CHRISTMAS at GRECCIO – the Blessing of the Christmas Crèche
What better way to prepare for the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas Eve than to spiritually take a brief journey to Greccio, the place in central Italy where Saint Francis of Assisi created the first Christmas crib in the year 1223.
Saint Francis, recalling a visit he had made years before to Bethlehem, resolved to recreate the manger he had seen there. The ideal spot was a cave in nearby Greccio. He would find a baby (we are not sure if it was a live infant or a carved image of a baby), hay upon which to lay him, together with an ox and an ass to stand beside the manger. Word went out to the people of the town, and at the appointed time they arrived carrying torches and candles.
One of the friars began celebrating Mass. Francis himself gave the sermon. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, recalls that Francis “…stood before the manger…overcome with love and filled with a wonderful happiness.” For Francis, the simple celebration of having people come together before the Christmas Crèche was meant to recall the hardships that Jesus suffered even as an infant, for our Savior chose to become poor for our sake, a truly human Jesus to teach us the great value of humility.
Tonight, as we pray around the manger scenes in our own homes, may we welcome into our hearts that same Savior who came to us so long ago out of Divine Love.
(From americancatholic.org, stmaryny.org and usccbpublishing.org)
(With everyone gathered around the Christmas Crèche, Manger or Nativity Scene, the following prayer may be offered to God the Father from the Book of Blessings)
“Brothers and sisters, listen to the words of the Holy Gospel according to Luke:
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
“And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
“While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)
Let us pray
“God of every nation and people, from the very beginning of creation You have made manifest Your Love; When our need for a Savior was great, You sent Your Son to be born of the Virgin Mary. To our lives, He brings joy and peace, justice, mercy and love.
“Lord, bless all who look upon this manger; may it remind us of the humble birth of Jesus, and raise up our hearts and thoughts to Him, who is God-with-us and Savior of all, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.”
– Book of Blessings