108. Much of the richness and complexity of the mystery of the Lord’s manifestation is reflected in displays of popular piety, which is especially sensitive to the childhood of Christ which reveals his love for us. Popular piety intuitively grasps:
• the importance of the “spirituality of gift”, which is proper to Christmas: “a child is born for us, a son is given to us” (cf. Is 9, 5), a gift expressing the infinite love of God, who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3, 16);
• the message of solidarity conveyed by the event of Christmas: solidarity with sinful (humanity), for whom, in Christ, God became man “for us … and for our salvation”(DS 150; Roman Missal); solidarity with the poor, because the Son of God “who” was rich but became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of your poverty” (2 Cor 8, 9);
• the sacredness of human life and the wonderful event that is every birth, since the Word of life came amongst (people) and was made visible through his birth of the Virgin Mary (cf. 1 John 1, 2);
• the messianic joy and peace to which (people have) aspired in every age: the Angels announce the birth of the Savior of the world to the shepherds, the “Prince of Peace (Is 9.5) and proclaim “peace on earth to (people) of good will” (Lk 2, 14);
• the spirit of simplicity and poverty, humility and trust in God, suggested by the events surrounding the birth of Christ.
Gift, solidarity, sanctity of life, peace, and humility. There is an overarching joy–not just in the aspect of and hope for peace. Celebration can sometimes cloud the more serious aspects that Christmas draws out in some believers. It seems a right balance can be struck, especially if people are formed from childhood.
Popular piety, precisely because it can intuit the values inherent in the mystery of Christ’s birth, is called upon to cooperate in preserving the memory of the manifestation of the Lord, so as to ensure that the strong religious tradition surrounding Christmas is not secularized by consumerism or the infiltration of various forms of neopaganism.
It seems that it was Christianity that “infiltrated” pagan religion all those centuries ago. A few aspects of celebration were absorbed into Christmas festivities. That such considerations resurface in an age in which Christian societies or post-Christian cultures accept non-Christian expression is not really an invasion so much as an opportunity. How do we present Christ and his incarnation in an irresistible way? Are we up for the challenge?
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.