1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

Preparing for His Birth

By December 24, 2013

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No matter how the rest of Advent has gone, Christmas Eve is always a day of expectation.Detail of a Fontanini Nativity scene during Advent, before the Christ Child is placed in the manger on Christmas Eve. (Photo © Amy J. Richert) Traditionally, Catholics fasted and abstained from meat before noon on Christmas Eve, then put up their trees and other decorations as they prepared for Midnight Mass. Some Catholic cultures, particularly the Slavic nations and in parts of Italy, kept the fast all day, preparing a meatless supper of many courses for Christmas Eve.

Today, many of these customs have vanished, but the Church still calls us to set aside Christmas Eve as a day of preparation. The Directory on Popular Piety and Liturgy, released by the Vatican in December 2001, suggests a period of prayer and the reading of the account of the birth of Christ found in the Gospel of Saint Luke. (You can combine this with the Prayer to Jesus in the Manger.)

The Directory also notes that, "Where possible, the Church desires that the faithful should prepare for the celebration of Midnight Mass on the 24 December with the Office of Readings." One way to do this is to incorporate the Scripture Reading for December 24 into your evening meal.

And in recent years, many parishes have begun to revive an ancient tradition before Midnight Mass: The Proclamation of the Birth of Christ. If you can't make it to Midnight Mass (or even if you can), you could read this ancient text aloud in front of your Nativity scene.

Christmas Eve is a busy day, but taken together, all of these practices can be performed in under a half-hour. Why not use one or more of them to help you and your family prepare yourselves for the feast we celebrate tonight? A few moments of reflection will greatly increase our joy at Christ's birth.

(Detail of a Fontanini Nativity scene during Advent, before the Christ Child is placed in the manger on Christmas Eve. Photo © Amy J. Richert)

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December 25, 2008 at 11:27 pm
(1) Gatomon41 says:

Thanks for the information on these traditions done on Christmas Eve!

Have a Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2010 at 10:53 pm
(2) Im not important says:

Merry Christmas to the world,

Am I the only one who finds it very strange that very little information is given about the birthday of Jesus Christ in the Bible. No month nor day, except in the days of Herod. The spirit inside of me tells me that Jesus did not want anyone to celebrate His birthday.

Am I the only one who finds it very strange that the bible gives us a treasure trove of information about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ even unto the hour. The spirit inside of me tells me that His birth did not reconcile us to God but we were reconciled by his death and resurrection. Surely, I know I’m not the only one who sees and comprehends these things; for Christ commanded us to be of “one mind”. Am I wrong?

God Bless and “hope in things eternal”

December 23, 2011 at 11:33 am
(3) Gyuszi says:

Ancient Christians didn’t celebrate the Nativity, but rather the Epiphany. Just as Jesus told us, they commemorated his Passion, Death and Resurrection–and we still do at Midnight Mass.
When Constantine as co-emperor gave religious freedom to all with the Edict of Milan, Christians found themselves in an unfamiliar position vis-a-vis a society that wasn’t meeting their expectations. Part of the problem was Saturnalia with its drunkenness and excesses. Considering that the time of the Birth in Bethlehem can be deduced from Luke’s Gospel as having been at that time, the Church tried to celebrate the Nativity in Saturnalia’s stead.
It’s been a long and vacillating struggle. But that’s not news to the followers of Christ.

December 24, 2012 at 6:23 pm
(4) Shonna says:

I am a no active mornon looking very seriously aot converting to catholic. I have been eling relly attracted to the catholic religion for about a decade and now I have married into a catholc family. Before I join I antto ma sue I ake the right choice. An words of postive advice?

December 25, 2012 at 4:02 am
(5) Salvy says:

Just saw the midnight Christmas mass on EWTN and it was beautiful and lovely and Father gave a fantastic sermon.
#2 you asked, “Am I wrong.” You’re wrong about a lot of things. But,
right about how nowhere in the bible does it say to celebrate Christmas or Christ’s birth. But, you know how Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…It took some generations and the other guy made a good point about the church and Constantine finally making it legal.
I’m glad the thinking on this evolved into a huge celebration of Christ’s birth and all the events surrounding that because it was such an awesome time in human history. Like my parish priest said at mass this evening–that the birth of Christ was the most important day in human history. From womb to tomb as they say, the entire life of Jesus is most significant.

December 24, 2013 at 8:00 pm
(6) tina says:

#2 – you said “The spirit inside of me tells me that His birth did not reconcile us to God but we were reconciled by his death and resurrection.” Both events reconciled us to God, for without His birth, He would neither have died nor been resurrected, right?.

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