far corners of the earth. The Christ-bearing
manners and customs of the family, in cooperation with divine
grace, have a great deal to do with the bringing of the light of
Christ to others. Where parents are Christophers, religious
vocations often abound, and all of the children, God willing, by
word, deed and example carry their lighted candle of baptismal
purity to bring themselves and others to the eternal Feast.
Grailville has published a very useful booklet for the
celebration of Candlemas in the parish, at home, and in apostolic
groups. One of the suggestions which is made for the celebration
of the feast is a candle-making project. Mothers may consider
this a rather messy prospect, with wax distributed all over the
kitchen; however, most mothers do expect the children to muss
things up nearly every day, and the suggestion of candle-making
should be well-taken. There are many craft books in libraries
which describe how to make hand-dipped tapers. Participation of
the children in the making of an object which so often serves a
sacramental usage will be found very helpful to parents in their
effort to explain the symbolism of the candle. The Paschal candle
is often explained by comparing the wax of the candle to the body
of Christ, the wick to His soul, and the light to His divinity.
In the process of making the candles, their usage could be
discussed. This leaves a wide-open field for candles are used in
nearly every liturgical function, and at the administration of
nearly all of the sacraments. Even colored Advent, Christmas and
Hallowe'en candles should be made in preparation for Candlemas,
for this is the feast on which the Church extends her blessing
upon all the candles which she uses, with the exception of the
Paschal Candle on Holy Saturday. I believe that it should be
found very interesting, indeed, to have the children use their
imagination in anticipation of future feasts, with appropriate
decorations for candles which may not be used, say, until next
All Hallows' Eve! At the same time, there is perhaps no better
way to teach children to respect light and fire than to have them
actually make the candles. It presents an excellent opportunity
to give a practical lesson concerning the usage of matches. If
candles came to be used frequently in the home these sacramentals
would be respected and loved, and the children would
automatically take proper precautions concerning
A Candlemas party is an appropriate time to initiate the usage of
the candles, especially after the experience of carrying the
lighted tapers at the procession and at Mass in the morning. In
some parts of Mexico, this party is given by the godparents of
the children; in other places it is given by the guest who finds
a little replica of the Christ Child in the Twelfth-Day Cake. The
theme of the party should include the two major themes of the
day: the passage from darkness into light, and the meeting of the
Church with the divine King. On this day we could review some of
the salient features of the entire season, and have Isaias enter
the darkened classroom or parlor with a single light; after him,
St. Lucy would arrive, until finally the Christ-Child arrives;
the Epiphany would be represented by lighting all of the tapers
about the house, until finally, as the group finishes the home
procession singing Simeon's Song of Praise from this morning's
liturgy, all would again take up their candle and proceed to the
evening banquet in the dining room.
A good subject for conversation at the table this evening would
be what it means to be a godparent, for if possible, the
godparents of all the children should be invited to the Candlemas
dinner of the family. During the meal and the party which
follows, many appropriate songs could be chosen, especially those
songs which have been so admirably chosen by the community at
Grailville. The antiphon for the "Magnificat" at Candlemas
Vespers, and the song for the presentation of children are not
too difficult, and even though these are found to be slightly
beyond the easy grasp of the children, they will most certainly
enjoy the "Seven Joys of Mary" and the "Ave Maria Round." In the
course of the evening, mother and father should be particularly
honored and praised, since their married life is a symbol of the
love which exists between Christ and the Church.
The high point of the evening, however, and the conclusion of the
festivities, is most naturally the signing or reciting of
Compline by the family as their evening prayer . Even though it
may be necessary to shorten some of the prayers (and this may be
simplified a little by the usage of the Roman Sunday Compline
from the "Short Breviary" published by St. John's Abbey), the
Canticle of Simeon should certainly be learned and sung for the
occasion. In this manner, the family is introduced to the
official prayer of the Church, as all family prayer gradually
should come to be based upon the Divine Office. As the children
grow older, it is hoped that they will be able to sing together
certain hours of the office, especially lauds and vespers. Pope
Pius XII in his Encyclical, "Mediator Dei," again requests the
restoration of vespers in the parishes. If the children grew up
with the Psalter, and with the home and classroom recitation and
singing of parts of the Divine Office, the desire of His Holiness
would be fulfilled, and the reward would be reaped a hundred
1. Parsch, Op. cit., Feb. 2.
2. Mueller, Op. cit., pp. 19-20.
CHAPTER 10: OTHER FEASTS DURING THE YEAR WHICH BELONG TO THE
BESIDES the feasts which fall properly within the limitations of
the Christmas Cycle (First Sunday of Advent to Candlemas Day),
there are several other feasts of the Christmas Cycle which are
distributed throughout the year. The compenetration of the
mysteries of salvation during the two great cycles of Christmas
and Easter presents a marvelous and most instructive tapestry. We
recall how each Mass is a renewal not only of the passion and
resurrection of the Saviour, but also of His incarnation,
epiphany, ascension and His triumphant second coming, or
"parousia." In much the same manner, the Christmas cycle is
extended and woven into the year of grace; this fact is most
apparent in certain feasts which are celebrated at various times
of the year, and often in mid-Lent or in mid-summer. The
following feasts are noteworthy:
1. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on
December 8th in order to take into account the nine months which
separate this feast from the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed
Virgin on September 8th, already long-established. the Immaculate
Conception of Mary is indeed the only conception which is
celebrated in the church year (with the exception of that of
Christ at the annunciation). We have already seen how we may fit
this great feast of the Mother of God into the Christmas cycle,
since the octave falls within the limits of the Christmas cycle
2. The Feast of St. Joseph on March 19th is celebrated in honor
of the "birth into heaven," the date of death, of the foster-
father of the Saviour. The feast was established very late,
comparatively speaking, by Clement XI in 1714. At present there
are two major feasts in honor of St. Joseph. The nineteenth of
March is dedicated to him personally and to the part which he
played in the redemption; the feast and octave of St. Joseph
which begins with the Wednesday of the third week after Easter is
concerned principally with the honor which he merits as protector
and patron of the universal church. The Feast Day of Saint Joseph
on March 19th, therefore, belongs properly to the Easter cycle.
This Octave, indeed, was placed during the week of the Good
Shepherd of Eastertide as an appropriate time to celebrate the
pastoral solicitude of Joseph as universal patron of the church
which was instituted by the Good Shepherd Himself.
The Feast of St. Joseph, therefore, even though it falls within
the penitential season of Lent, should be celebrated by the
children as a Christmas feast. In Italy, and especially in
Sicily, families and towns celebrate San Giuseppe with great joy.
The mayor often serves a buffet dinner to the town on that day,
and all are invited to take part. Special dishes of "Minestrone,"
"Spaghetti," and "Ravioli" are served, and the favorite desert is
the "Sfinge di San Giuseppe" (Sphinx Cream puffs) The children
would enjoy this superb dessert and the family could be
rearranged at table to represent in costume and by assuming
proper characters, the Holy Family.1 There are innumerable
Christmas Songs about St. Joseph, but perhaps the most beautiful
of all is the "Te Joseph celebrent," the vesper hymn of the
feast, taken directly from the "Liber Usualis."
3. The Feast of the Annunciation is the first message of the
approach of the coming Advent and Christmas. It was established
on March 25th, exactly nine months in advance of the forthcoming
Christmas. The Annunciation is intimately bound up with the
Christmas cycle by the great "Missa Aurea" of Ember Wednesday in
4. The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is the second message of
the approach of the coming Advent and Christmas, and is often
called the "Summer Christmas." This feast, which occurs on June
24th, recalls the birth of the Precursor, six months before the
5. The Visitation is celebrated on July 2nd. After the
Annunciation made to Mary (March 25), and after the conception of
St. John the Baptist (Vigil of the Nativity of St. John, June
23rd, where the Angel gives Zachary the promise of the birth of
the Precursor), Mary visits Elizabeth. This feast of the
Visitation is in close association with Ember Friday in Advent.
