The Nativity Scene
“In its present form the custom of displaying figures depicting the birth of Jesus Christ owes its origin to St. Francis of Assisi, who made the Christmas crèche or manger for Christmas Eve of 1223. The blessing of the Christmas manger or nativity scene may take place on the Vigil of Christmas or at another suitable time. When the manger is set up in the home, it is appropriate that it be blessed by a parent or another family member” (USCCB).
FROM THE CRADLE AT BETHLEHEM
“Every time Christmas comes around, I love to look at representations of the child Jesus. Statues and pictures which show a God who lowered himself remind me that God is calling us. The Almighty wants us to know that he is defenseless, that he needs men’s help. From the cradle at Bethlehem, Christ tells you and me that he needs us. He urges us to live a Christian life to the full — a life of self-sacrifice, work and joy.
“We will never have genuine joy if we do not really try to imitate Jesus. Like him we must be humble. I repeat: do you see where God’s greatness is hidden? In a manger, in swaddling clothes, in a stable. The redemptive power of our lives can only work through humility. We must stop thinking about ourselves and feel the responsibility to help others.
“There is a great simplicity also about his birth. Our Lord comes without any fanfare. No one knows about him. On earth only Mary and Joseph share in the divine adventure. And then the shepherds who received the message from the angels. And later on, the wise men from the East. They were the only witnesses of this transcendental event which unites heaven and earth, God and man.
“How can our hearts be so hard that we can get used to these scenes? God humbled himself to allow us to get near him, so that we could give our love in exchange for his, so that our freedom might bow, not only at the sight of his power, but also before the wonder of his humility.
“The greatness of this Child who is God! His Father is the God who has made heaven and earth and there he is, in a manger, ‘because there was no room at the inn’ — there was nowhere else for the Lord of all creation.”
St. Josemaria Escriva
Christ is Passing By, no. 18
BLESSING OF A CHRISTMAS CRÈCHE OR A MANGER SCENE*
The manger scene has a special place near the Christmas tree or in another place where family members can reflect and pray during the Christmas season. It is blessed each year on Christmas eve or Christmas day.
All make the Sign of the Cross. The leader begins:
Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Who made heaven and earth.
The leader may use these or similar words to introduce the blessing:
We are at the beginning of the days of Christmas.
All through the season we will look on these images of sheep and cattle, of shepherds, of Mary and Joseph and Jesus.
Then the Scripture is read:
Listen to the words of the holy gospel according to Luke: 2: 1– 7
The birth of Jesus
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The reader concludes:
The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
The figures may be placed in the crèche. After a time of silence, all join in prayers of intercession and in the Lord’s Prayer:
Then the leader invites:
Pray now for God’s blessing as we look on these figures.
After a short silence, the leader prays:
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 our thoughts to him,
who is God-with-us and Savior of all,
and who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
God of Mary and Joseph, of shepherds and animals,
bless us whenever we gaze on this manger scene.
Through all the days of Christmas
may these figures tell the story of how humans, angels, and animals
found the Christ in this poor place.
Fill our house with hospitality, joy,
gentleness, and thanksgiving,
and guide our steps in the way of peace.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
The leader says:
Let us bless the Lord.
All respond, making the Sign of the Cross:
Thanks be to God.
Then Christmas songs and carols are sung; for example:
It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
”Peace on the earth, good will to all
From heaven’s all-gracious King”;
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife,
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong.
And warring humankind hears not
The tidings which they bring;
O hush the noise and cease your strife
And hear the angels sing.
*Reprinted from the Handbook of Prayers (Seventh American Edition, 2011), © Midwest Theological Forum. Content may not be reprinted or published without permission. To order a copy visit www.theologicalforum.org.