Living Nativities and Christmas Carols Reflect Franciscan Spirituality




Christmas Nativity
Christmas Nativity

 

The creche’ or nativity which is evident in many holiday displays actually began with a living nativity organized by St. Francis.

Before the time of St. Francis, Christmas was celebrated with a Christmas Mass which was prayed and sung in Latin, a language few people understood. It was St. Francis who decided it was time to bring exuberant joy to the celebration. Three years before he died, St. Francis was visiting the town of Grecio. After receiving permission from the pope, he arranged a living nativity. Knowing that the hermitage would be too small for midnight mass, he found a niche in the rock near town square and set up the altar.

According to St. Bonaventure who tells the story in his book The Life of St. Francis of Assisi, he prepared a manger, brought hay, an ox and an ass to the appointed place. The brethren were summoned and that venerable night was made glorious by many lights and sonorous psalms and praise. St Francis, a deacon, stood before the manger full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis. Then he preached to the people gathered around the nativity of the poor King. St. Francis, filled with much joy, referred to Jesus as the Babe of Bethlehem.

The tradition of the nativity has been carried on to this day. The nativity scene is a visible reminder of the night our savior was born.

St. Francis is also responsible for the tradition of the Christmas Carol. He decided to add religious lyrics to popular tunes of his time, which became known as Christmas Carols. The first Christmas Carol was Psalmus in Nativitate. It was written in Latin so it could be sung at Mass but sung to a popular tune all the people knew. As living nativity scenes became popular, the people began singing the carols that have become familiar to us today.

In keeping with Franciscan Spirituality, perhaps we can create new Christmas Carols using familiar tunes of our day. The following Christmas Carol is an example.

An Ode to Jesus on Christmas

By Vicki Scheenstra

(Sung to melody of Angels from the Realms of Glory)

Christmas, what a wondrous season

Love and peace, they fill the air

Joy surrounds us, in the giving

All because, a babe is born

Born of Mary, Prince of Peace

Jesus Christ, Our Lord and King

Let us ponder, at the Mystery

Of Our Lord, the Giving King

How he brings us our redemption

Peace on earth, and love he brings

What he gives us is a treasure

Jesus Christ, Our Lord and King

Faith in Jesus is a treasure

Treasure of a different kind

It is hard to even measure

How His love can heal mankind.

Born of Mary, Prince of Peace

Jesus Christ, Our Lord and King

Born of Mary, in a stable

Starlight shining overhead

Angels sing in adoration

King of Kings and Prince of Peace

Love will heal us if we let Him

Jesus Christ, Our Lord and King!

 

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