6. The Feasts of St. Anne (July 26th) and of St. Joachim (August
16) are dedicated in honor of the grandmother and grandfather of
the Saviour, and the immediate parents of Mary, the Mother of
God. These days are intimate feasts, especially appreciated in
Brittany and in French Canada, and should be celebrated at home
where the grandparents should be held in particular esteem. If it
is at all possible, a summer pilgrimage in honor of these saints
would be most fitting. If the family is able to visit St.-Anne-
de-Beaupre near the city of Quebec, or some other sanctuary, the
summer vacation of the family could assume a more elevated and
7. The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(September 8th) is another advent or message of the coming of
Christ. This feast came from the Orient, and was established in
the eighth century, and thus determined the date of the later
feast of the Immaculate Conception to be nine months preceding
the 8th of September, or December 8th. The Nativity of Mary and
St. John the Baptist are the only ones which are celebrated among
the saints, for Mary was pure at birth and at conception, and
John was purified by Christ either before or at his birth.
8. The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary (September 12th) is
celebrated after her Nativity in much the same manner that the
Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated shortly after Christmas.
* * *
Among these various feasts which pertain to the Christmas Cycle,
let us signalize four in particular which should be especially
understood and celebrated by the children in preparation for
Christmas: The Annunciation, the Nativity of St. John the
Baptist, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin and the Feast of the
Holy Name of Mary.
THE ANNUNCIATION (March 25)
The feast of St. Gabriel, the Angel of the Incarnation, is
celebrated on March 24th, the day preceding the feast of the
Annunciation. It was this great Archangel who was the messenger
of the good tidings of the redemption, and his name began to
appear in the catalogs of the saints during the middle Ages in
connection with the Annunciation.
St. Gabriel reminds us that Lenten austerity is to be broken by a
feast of the Christmas cycle which commemorates the most sublime
moment in the history of time, the moment of conception of the
Second Person of the Trinity in the womb of Mary. The feast of
the Annunciation is the first harbinger of the coming Advent and
Christmas: only nine months remain until the birth of the
Redeemer. The mystery of the Annunciation is, indeed, already
celebrated in the ancient "Missa Aurea" of Ember Wednesday in
Advent, where emphasis is placed upon the Saviour more especially
than Mary. Because of chronological accuracy and the importance
of the mystery, however, another feast was instituted which
honors more particularly the "Fiat" of the Virgin Mary, and which
is appropriately placed at exactly nine months before the Birth
In order to celebrate this feast in a fitting manner, we should
re-examine all of the material given in our treatment of the
"Missa Aurea." "Lady Day" reminds us of the ringing of the
Angelus, and the joy of children clustered about their heavenly
mother. A festive tone may be given by the preparation of Swedish
waffles as a special treat for the little family party. A tableau
could be enacted which would represent the Angel Gabriel offering
Divine Motherhood to the Blessed Virgin. The oldest boy could
become an archangel for the day, and mother could very
significantly take the part of the Mother of God. The feast of
the Annunciation is indeed the truly Christian "Mother's Day,"
and spring flowers, gifts and candies for mother would not be
amiss on Lady's Day. The songs most appropriate to the day are
"Ave Maris Stella" and the "Seven Joys of Mary."
ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST (June 24)
The feast of St. John the Baptist is one of the oldest in the
entire year, outranking in class the feasts of most of the
Apostles. Traditionally, this feast has been greatly celebrated
in folklore as mid-summer, or "Summer Christmas." As a matter of
fact among all of the Advent feasts which are celebrated outside
of Christmastide, this is the most feted both because of the
solemnity given the feast by Mother Church and because of the
quasi-universality of its celebration among so many Christian
nations. It is certainly time for parents and teachers to restore
the celebration of this feast among the children.
It is indeed rare that we find in Sacred Scripture a detailed
account of the life of a saint. Concerning the Baptist, however,
all of the important details of his life and work are recounted;
his conception, birth and circumcision (Luke I); the beginning of
his mission, his preaching and his testimony of homage rendered
to the Lamb of God (Luke, 3; Matthew, 3; John I and 3:22-26); his
arrest, captivity and martyrdom (Mark 6:14-29): all of the
Evangelists concur by offering a complete account of St. John. It
would be most fruitful to study all of these texts with the
children in an effort to teach them a truly authentic life of a
saint. The meaning of his life is most clearly expressed by St.
Augustine in the second nocturn of the feast (Sermon 20 on the
"After that really holy birthday of the Lord, we do not read of
the birthday of any man being celebrated, except that of blessed
John the Baptist. In the case of other saints and elect of God,
we know that that day is honored on which, when their works were
accomplished and the world conquered and completely subdued, they
were taken from this present life and born into the everlasting
life of eternity. In others we honor the completed merits of
their last day; in this present case, the first day, and the very
beginning of this man is holy; doubtless for this reason, that
the Lord wished his coming to be attested, lest if he came
suddenly and unexpectedly, men might not recognize him. But John
was a figure of the Old Testament, and typified the Law in
himself; and therefore John foretold the Saviour, just as the Law
"When not yet born, he prophesied from the hiding place of his
mother's womb, and already bore witness to the truth though
destitute of light himself. This event must be understood in the
sense that, hidden under the veil and flesh of the letter, by the
spirit he preached the Redeemer to the world, and proclaimed our
Lord to us as from the womb of the Law. Therefore because the
Jews went astray from the womb, that is, from the Law which was
pregnant with Christ, they went astray from the womb, speaking
lies; and so John came for a witness, to give testimony to the
"John lying in prison, directs his disciples to Christ. This
event represents the Law sending to the Gospel. The same Law is
typified by John, enclosed as it were in the prison of ignorance,
lying in the dark in a hidden place, and held captive in the
letter by Jewish blindness. Of him the blessed Evangelist
proclaims: He was a burning and a shining light, that is, he was
enkindled by the fire of the Holy Spirit, that to a world held in
the night of ignorance he might show forth the light of
salvation, and amid the thickest darkness of sin might by his ray
point out the most resplendent sun of justice, saying of himself:
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness." (Benziger Bros.,
"Roman Breviary in English," Summer; N.Y. 1951).
The feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is truly a bit
of Advent during the season of Pentecost. It shows remarkably
well how the mysteries of our salvation intermingle during the
liturgical year, just as the new buds beneath the leaves announce
in mid-summer the advent of the following springtime. The liturgy
gives tremendous importance to the Baptist: he is the herald of
penance and the preparation of the ways for the coming of the
Saviour. Pius Parsch shows his importance in the liturgy of the
Church very clearly:
"Christ is the sun, John is the dawn. The liturgy, which
represents the coming of Christ in a very dramatic fashion,
wishes also that the Precursor march before Him. A few examples
show this: a) When, in winter, the sun begins to mount the
horizon, the Church celebrates the birth of Christ; when the sun
begins to decline, she celebrates the birth of St. John (December
25-June 24). The liturgy realizes the word of the Baptist: (He
must become great and I must diminish!). b) During Advent, we
await the rising of the divine Sun at Christmas; John stands
before us like the dawn. c) At Lauds, before the rising of the
sun of day which is the symbol of the Eucharistic Sun, the Church
sings the praise of the Precursor at the "Benedictus." And
finally, 4) When the death of the Christian causes the eternal
Sun to rise, the Church again sings the Benedictus over his tomb,
once more greeting the Precursor of Christ."2 It must be
remembered, too, that St. John outranks all human saints except
the Mother of God. We observe this each time in reciting the
"Confiteor." The Scriptural account of the special circumstances
in which he received his name indicates his importance in the
One of the oldest customs associated with the Nativity of St.
John is the lighting of a festive bonfire on the vigil. In the
British Isles at least, these bonfires had their origin in
Druidic customs in honor of the god of the sacred grove at the
summer solstice, but in reality relatively few pagan customs have
remained. The bonfire, indeed, is a very prevalent custom in
France, Germany, and Hungary as well as in many other lands. In
the darkness of the night, either before a school dedicated to
the saint, in the city square or upon a hill the fire was lighted
in honor of the Baptist who gave testimony to the true Light
which enlightens all men. In France, after Vespers, the bonfire
is lighted, and the evening is given over to dancing and singing.
The priest offers the official blessing over the fire: "O Lord
God, Father Almighty, unfailing Ray and Source of all light,
sanctify this new fire, and grant that after the darkness of this
life we may come unsullied to thee Who art Light eternal Through
Christ our Lord."3 In Germany, the young leap through the
"Johannesfeuer"; in Hungary, betrothed couples leap through the
fire together, while the others dance about the couple and sing:
"May God send a slow shower
To wash these two together
Like two golden twigs."
