From Christmas to Candlemas in a Catholic Home by Helen McLoughlin, 1950’s
Once Christian families succeed in giving Christmas its proper setting in the liturgical cycle, they will enjoy the feast.
In our house, Christmas begins when the children are awakened and dressed in slippers and robes. Each is given a lighted candle in honor of the Christ-Child. The children come up a long hall, slowly, singing “Silent Night” as they proceed to the living room. Their father has lighted the Christ-Candle and the tree.
Family and friends gather round the Nativity scene. Pierce, our oldest child, reads from the Roman Martyrology:
In the forty-second year of the Empire of Octavian Augustus, in the Sixth Age of the world while all the earth was at peace, Jesus Christ, Eternal God, and Son of the Eternal Father, willed to consecrate the world by His gracious coming; having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and the nine months since His conception having now passed (all kneel), He was born as Man of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem of Juda. (Very solemnly):
THE BIRTHDAY ACCORDING TO THE FLESH OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
All: Praise be to You, O Christ.
A blessing of the crib and then of the tree is read by the father who uses the prayers of the Church’s liturgy.
Father: The Word was made flesh, alleluia.
All: And dwelt among us, alleluia.
Father: O Lord, hear my prayer.
All: And let my cry come to You.
Father: Let us pray. We beseech Thee, Almighty God, bless this crib which we have prepared in honor of the new birth in the flesh of Thine only begotten Son. May all who devoutly see in this image the mystery of His Incarnation be filled with the light of His glory, who with Thee liveth and reigneth forever.
Family and friends sing the Adeste Fidelis:
O come, all ye faithful,
Joyous and triumphant,
To Jesus, to Jesus in Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels.
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ, our Lord.
The procession moves to the Christmas tree or the Jesse tree, decorated with symbols of the Old Testament. All that is needed to bless the tree is a little holy water–children love to sprinkle it–and the following prayer:
Father: Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who by dying on the
Tree of the Cross didst overcome the death of sin caused by our first parents’ eating of the forbidden tree of paradise, grant, we beseech Thee, the abundant graces of Thy Nativity, that we may so live as to be worthy living branches of Thyself, the good and ever green Olive Tree, and in Thy strength bear the fruit of good works for eternal life. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.
We first heard about the Jesse tree in “Worship” magazine. A regular Christmas tree represents the Root of Jesse and is decorated with lights and homemade symbols depicting the ancestors of Jesus or Old Testament events leading to Him.
For Adam and Eve we use a rosy apple with two bites taken from it; for Abraham and Isaac, a ram; for Solomon, a temple; for Moses, two tablets of the Law; for David, a star; for Isaias, a hand with a burning coal. These were drawn by an artist friend and cut by the children from bright paper.
Freehand, we cut a pitcher from silver paper to symbolize Rebecca, using a milk jug from Williamsburg as a model. We also cut shells for John the Baptist and sheaves of wheat for Ruth.
The children helped their father make a ladder and attach to its rungs tiny angels to symbolize Jacob. We placed a crown bearing twelve stars for our Lady at the top of the tree and above the crown a rose for our Savior who budded from the Root of Jesse.
To these we added beautiful hand-carved wooden “O” antiphons and symbols of our Savior made by the Benedictine nuns at Regina Laudis, Bethlehem, Connecticut. Christmas cards with liturgical texts and symbols are widely available, and may well be cut out and hung on the tree for decorations. We have also used the Jesse tree symbols on a small artificial tree which the children when little could decorate and redecorate to their hearts’ content without fear of pulling electric lights or breaking heirloom Christmas balls.
Last year we served “Bread of Angels” on Christmas Eve. Paper-thin wafers with Nativity scenes imprinted, these were blessed and given to each member of the family and to guests to symbolize that “all who partake of one bread are one body.” With the Bread of Angels we used blessed wine. This simple fare helped us to keep the Christmas vigil fast and made it a pleasure to do so. The Bread of Angels was the gift of friends of Polish extraction.
Little children must go back to bed as midnight draws near in our house; but their brother now serves Mass. Two doors away from us the carillon of a famous church peals out the glad news of Christ’s birth.
Before we leave the house, a tiny figure of the Infant is placed on the straws of the empty manger beside each child’s bed. In this way the first sight to greet him or her on Christmas morning and during the season will be the Savior in swaddling clothes.
We hasten to Mass in the darkness of night, reminding ourselves that we are about to celebrate the greatest act of the Christmas feast. We go to greet that Light which now shines in the darkness; we go in the spirit of the shepherds to adore the Son of God and to offer our hearts to Him in His manger. Later during the Offertory, when bread and wine, the noblest of inanimate creatures, are offered by us and for us, we offer our children, our sorrows, our joys and ourselves on the paten, even as the divine Child offers Himself to His Father.
Then we make room in our hearts for Christ, true God and true Man, who comes to us cradled in Bread.
In His coming in the Christ Mass, we undergo the divine transformation which alone makes Christmas merry. For “merry” in its original sense meant blessed.
“If you find you have wandered away from the Shelter of God, lead your heart back to Him quietly and simply.” – St. Francis de Sales
And the Winner of the FF Giveaway is….
Congrats Rach! I have sent you an email! 🙂