Every month, we suggest a Faith Practice which you and your home, school or parish community might like to take on as part of your commitment for the Year of Faith. It is our hope that these simple practices will stir in us the ‘renewed conversion of the Lord’ that Pope Benedict XVI calls for in Porta Fidei (n. 6).
Faith Practice of the Month for December: Enthroning the Christmas Crib
The following piece is adapted from an article written by Kathleen Manning which appeared in the on-line version of US Catholic on 19 November 2012.
On Christmas Eve 1223, St Francis of Assisi created the first nativity in the Italian city of Greccio. With the help of a local nobleman, Francis celebrated the birth of Jesus in a cave outside the town. The liturgy featured a hay-filled manger in front of the temporary altar, and as Francis preached, the nobleman arranged to have an ox and a donkey stand at the altar as well.
St Francis’ desire to recreate the stable scene was inspired by his trip in 1221 to the Holy Land and Jesus’ traditional birthplace. He was deeply moved visiting the site where God became fully human. Hoping others could enjoy the same profoundly spiritual experience, Francis encouraged believers to make pilgrimages to Bethlehem. By 1223, however, conflict among the powers vying for control of the Holy Land made the trip too dangerous for pilgrims. Francis decided to do the next best thing – bring Bethlehem to the pilgrims.
The Franciscans quickly spread the practice of creating nativity scenes with live animals and actors. Living scenes remained popular, but static nativities also developed, allowing the scene to remain on display for longer periods for meditation.
By the 19th century, Protestant churches, which initially rejected nativity scenes as a form of idolatrous Catholic superstition, slackened their opposition to the scenes, and their popularity spread through the wider Christian world. The popularity of nativity scenes today indicates that over the centuries people were drawn to the possibility of building their own Bethlehem. Setting up a nativity scene not only allows us to remember and celebrate the drama of Jesus’ birth but also the saint who was so enraptured with that drama that he brought it to life.
Bless this crib and all who look upon it.
May it remind us that Jesus was born into a family who didn’t have very much to share except their love for one another.
May that thought help us to remember what is important during this holy season.
And may the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth be our model and guide now and always.
Some ideas for you and your family:
- When you decorate your home for Christmas, place the crib in a prominent place. When the crib has been prepared, you may like to use the following prayer to bless it. You can also print this prayer and keep it near the crib:
- Collect some straw and keep it in a small box next to your crib during the season of Advent. Every time you or someone in your house does a good deed during this holy season, place a piece of straw in the crib. By the time Christmas Eve comes, you will have prepared a fitting home for the baby Jesus.
- Follow the tradition of leaving the manger bare until Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. At that time, invite your family to gather around the crib, and ask the youngest child in the house, or your grandchild or Godchild, to place the figure of the baby Jesus into the manger. While he/she is doing this, someone else could read the Christmas story or sing a verse of a favourite Christmas carol.
- Many people take a piece of straw from the Christmas crib in the church and carry it in their wallet or purse for the following year. Finding it now and then reminds us of the reality of the incarnation; that God became man and walked upon the earth. You could also take a piece of straw from the crib for someone who is sick or housebound, so that they know that they are part of the parish community of faith.
- Give the gift of a Christmas crib to couples who are celebrating their first Christmas in a new home. Pray that the Holy Family of Nazareth may be their model and guide in their life together.
Previous Faith Practices of the Month:
October 2012: Pray part of the Rosary every day
November 2012: Praying for those who have died