In France, boys and girls named after the saint are expected to
throw a wreath into the fire. Spirits and demons and all of the
powers of darkness, of course, keep a very respectful distance
from its light and heat.
Imagine how enthusiastic boys and girls would be about the
preparations and the lighting and celebration which surround the
blessing of the new fire of St. John on the vigil! Many families,
or even the entire parish, could assemble together for this mid-
summer festival, causing it to be the real "lawn party" of
summertime. Many, many customs surround this celebration.
Throughout the centuries excellent carols and folk-songs were
sung, much as on Christmas eve. Latvian carolers go from house to
house singing carols, and the singers are openly lured into the
homes by offerings and parties offering them food and drink. The
home is highly honored if the singers accept their hospitality.
For many years this custom prevailed in England, even as late as
1826 in Yorkshire. The newcomers into a parish would set small
tables holding bread, cheese and beer outside their doors, and
all passersby were invited to partake of their hospitality and to
visit their homes. This is truly one of the most excellent
manifestations of Christian hospitality, and a most normal and
friendly manner of knowing other members of the parish. Whereas
children are not usually constrained by formalities and soon get
to know one another, it would give them a splendid example to see
their parents offering hospitality and cordiality to neighbor and
stranger, and to receive all into their home. The cocktail or
beer party, so frequently used today for "social contacts," and
"open-house" is but a poor imitation of this homey traditional
hospitality offered on the vigil of St. John.
There is a very special song which is used as a carol on the
feast and throughout the octave. The vesper hymn is ascribed to
Paul the Deacon (730-799), and is one of the finest examples of
Sapphio and Adonic meter in poetry. One of the greatest musicians
of the Middle Ages, Guy d'Arezzo (995-1050), used the first
syllables of the first strophe of the hymn in order to help his
students to remember the intonations of the degrees of the
musical gamut. As a consequence, the "Do, re, mi..." which the
children learn at school stems directly from this vesper chant in
honor of St. John:
Ut queant laxis "O for thy spirit, holy John, to
Re-sonare fibris chasten
Mi-ra gestorum Lips sin-polluted, fettered tongues
Fa-muli tuorum to loosen;
Sol-ve polluti So by Thy children might thy
La-bii reatum deeds of wonder
Sancte Ioannes. Meetly be chanted."
(Trans. M. Britt., "The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal,"
Benziger, N.Y., 1948)
The name of "Si" for the seventh note was not used until much
later, at the end of the fifteenth century. It seems to be formed
by the initials of the last two words: Sancte Ioannes. Guy
d'Arezzo preferred to retain the name of "B" for this seventh
note. The name of "ut" was replaced by Italians during the 17th
century, since they discovered that "do" was much easier to
pronounce than "ut"; the musician Doni is said to have
substituted the "Do" taken from the first syllable of his own
name.--Each time, therefore, that we hear this beautiful hymn,
and each time that the children sing the musical scale, they
should be reminded of the ancient love and enthusiasm which
nearly every western nation offered to St. John the Baptist
Beside the lighting of the bonfire, and the singing, dancing and
hospitality which surrounds it, the association of St. John with
the baptism of water and penance is duly celebrated, especially
in Mexico and in Spain. This association is especially "a
propos," for even the great cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of
Rome is the ancient baptismal church of St. John (the Baptist)
Lateran. In the Iberian peninsula, many walk through the dew or
bathe in the sea, and every lover offers his senorita, a heart-
shaped cake. It is in Mexico, however, that St. John is
especially celebrated as the saint of the waters. The Mexicans
are interested in St. John alone, and the customs in their
country are entirely Christian in origin. Wells and fountains are
all bright with flowers and ribbons, and everybody in the
country, rich and poor alike, bathe in lakes, rivers and sea at
midnight on the vigil. In cities, and at fashionable resorts,
swimming contests and diving exhibits become the center of
festivity. The families make a picnic at their favorite bathing
spots or swimming holes, and "tacos," "tortillas" and "empanadas"
abound together with "tamales," cakes and sweets.4
THE NATIVITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN (September 8)
THE HOLY NAME OF MARY (September 12)
Children always love to celebrate birthdays, and if people desire
to celebrate birthdays, baptismal feasts and name days, certainly
we should not fail to celebrate the birthday and the nameday of
our "Heavenly Mother." During the entire church year (liturgical
cycle), only three birthdays and two name-days are celebrated. We
celebrate the nativity of Christ, of our Blessed Mother, and of
St. John the Baptist; and the name days of Christ and His Mother.
Christ and the saints are not too demanding upon us concerning
birthday celebrations! As a consequence, we should be
particularly happy to celebrate the birthday of the Blessed
Mother. A special cake with candles should decorate the table,
and our human mother who represents Mary in our family should
receive special honor. The first offering of the day should be to
assist at Holy Mass, offered in honor of our Heavenly Mother for
the benefit of our earthly mother. Gifts and songs should add
festivity to the family party. The most appropriate reading for
these feasts is the Homily of St. Bernard taken from the second
nocturn of Matins of the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. Both
children and adults should memorize this masterpiece of love for
"'And the Virgin's name was Mary.' Let us say a few things about
this name which, when interpreted, is called 'star of the sea,'
and is admirably suitable to the Virgin Mother. She is, in fact,
very appropriately compared to a star without any loss to itself
shoots forth its ray, so the Virgin, too, without injury to her
virginity gave birth to her Son. And as the ray from the star
does not diminish its brilliance, neither did the Son lessen the
integrity of His Mother.
"She is, then, that noble star sprung forth from Jacob, whose ray
brightens the whole world, whose splendors both shine in heaven
and penetrate into hell; spreading, likewise, over the earth and
warming both minds and bodies, it fosters virtue, and purifies
from vice. She, I say, is a glorious and most wonderful star, of
necessity raised above this great and broad sea, glittering with
her merit, and giving light by her example.
"O you, who realize that in the rushing tide of this world you
are bobbing about amid storms and tempests rather than walking on
land, turn not your eyes away from the light of this star if you
do not wish to be lost in the storm. If the winds of temptations
blow up, if you are running over mountains of tribulations, look
up to this star; call on Mary! If you are being tossed about on
the waves of pride, of ambition, of detraction, of envy, look up
to this star; call on Mary! If wrath or avarice or the snare of
the flesh shall strike against the ship of the mind, look up to
Mary! If, when overwhelmed by the immensity of your crimes, when
ashamed by the ugliness of your conscience, when frightened by
horror for the Judgment, you begin to sink into the depths of
sorrow, into the abyss of despair, think of Mary!
"In dangers, in trials, in matters of doubt, think of Mary; call
on Mary! let her not depart from your mouth; let her not leave
your heart, and, that you may gain the help of her prayer, do not
forsake the example of her life. In following her, you will not
stray; praying to her, you will not despair; when thinking of
her, you will not be in error. If she holds you, you will not
fall; in her protection, you will have no fear; with her as your
leader, you will not faint in the way; through her kindness, you
will arrive at port; and then you will realize yourself how
deservedly it was declared: 'And the Virgin's name was Mary.'"5
1. "Feast Day Cook Book," p. 42.
2. Parsch, op. cit., June 24.
3. "Roman Ritual," Vol. III.
4. "Feast Day Cook Book," pp. 81-82.
5. "Liturgical Readings," pp. 454-455.
APPENDIX I: LITURGICAL SYNTHESIS
(This note is intended for parents and educators who wish to know
some of the basic theological background of child pedagogy
through the liturgy. We have used the Christmas Cycle to
illustrate this in practical application.)
1. The Liturgy is the official, corporate worship of the Church,
expressed in her official books, headed by the hierarchy as
mediator between God and the people. More accurately and globally
expressed, it is, as Father Louis Bouyer defines it: "That system
of prayer and rites traditionally canonized by the church as her
own prayer and worship." Thus the Liturgical life of the Church
is expressed through the Mass, the Sacraments, the Ritual, the
Divine Office, the Martyrology, and Pontifical Ceremonies.
