DPPL 109: Christmas Eve

STA altar at night smallIn the developed world, Christmas Eve has superceded the day of the Nativity in the practice of many, at least as far as church is concerned. The Church lays out a set of options, some of which yet live, and elsewhere, some have faded. Which of these three, if any, do you, your family, and friends still observe?

109. In the space of time between the first Vespers of Christmas and Midnight Mass, both the tradition of Christmas carols, which are potent means of conveying the Christmas message of peace and joy, and popular piety propose certain forms of prayers, differing from country to country, which should be cherished and, where necessary, made consonant with the celebration of the Liturgy: These would include:
• “live cribs” and the inauguration of the crib in the homes of the faithful which is an opportunity for family prayer: this prayer should include a reading of St. Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, the typical Christmas carols, as well as prayers of petition and praise, especially those of children who are the protagonists in such family moments;
• the inauguration of the Christmas tree. This event also offers an opportunity for family prayer. Apart from its historical origins, the Christmas tree has become a potent symbol today and is very diffuse amongst Christians; it evokes both the tree planted in the centre of Eden (Gen 2, 9), and the tree of the Cross, which lends it a Christological significance: Christ is the true tree of life, born of human stock, of the Virgin Mary, the tree which is always green and productive. In the Nordic countries, the tree is decorated with apples and hosts. “Gifts” can be added; but among the gifts placed under the tree, something should be included for the poor since they belong to every Christian family;
• the Christmas supper. The Christian family, which traditionally blesses the table and gives thanks to the Lord for the gift of food, performs this ceremony with greater intensity at the Christmas supper which gives potent concrete expression to the joy of family ties.

A few things stand out for me:

  • The prominence given Christmas carols. Clearly, there is no expectation of plainchant and Mass propers. Perhaps the more lamentable development in the past four generations is the fading of gathering around a home piano to sing. We let the hi-fidelity sound surround us instead.
  • The importance given the Word in home celebrations. Setting up a crèche is not just a decoration, but it gives substance to the Word proclaimed.
  • Claiming what was once a pagan tree for Christianity. Very slick.
  • Nordic tree decoration with apples, yes. But “hosts”? The Spanish version gives a sweet confection, a lollipop. (I will say that the Vatican site’s translation of this document is clumsy and unprofessional in stretches–typos and other silly errors. But who knows for sure–the Latin is not available there.)
  • Gifts for the poor under the tree: not just an idea for the church tree.
  • I know a number of people who celebrate a nice dinner on Christmas Eve. Sometimes that is a necessity, given extended families, in-laws, and travel commitments. The demands of modern life might bring a Christmas Eve banquet to life in some homes.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to DPPL 109: Christmas Eve

  1. Percy says:

    Apparently, in northern Europe, wafers were used in medieval Paradise trees to symbolise heavenly food of the Tree of Life, in contrast to the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

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