2. There are other services, prayers, customs, and traditions
which are more or less associated with the liturgy. These may be
understood fully only in the light of history. The Medieval,
Baroque and Romantic periods have made most serious inroads upon
the Liturgy but many contributions as well.
a) Some of these spring forth from the liturgy as a by-product,
and are founded upon the actions or doctrines taught by the
prayer-life of the Church, e.g., the private recitation of the
Divine Office, the blessing of the Christmas tree and the Advent
wreath, the home singing of liturgical hymns, the recitation at
home or even in public of extracts from liturgical prayers.
b) Others have preserved the true liturgical treasures of the
past and now should be used, as "Mediator Dei" tells us, to lead
back to the liturgy. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament would
lead to the Saving Host of the perfect Act of Thanksgiving, the
Mass, as the Rosary would lead to the Psalter and to the
meditation of the mysteries of the liturgical year. The
procession to the crib might incite the public to enthusiasm for
other processions such as those of Corpus Christi Candlemas Day,
or the blessing of the Fields.
c) Others would seem to be evidently secular and more removed
from the mystical life of Christ in the year of grace, as the
Yule log, the wassail bowl, the holly and the ivy. "Jingle Bells"
and "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" are popular examples of
secularized Christmas ballads.
It would follow that the problem of child education through the
liturgy should center about the true spiritual foundation of the
liturgical season proportionately diminishing in importance the
usage of those prayers, services, customs and traditions in as
much as they recede from association with the Christian Mystery
as the fullness of Christ in the life of His Church.
I. The Mass and the Liturgical Year: The first thing to teach the
child concerning religion as illustrated in the liturgy of the
Christmas Cycle is the importance of Holy Mass. He must be made
to realize that the Mass actually effectuates and realizes here
and now the Incarnation, Epiphany, Passion, Resurrection and
Ascension of Christ: that the Mass is not merely the reenacting
of historical action, but the ever-present realization of that
action of Christ in us this very day: "now not I, but Christ Who
lives in me." That which Christ did in His historic life, He does
each day in His Mystical Body; the life of Grace which He gives
us is the germ which fructifies in the Light of Glory, in the
Parousia of the particular or final judgment.
During the Christmas cycle, the Church desires that we live the
life of Christ as an ever-present thing, under the modality of
the season and the feast. Unlike the angels, we do not see things
by infused species, but successively and divisively by rational
acts. And consequently, since the life of the God-Man is so vast
and full of grace, the Spouse has considered it expedient, and
pedagogically sound, to review the life of Christ and the Church
in successive psychologico-chronological succession, with the
astronomical year as the over-all unit. This review is more than
a review: it must represent the incorporation of our human
personalities into that of Christ in order that through Him, and
in Him, and with Him we may give glory to the Father. This is
accomplished in the unity of the Holy Spirit as Indweller and
Guide of the Spouse. But the Holy Spirit builds upon our nature,
and perfects it by grace. The Holy Spirit thus incorporates us
into Christ as human beings, successively and temporally, so to
speak, by an ever-deepening yearly conversion of the Spouse into
the Christ-Life--a conversion which is ever-real, ever present,
and ever actual, even unto the fullness of time.
Upon this theological basis, children must be brought to realize
fully their daily, gradual and immediate incorporation into
Christ. The Masses and feasts of the Christmas cycle must be
illustrated in such manner that they appeal to every human fiber
of the child: to all of his senses, to his emotions, his will and
his intellect. They must likewise make every appeal to all of his
relationships with God, the Church, the State, the family, the
self, and the universe The Church is universal, love is
universal. We cannot expect the problem to be less vast or less
II. The Sacramental Life: The sacraments center about and receive
their life from the Mass as the planets receive order and warmth
from the sun. They are channels chosen by the Son as the normal
and ordinary means of the reception of the Life of Grace, and of
its increase. In the Christmas Cycle, for example, we find many
occasions to deepen comprehension of the significance of the
The Epiphany, and in particular the octave day of the Epiphany,
offers us the Baptism of Christ: re-birth by water and the Holy
Spirit. The baptism of the Savior stands at the focal point in
the history of mankind: it is the fulfillment of the Circumcision
of the Old Covenant, and of the baptism of penance by the
Precursor. It is the initiation of Christ's public life
symbolized for us by the future efficacious cleansing by water
and the Holy Spirit in the footsteps of the Master. This mystery
of the feast of the Epiphany is a link between the Cycle of the
Incarnation and the Cycle of the Redemption. Christ from the
Father, assumed our human nature, and returned to the Father as
our Savior into Whom we are incorporated in such wise that we may
be one with Him as He and the Heavenly Father are One.
Here again, the Baptism of Christ at the Epiphany, together with
the descent of the Holy Spirit and the approbation of the Father,
are definitely symbolic of the adult and public acts of
confirmation in the life of grace. In the readings of Isaiah
during Advent (Ch. 11) we learn that the Emmanuel possessed the
plenitude of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. On the feast of the
Holy Family, and on the first Sunday during the octave of the
Epiphany, we learn that the young Christ-Child increased in grace
and wisdom before God and man.
C. The Eucharist:
The whole Christmas cycle may be said to be a sigh and a shout of
triumph because of the Emmanuel. God is with us in order that we
may at last be united in total love, in the fullness of our
being, with the Godhead. The whole cycle celebrates the marriage
feast of God with Man, of Christ with the Church. The Eucharist
is the germ and promise of total and eternal union with God.
Isaiah represents the sigh of humanity for this union; Mary
represents the fullest union with God possible to human nature.
Christ Himself actually became man, and now in heaven retains our
human nature before the Throne of the Most High.
It is St. John the Baptist who represents the sacrament of
Penance throughout Advent and especially on the Third Sunday in
Advent, and at the Epiphany. He is the voice of one crying in the
wilderness: "Make straight the ways of the Lord," carrying out
the injunction of Isaiah to fill in the ruts of our omissions,
and to level the mounds of our transgressions, that the King of
Glory may enter into our souls.
Matrimony is the very theme of the Christmas cycle. For all
Advent is a preparation of the Spouse for the Coming of her King,
and all Christmastide is the celebration of her nuptials. The
Epiphany, celebrating the marriage feast of Cana, and the feast
of lights, the Candlemas, are the culmination of the drama. They
are symbols of perfect and eternal union in grace and glory.
F. Holy Orders:
Holy Orders are most expressly celebrated in the Christmas cycle,
for the Saturday of Ember Week in Advent was formerly the
principal day of the year upon which this sacrament was
conferred. It is the day on which we celebrate the shepherds and
leaders of the Spouse.
G. Extreme Unction:
This sacrament is recalled distinctly by the myrrh offered by the
Magi on the Epiphany. Its strength and healing force at the
moment of death is foreshadowed by the martyrdom of Stephen, the
murder of the Holy Innocents, the Cross overshadowing the Sunday
in the Octave of Christmas, the blood of the Circumcision, and
the prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation.
III. The Ritual1 contains many appropriate blessings: of infants,
of children, of mothers before and after childbirth, of nuptials,
of the wine representing the love of St. John the Apostle, of
gold, incense and myrrh, of chalk, of homes, of water on the
Epiphany, of the procession of the Candlemas. Popular devotion
desires to add a special blessing for the crib and the Christmas
IV. The Divine Office and the Martyrology: The Divine Office
during the Christmas cycle is full of florid warmth: the
mountains distill the dew, the heavens rain forth the Just One,
the hills leap for joy and clap their hands; the city is lighted
and decorated for the Bridegroom; and all the saints and martyrs
form the bridal suite of the great King.
All of the traditional teaching of the Church concerning the
Incarnation indicates the wealth of material which the very
liturgy itself offers to our minds and heart, imagination and
senses. This teaching may be translated into terms easily loved
and comprehended by children. We shall endeavor to relate all
else to the fundamental and solid ground of the liturgy itself,
and try to integrate many of the prayers and customs, old and
new, into the life of the Church in such wise that it may be used
by parents and teachers to appeal to little children.
Our material could be divided in many different manners. However,
two specific methods combined together cover most of the
pedagogical problems of the presentation of the Christmas liturgy
to children. According to:
I. Psychological Chronology:
Beginning with the first Sunday in Advent, the Church combines
history and tradition in the following succession of feasts and
ferial days: the first Sunday in Advent, the Feast of St.
Nicholas; the second Sunday in Advent; the Immaculate Conception,
and the civil celebration of the Patroness of our country; St.
Lucy; the third Sunday in Advent; the Ember Days of Advent,
including the Annunciation and the Visitation; the fourth Sunday
in Advent and the O-Antiphons; the Vigil of Christmas; the
Nativity; the suite of the great King: Sts. Stephen, John the
Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents; the Circumcision and the Holy
Name; the Twelfth Night; the Epiphany, with its triple feast; the
Holy Family and the childhood of Christ and His finding in the
temple; the Presentation of the Child in the Temple at Candlemas;
the celebration of the winter virgins: of Cecilia, of Lucy of
Agnes and Agatha and the entry of the virgins into the nuptial
chamber at the feast of the Purification.
II. Functional Human Needs:
A. Food: by the wealth of Christmas recipes which pour in at the
holiday season, and which are the delight of children.
B. Clothing: the profound signification of the assumption of the
rags of our human nature by the very Word of God, and the
symbolic meaning and usage of raiment as the expression of our
being and personality.
C. Shelter: the poverty, chastity and obedience of the Christ-
Child. He had not "whereon to lay His head," was born in a cave
at Bethlehem, exiled into Egypt, and worked at Nazareth as a
D. The Senses:
1. Sight: The whole gamut of materials made possible
by visual education should be made serviceable: the
crib, the Christmas tree, the ornaments, the Advent
wreath, the Advent candle, the crown of St. Lucy,
the costume of St. Nicholas; all that is available
of pictures of Bethlehem, of Jerusalem, of Egypt,
of the costumes of the people, the beauty of the
oriental nights, the camels, the caravans. etc.
2. Hearing: Selected Christmas stories which have
bearing upon the Scriptures and the liturgical feasts
of the Christmas season; plays about St. Nicholas,
the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the
Presentation, the Finding in the Temple, the
Visitation of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ, and
the miracle at Cana; songs offering the greatest
range A whole book could be written about these
latter. They should be chosen because of their
theological soundness and their relation to the
liturgy, their universality, their simplicity and
intrinsic beauty. In addition to the ardent Gregorian
chant of the season nearly every nation has contributed
to Christmas music, and it is readily available as
folk-song and as classic.
3. Taste: What an appeal Christmas offers to the
appetites of children! If we extend the notion of
taste to works of art, we could also unite taste
with sight and teach the children the wealth of
works of Christian art which express the cycle of
Christmas, from the old masters to the most modern.
4. Smell: The incense of the Epiphany as a symbol
of our prayers, virtues and good works ascending
before the throne of God; the homey smells of
5. Touch: All of the manual arts by which the
children could be taught to make their own crib,
decorate their own tree, and make toys for others.
They could play games with all of the objects
which represent the character and objects used
to illustrate the whole Cycle.
E. The Imagination and the Emotions: Contemplation, according to
St. Thomas Aquinas, is most like play, since it is for itself.
However, it must be remembered that the imagination of the child
should be based upon reality, and that whatever freedom of rein
it may be allowed, its origin and end should be centered about
the living reality of the life of Christ as the Church presents
it in her Christmas cycle.
F. The Will: Human free will should be strengthened by an
increase of penance and charity by giving up things for the poor,
by poverty of spirit; by imitating the obedience of Christ,
especially in virtue of His super-abundant love for the Father
and His Will, and of His supreme humility in taking on our weak
G. The Intellect: Even though what we know comes first through
the senses it results in the enlightenment of the intellect of
the child, in order that from exterior representations, colors
and lights, plays and games come a fuller participation in the
Christian Mystery. The Advent and Christmas Psalms should be
memorized, and many carols of real doctrinal worth be sung. Bible
History and Scripture should become a special joy for children.
H. The Relationship of the Child to God, Neighbor and the
Universe: The fundamental purpose of the Church in teaching all
men is to offer them the new law of love: the love and worship of
God above all things. He is the first consideration at all times
and in every circumstance; the neighbor is loved because of the
super-abundance of our love of God and because of His image in
creation. The fundamental concept to be brought to the child by
pedagogy in order to bring him to maturity in its fullest sense
human and divine, is to bring him to the plenitude of being and
reality. Nothing artificial in any shallow or cheap sense of the
term is admissible: it must be real and as perfect as our human
abilities, aided by grace, may permit. The things of the
universe, natural and manmade, are for the usage of man, but they
are the creation of God. There is no better time nor place than
in childhood to realize the hierarchy of being and of its
Let us now consider concrete means and methods by which we may
employ much of what the Church offers to us during the Christmas
cycle to the education of children. "For people are instructed in
the truths of faith and brought to appreciate the inner joys of
religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our
sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the
teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a
few and the more learned among the faithful: feasts reach them
all. The Church's teaching affects the mind primarily: her feasts
affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the
whole of man's nature." (Pius XI, "Quas Primas")
1. See also the new official Latin-English Ritual, "Collectio
Rituum," Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, (Bruce: Milwaukee,
A CHRISTMAS JESSE TREE1
The October (1953) cover of "Worship," modeled on the mediaeval
Jesse tree, prompts us to tell you about our Jesse Advent and
Christmas tree. Some years ago we initiated it in a New Jersey
high school, and are now using it in Pennsylvania in several
schools. Novices in England this year will be making one, and a
woman's group in Minnesota is planning an Advent program based on
Ours is a Christmas tree designed to put Christ back into
Christmas. The ornaments, made by the children, represent the
ancestors of Christ. Imagination is fired by reading of these
characters in the messianic story, and some of the symbols and
figures used have indeed been ingenious. Last year some of them
were home-baked cookies decorated with colored sugar. Others were
paper or cloth with a taffy base, and yet others used little
shiny Christmas bells for patriarchal heads. On the original tree
we had used only symbols, many of them taken without leave or
license from "Orate Fratres," (now "Worship") and done up in
colored shiny paper that was then pasted on aluminum kitchen
foil. A box of 'good junk' in the classroom, scraps of shiny
paper, rich cloth, fur, metallic stripping, etc., provides
material and suggests further ideas for construction.
The base of our tree is wrapped in corrugated paper cut to
represent a tapering root, and Jesse's symbol is placed thereon.
With abandon, we then cut back to Adam and Eve. An apple with two
bites out and a serpent coiled about it tells their doleful
story. A few green leaves attached to red Christmas balls provide
other apples to place among the branches, to remind us of the
grip that sin had upon the world through the long ages of waiting
for the Redeemer.
Pushed down over the topmost spiny branch of the tree is a
plastic disc supporting twelve aluminum-foil stars. Just before
school lets out before Christmas, we place in a test tube that we
have scotch-taped above on this branch the most beautiful rose we
can procure from the florist, swaddled in the maiden-hair fern.
Lettered in gold on the blackboard near the tree is this:
"Our Christmas tree represents, as does the liturgy of the
season, the longing of sinful mankind for its Redeemer. The cry
of the Old Testament for the Saviour--"Drop down dew, ye Heavens,
from above, and let the clouds rain the Just one"--is repeated in
the New Dispensation in which we share. "Let the earth open and
bud forth a Saviour!" cried the ancestors of Christ who are
represented by symbols on our Jesse tree. Our cry is the same:
that the Christmas Rose, who is Jesus Christ, will bud in our
hearts, from the branch that is Mary. She who wears a crown of
twelve stars lights the way to her divine Son. Let us redouble
our prayers in these last Advent days that Christ be truly reborn
in us. "Come Lord Jesus, and tarry not." ... Making our Jesse
tree has been lots of fun. We sing while constructing it, and
sing around it after it is completed. Under it we place our crib,
beneath the branch from which hangs Ruth's symbol. We tell our
many visitors the stories about the figures, and when Christmas
comes at last we all feel somewhat as those men and women did
whose representations adorn our Jesse tree...."
(The study sheets which Sister Rose uses for her classes include
splendid suggestions. The students are encouraged to make a
thorough study of the genealogy of Christ in Scripture,
encyclopedia, text-books, the ordinary and common of the Mass,
and in symbol. Since the text is so readily available in
"Worship," we suggest that the details should be looked into, and
the imagination exerted forcibly in an effort to visualize and
concretize the longing of the Old Testament for the Coming of the
THE CHRISTMAS SKY
Long before the Christian era the 25th of December was considered
to be a great feast-day, and even today the Christians are not
the only people who observe it. Certain peoples rejoice at this
time of the year because the sun, having attained its full course
southward, now inclines northward, bringing the earth the hope of
a greater abundance of light and heat.
At the solstice of December 22nd the sun passes from Sagittarius
to Capricorn, and at midnight of the 24th of December, in all
latitudes, the Sign of the Virgin is precisely at its most
easterly point. This is why astronomers often say that the sun is
the son of the virgin.
We Christians who do not hesitate to make comparisons and to
treat all things from the point of view of religion do not fear
to compare the Sun with Christ. For it was He who drew the
universe out of darkness, and it is He who is also the Son of the
The sun thus entered the Sign of Capricorn in order to give it
new virility. Without doubt it is far from producing the balmy
warmth of springtime, for the return of the sun towards the north
has just begun and it shall fully arrive only within several
months. The movement of the stars is slow insofar as we are
concerned. Men have tended to accelerate everything in their
human productions, but the work of God which is of infinite
duration never changes its speed. Spring, as well as the other
seasons, will never arrive at an earlier date. The stars do not
change their course in space for any material reasons. This is
why they act as immutable points of reference and continual
sources of comparisons and teaching for those who study them.
Even the well-known Santa Claus is an astronomical figure. He is
the perfect reproduction of the figure of Centaur, which is an
eastern constellation situated beneath the constellation of the
Virgin. Both Centaur and Santa Claus wear the remarkable large
Many people pretend that if the people of the ancient world were
to return to our modern world they would be astounded. That is
possible, but perhaps some of these ancient people would be
surprised at our ignorance of all the phenomena of nature.
1. Cited from the December, 1953, issue of "Worship." This
article by Sister M. Margaret Rose, S.S.J., is a very interesting
application of the mediaeval "Jesse Tree" to usage in the High
APPENDIX III: THE LITURGICAL USAGE OF HOLY SCRIPTURE DURING THE
I. In the Missal
A. Usage of the Gospels in the Christmas Cycle and Feasts:
The historical, scriptural account of the life of Christ
up to the time of His public ministry (beginning with the
temptation in the desert, First Sunday of Lent), is included in
the following passages from the Gospels:
Matthew: 1:1-25 The Genealogy of Jesus: 1-16; the Virgin
2:1-23 The Magi; Flight into Egypt; Holy Innocents;
Return to Nazareth.
3:1-17 St. John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus
Mark: 1:1-11 St. John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus.
Luke: 1:5-80 The conception of John the Baptist and of
Christ. The Visitation and Canticle of the
Blessed Virgin. The Birth of the Baptist and
the Canticle of Zachary.
2:1-52 The Birth of Christ. His Presentation in the
Temple. The prophecy of Simeon. The Finding
in the Temple.
3:1-22 St. John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus.
3:23-38 The Genealogy of Jesus.
John: 1:1-14 The Word of God.
1:15-34 John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus.
2:1-11 The Marriage Feast at Cana.
1. The gospels during the Christmas Cycle and on the various
feasts which are integrally associated with the cycle are
distributed into discontinuous readings which have been built up
pedagogically according to the season and feasts in the following
2nd Sunday of Advent: Matt. 2:2-10 The mission of
John the Baptist.
3rd Sunday of Advent: John 1:19-28 John the Precursor
Ember Wednesday in
Advent: (Missa Aurea): Luke 1:26-38 The Annunciation.
Ember Friday in Advent: Luke 1:39-47 The Visitation.
4th Sunday of Advent: Luke 3:1-6 John the Precursor.
The Vigil of Christmas: Matt. 1:18-21 The doubt of Joseph
Midnight Mass: Luke 2:1-14 Nativity of Jesus;
angels to shepherds.
Mass at Dawn: Luke 2:15-20 Visit of the Shepherds.
Mass of Day: John 1:1-14 The Word of God.
Feast of Holy Innocents: Matt. 2:13-18 Flight into Egypt;
Martyrdom of Holy
Sunday in Octave of
Christmas Luke 2:33-40 Mary's heart pierced
by sword; prophetess,
Anna; Return to Nazareth.
Circumcision (and Holy
Name of Jesus: Sunday Luke 2:21 Circumcision on 8th Day
in Octave of Circumc.): in the Temple.
Vigil of Epiphany: Matt. 2:19-23 Return from Egypt to
The Epiphany: Matt. 2:1-12 The Visit of the Magi.
Sunday in Octave of the Luke 2:42-52 Finding in the Temple.
(Holy Family: Sun. in Luke 2:42-52 Same Gospel: Finding in
Oct. of Epiphany): Temple.
January 13: John 1:29-34 John the Baptist and
Baptism of Jesus.
2nd Sunday after
Epiphany John 2:1-11 The Marriage Feast at Cana.
Purification (Feb. 2) Luke 2:22-32 Presentation in Temple:
2. Feasts integrally belonging to the Christmas Cycle:
Vigil of Immac.
Conception Matt. 1:1-16 Genealogy of Jesus.
(Dec. 8) Luke 1:26-28 Annunciation (Missa
St. Joseph: (March 19) Matt. 1:18-21 Doubt of Joseph (cf. Vigil of
Annunciation: (March 25) Luke 1:26-38 Annunciation (Missa Aurea).
Vigil of St. John the Luke 1:5-17 Conception and Naming of the
Baptist: (June 23): Baptist.
Nativity of St. John Luke 1:57-68 Birth of St. John the Baptist.
the Baptist: (June 24):
(July 2): Luke 1:39-47 Visitation (Ember Friday in
St. Anne: (July 26): Matt. 13:44-52 Kingdom of Heaven a Hidden
(August 16): Matt. 1:1-16 Genealogy of Jesus. (cf. Vigil
of Immaculate Concep.)
Nativity of Blessed
Virgin: Matt. 1:1-16 Genealogy of Jesus.
(September 8) (cf. St. Joachim; Vigil
of Immaculate Conception).
Holy Name of Mary:
(September 12): Luke 1:26-38 Annunciation (cf. Missa
Aurea; Feast of Annunciation,
3. In Resume: by comparison of the Gospel reading of the
Christmas Cycle with the above-noted gospel narratives concerning
the early life of Christ before His public ministry, we find that
Matthew: Chapters 1 and 2 are completely cited; none of Chapter 3;
Mark: Is not included;
Luke: Chapters 1 and 2 are completely cited; and Ch. 3: 1-6;
John: Chapters 1 and 2 are completely cited.
In general, Matthew 1 and Luke 1 are read in Advent; Matthew 2-3,
Luke 2-3, and John 1-2 are read at Christmastide. Therefore, by
the suite of the various feasts of the Christmas Cycle in the
"Roman Missal," the complete scriptural account of the life of
Christ up to the time of His public ministry is given in this
B. Chronology and Liturgical Usage of Scripture:
It should be especially noted that the Liturgy frequently prefers
to follow strict chronology, but not always. For example: the
Immaculate Conception is placed nine months preceding the Feast
of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin; the Annunciation, nine
months before Christmas; and the Purification, forty days after
Christmas. On the other hand, however, in the Christmas Cycle,
the order of events is frequently altered historically in
deference to the logical order of feasts. For example, according
to the chapters of St. Luke, the succession of feasts would be as
follows were they ordered historically and chronologically:
1. Vigil of Nativity of St. 1: 5-17 The conception of the John
Baptist: (June 23): Baptist.
2. Missa Aurea: Wednesday 1:26-38 The Annunciation: March
in Advent Ember Week: 25.
3. Friday in Advent Ember 1:37-47 The Visitation: July 2.
4. Nativity of St. John the 1:57-68 Nativity and Naming of
Baptist: (June 24): the Baptist.
5. Christmas: Midnight Mass: 2:1-14 Nativity of Christ:
Announcement to Shepherds.
6. Christmas: Mass at Dawn: 2:15-20 Shepherds at the Crib.
7. Circumcision: (January 1): 2:21 Circumcision of Christ.
8. Purification: (February 2): 2:22-32 Presentation in Temple.
9. Sunday in Octave of 2:33-40 Mary's heart pierced by
Christmas: sword; Prophetess, Anna;
Return to Nazareth.
10. First Sunday after
Epiphany: 2:42-52 Finding in the Temple.
11. 4th Sunday of Advent: 3:1-6 John the Precursor.
C. The Correlation of the Christmas Cycle with the Joyous
1. The Annunciation: Immaculate Conception; Missa Aurea;
Feast on March 25; Feast of
Holy Name of Mary.
2. The Visitation: Friday in Ember Week of Advent;
Feast on July 2.
3. The Nativity of
Christ: December 25: Midnight Mass.
4. The Presentation Feast of the Purification, February 2.
in the Temple:
5. The Finding in the First Sunday after Epiphany: Feast
Temple: of the Holy Family.
II. In the Roman Breviary:
The scriptural readings for Advent are taken from the prophecies
of Isaias; those for Christmas tide are taken from all of the
Epistles of St. Paul. The reason for this is evident: Isaias is
the great prophet of the Messias; St. Paul is the great Apostle
of the Gentiles: it is he who manifests (Epiphany) the Messias to
the world at large.
A. The Distribution of the Readings is as follows: (First Nocturn
1st Week in Advent...............Isaias 1-10 incl.
2nd Week in Advent...............Isaias 11-26.
3rd Week in Advent...............Isaias 26-34.
4th Week in Advent...............Isaias 35-66.
Sunday in Octave of Christmas
and the following days...........Romans 1-4.
Sunday between Circumcision
and Epiphany and following days..Romans 5-8.
1st Week after Epiphany..........I Corinthians.
2nd Week after Epiphany..........II Corinthians.
3rd Week after Epiphany..........Galations (Sunday, Monday, Tues.).
Ephesians (Wed., Thur. Fri. Sat.).
4th Week after Epiphany..........Philippians (Sunday, Monday)
Colossians (Tuesday, Wednesday)
I Thessalonians (Thursday, Friday)
II Thessalonians (Saturday)
5th Week after Epiphany..........I Timothy (Sunday, Monday)
II Timothy (Tuesday, Wednesday)
Titus (Thursday, Friday)
6th Week after Epiphany..........Hebrews
B. Special Seasonal Psalms:
1st Week in Advent...............Ps. 24.
2nd Week in Advent...............Ps. 79.
3rd Week in Advent...............Ps. 84.
4th Week in Advent...............Ps. 18.
Vigil of Christmas...............Ps. 23.
Christmas........................Pss. 2, 44, 47, 88, 95, 97.
St. Stephen......................Ps. 62.
Holy Innocents...................Ps. 2.
3rd Sunday after Epiphany........Ps. 96 (and for whole time
4th Sunday after Epiphany........Ps. 117.
Feasts of Blessed Virgin Mary....Pss. 109, 112, 121, 126, 146,
8, 18, 23, 44, 4S, 86, 95,
I. Divine Office (Breviary):
Many terms which are used in the text may not be familiar to the
layman who is not accustomed to reading the Divine Office. For
this reason it may be helpful to define certain terms which may
be less familiar. (Should the reader desire to increase his
knowledge of the Office, he may consult the following works: Pius
Parsch, "The Breviary Explained"; G. Hoornaert, S.J., "The
Breviary and the Laity"; and the appendix to "A Short Breviary,"
edited by William G. Heidt, O.S.B., of St. John's Abbey).
The Divine Office is the official collection of prayers used by
monastic communities of the Roman rite for daily chanting or
reading. The "Psalter," or Book of Psalms, is its back-bone of
prayer. Readings from Scripture, the fathers of the Church, and
homilies or sermons on the gospels constitute its meditative
element. Hymns and Canticles add charm and variety.
The Breviary is really an abridgement of the lengthy Divine
Office. When the secular clergy and missionaries were unable to
recite or chant the Office in common, this briefer form of daily
worship became customary. The private recitation of the Breviary
requires about an hour or more, divided into the various times of
the day and night.
1. The Hours, or constituent parts of the Office and Breviary
divide the time of day as follows:
a. Matins, or the night office, which is made up of psalms and
readings called Lessons.
b. Lauds, the ancient morning prayer of the Church.
c. The Little Hours:
1. Prime: the morning prayer before beginning the work of the
day. This hour is of monastic origin.
2. Terte: the third "hour" of the Roman day, which is usually
recited at 9 o'clock in the morning, before High Mass.
3. Sext: the prayer at mid-day.
4. None: afternoon prayer at the ninth hour of the Roman day, or
about 3 P.M.
d. Vespers: the solemn evening prayer of the ancient Church.
First Vespers are celebrated on the eve of a feast;
Second Vespers are celebrated on the evening of the feast itself.
e. Compline: the final night prayer which completes or concludes
the Office of the day.
2. Other terms used in the Divine Office or Breviary:
a. Antiphon: a short verse or theme preceding and following a
psalm or canticle.
b. Canticle: a hymn of praise or thanksgiving. The three most
important canticles used in the Office are the "Benedictus," or
Canticle of Zachary, at lauds; the "Magnificat," or Canticle of
the Blessed Virgin, used at vespers; and the Canticle of Simeon,
used in Roman Compline.
c. Chapter: short reading from Scripture read after the last
psalm at most of the hours.
d. Invitatory: the verse introducing psalm 94 at the beginning of
matins. It is inserted between each verse of the psalm.
e. Nocturn: the major division of the hour of matins This latter
hour may consist of only one nocturn, with nine psalms, and three
lessons, or of three nocturns with three psalms and lessons each.
A responsory is read or sung after each lesson.
f. Opus Dei: this term, meaning the "Work of God," is applied
especially by St. Benedict to designate the whole of the Divine
Office or duty of prayer to God.
g. Response: a short invocation, usually taken from a psalm, and
preceded by a versicle.
h. Responsory: a short prayer said antiphonally (alternately),
used after lessons and chapters.
i. Versicle: a short invocation, usually taken from a psalm, and
followed by a response.
II. Other Technical terms used in the text:
1. English terms:
a. Basilica: a major church, usually ancient, or a church which
because of its preeminence receives this name as a title of
b. Feast: a day celebrated in honor of God or the saints.
c. Ferial Day: an ordinary week-day.
d. Motet: a vocal composition on a sacred text, usually
polyphonic or in parts. Motets are usually sung after the
offertory at Mass, or during Benediction of the Blessed
e. Sanctoral Cycle: the succession of feasts of the saints
beginning with the vigil or eve of St. Andrew in November and
concluding the following November 26th on the feast of St.
f. Station (Stational Church): an important Roman church or
basilica at which important feasts are celebrated by the Pope.
These stations are held at various churches located in the city
of Rome, especially on important feasts and during the whole of
g. Temporal Cycle: the division of the seasons of the year in
honor of the incarnation and redemption:
1. The Christmas Cycle (the Incarnation): which
extends from the First Sunday in Advent until
the Feast of the Purification (February second);
2. The Easter Cycle (the Redemption): which begins
with Septuagesima Sunday and extends through the
last Sunday after Pentecost. The latter part of
this cycle, beginning with Pentecost, is concerned
with the work of redemption effectuated by the Holy
Spirit in the Church.
2. Greek and Latin terms:
a. Majestas Domini (the Majesty of the Lord): a representation of
Christ in glory often seen in Byzantine churches, and frequently
in Roman churches.
b. Parousia: the second coming of Christ in glory to judge the
world at the end of time.
c. IHS or IHC: the first three Greek letters of the name of
d. ICTHUS: a rather complicated symbol used very frequently in
the ancient church. The Greek words are as follows: Iesous
Christos Theou Uios Soter (Jesus Christ the Son of God, the
Savior). By taking the first Greek letters of each of these
words, the word, "Icthtus," or Greek word for Fish was formed.
This is the reason for the common usage of the Fish as a symbol
of the Savior.
e. PHOS-ZOE (Light-Life): these two Greek words form an acrostic
in the form of a cross, with the letter "O" or Greek omega as the
center. "Phos," or Light represents the light of Faith received
in the fore-Mass; "Zoe," or Life represents the Mass of the
Faithful in which they receive the Bread of Life.
f. XP (Chi-Rho): this symbol, usually formed into a cross, is
taken from the first two Greek letters of the name of Christ. In
English we use three letters, Chr, but in Greek X is ch
(pronounced chi) and P is the letter R or Rho.
A. Basic Readings:
"The Old and New Testaments," Knox translation, 3 Vols.; Sheed
and Ward, N.Y.; 1952
"Missale Romanum," Benziger Edition, N.Y.
Roman Breviary in English, Benziger Bros., N.Y.; 1951.
"The Roman Ritual," Vol. III, "The Blessings," Weller
translation; Bruce Milwaukee; 1946.
"The Roman Martyrology," Newman Press, Westminster, Md.; 1947.
"The Psalms," Latin-English edition by Professors of the
Pontifical Biblical Institute; Benziger Bros., N.Y.; 1946.
"My Daily Psalm Book," Frey translation; Confraternity of
Precious Blood, Brooklyn, N.Y.
"A Short Breviary," ed. by Monks of St. John's Abbey,
Collegeville, Minn.; 1954.
"Liturgical Readings," St. Meinrad's Abbey; 1943; St. Meinrad,
"The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal," Matthew Britt, O.S.B.;
Benziger Bros., N.Y.; 1948.
"Liber Usualis," Desclee, Tournai, Belgium; 1950.
"Das Jahr des Heiles," I Band, Weihnachtsteil; Verlag VLA,
Klosterncuburg b. Wien, 1938.
"The Liturgical Year," Vols. I-III, Dom Prosper Gueranger; Newman
Press, Westminster, Md.
"Liber Sacramentorum," Cardinal I. Schuster, O.S.B.; Bruxelles,
Vromant & Co.; 1939. Tome II: "Inauguration du Royaume
Messianique" (Avent a la Septuag.); Tome VI: "L'Eglise
Triomphante" (Saints durant le Cycle de la Nativ.).
"Liturgical Piety," Rev. Louis Bouyer, Univ. of Notre Dame Press,
Notre Dame, Ind. 1955.
B. Readings, Songs and Dances for Christmastide:
"...And Promenade All," Helen and Harry Eisenberg; 2403 Branch
St., Nashville, Tenn.; 1952.
"Blessing for the Christmas Tree," Christmas issue of the
"Leaflet Missal," St. Paul, Minn.; 1941.
"Book of the Savior," assembled by F. J. Sheed; Sheed & Ward,
"Cantus ad Processiones et Benedictiones SSmi Sacramenti," J.
Fischer & Bro., N.Y.; 1927.
"Christian Feasts," Grailville, Loveland, Ohio:
Advent Ember Days
"Christian Life and Worship," G. Ellard, S.J.; Bruce, Milwaukee;
"Christ Legends," Selma Lageroff; Henry Holt & Co., N.Y.
"Christmas Book, A," Lewis Heseltine; E. P. Dutton & Co., N.Y.;
"Christmas Book, The," Francis X. Weiser, S.J.; Harcourt, Brace &
Co., N.Y.; 1952.
"Christmas Eve Program for the Home," Conception Abbey Press, Mo.
"Christmastide," ed. by W. J. Roehrenbeck; Stephen Daye Press,
"Christmas Tree, The," Regina Laudis, Bethlehem, Conn., 1952.
"Church's Daily Prayer, The," Dom Ernest Graf, O.S.B.; Burns
Oates and Washbourne, London; 1938.
"Cooking for Christ," Florence Berger; National Catholic Rural
Life Conference, Des Moines, Ia; 1949.
"Coronal," "The Presentation," Paul Claudel; Pantheon Press, N.Y.
"Deutsche Weihnacht," The Thrift Press, Ithaca, N.Y.
"Deo Gratias," M. B. Hellriegel; Pio Decimo Press St. Louis, Mo.
"Family Life in Christ," Therese Mueller; St. John's Abbey Press,
Collegeville, Minn.; 1946.
"Feast Day Cookbook," Burton Ripperger; David McKay Co., N.Y.;
"Folk Dances of Many Lands," Trapp Family Music Camp, Stowe, Vt.
"Frohbotsehaft der Geburt des Herrn. Die," Storr-Nolzmeister;
C.L. Schul-Theiss Musikverlag, Tuebingen; 1947.
"He Cometh," William J. McGarry, S.J.; America Press, N.Y.; 1941.
"Hymns of the Church, The," Dom Ermin Vitry, O.S.B.; O'Fallon,
"Is This My Parish?" Dom Pius Parsch, trans. W. Tunink; Abbey
Press, Conception, Mo.; 1950.
"John the Baptist," Andre Retif; Newman Press, Westminster, Md.;
"Journey of the Three Kings, The," Henri Gheon; Sheed and Ward,
"Joyful Singing," Cooperative Recreation Service, Delaware, Ohio.
"Life of Jesus Christ in the Land of Israel and Among its
People," F. M. Willam; B. Herder Co., St. Louis, Mo. 1945.
"Life of Christ, The," Ricciotti-Zizzarnia; Bruce Milwaukee;
"Lights of Christ," Wilfrid Tunink, O.S.B.; Abbey Press,
Conception, Mo.; 1950.
Liturgical Press Publications, Collegeville, Minn.:
"Advent Song"; "Sunday Compline"; "Daily Compline"; "Daily
Prime"; "Marian Hymns."
"Liturgy of the Mass, The," Dom Pius Parsch, trans. by F. C.
Eckhoff; Herder, St. Louis; 1947.
"Living Parish, The," "Epiphany in a Parish," by Philip T.
Weller, Dec., 1942; Pio Decimo Press, St. Louis, Mo.
"Living with the Church," Part I, "The Christmas Cycle," Dom Otto
Haering, O.S.B.; Benziger Bros., N.Y.
"Maranatha Jesu!" Pax Press, O'Fallon, Mo.; 1939.
"Mary Book, The," assembled by F. J. Sheed; Sheed & Ward, N.Y.;
"Orate Fratres," Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn.:
1939: "Christmas and Epiphany Lesson in the Classroom";
1941: "Merely Suggesting," Very Reverend Martin Hellriegel;
1942: "A Christmas Legend," by the Editor.
1943: "The Epiphany of Our Lord," Very Reverend Martin
"Orient from on High, The," Benedict Ehmann; Pio Decimo Press,
St. Louis, Mo.
"Our Children's Year of Grace," Therese Mueller; Pio Decimo
Press, St. Louis, Mo.; 1943.
"Passion of the Infant Christ," C. Houselander; Sheed and Ward,
"St. Gregory Hymnal," St. Gregory Guild, Philadelphia; 1920.
"Singing America," National Recreation Association; C. C.
Birchard & Co., Boston; 1940.
"Trapp Family Book of Christmas Songs, The," Franz Wasner;
Pantheon, N.Y.; 1950.
"Treasures from Abroad" (Folk Dances from Other Lands),
Cooperative Recreation Service, Delaware, Ohio.
"Triptych of the Three Kings, The," Felix Timmermans; McFarlane,
Warde McFarlane, N.Y.
"Vine and the Branches, The," M. B. Hellriegel; Pio Decimo Press,
St. Louis, Mo.
"With Christ through the Year," Bernard Strassesr, O.S.B.; Bruce,
"With the Bible through the Church Year," Benedictine Brothers;
Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland; 1953.
"Year of Our Lord, The," Emiliana Loehr, O.S.B.; P. J. Kenedy &
C. Recordings: (A few suggestions. New issues of excellent
quality are constantly being produced.)
"Christmas Eve in Vienna," Vienna Stadtsoper Choir, London 10".
"Christmas Music and Carols," Don Cossack Chorus, Concert Hall
"Christmas with the Trapp Family Singers," Vol. I, Decca 12";
Vol. II, Decca 12".
"English Mediaeval Christmas Carols," Esoteric 12".
"Virtuosi di Roma Play Christmas Music," Decca 12". (Corelli,
"Christmas Vespers," Monks of Beuron, Decca 10" 7546.
"Christmas Carols," St. Mary's Seminary Choir, Gregorian Inst.,
10" No. XC-LP-1.
"Christmas Songs," Roger Wagner Chorale, Layos Records 10". CB-
"Motets for Christmas and other Festivities," Lyrichord 12",
"Gregorian Plain Chant, Christmas Cycle," Schola du Grand
Scholasticat de Chevilly, Angel Records, 12", 35116.