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The liturgical calendar is always rather crowded around this time of year, but it is even more complicated than usual in 2010. With Christmas falling on a Saturday, there are two holy days of obligation in a row (Christmas Day is a holy day of obligation and so is every Sunday of the year!).
This will cause some confusion in parishes that regularly have a Sunday Mass on Saturday evening. If there is an evening Mass on December 25th, it should be the Mass of Christmas Day, not of the Sunday. And not even Good King Wenceslas can save the feast of St Stephen this year because 26th December falls on the Sunday after Christmas which is when the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated.
What will our Christmas liturgies offer visitors that might bring them back before next Christmas? If we provide only nativity plays and lovely carols, nostalgia and pretend, then others can do that as well as, if not better than, the average parish.
How appropriate and relevant, for example, are the words some of our popular Christmas hymns to the situation of people living in Australia in the twenty-first century? I wonder why we keep singing carols with phrases like ‘where the snow lay round about’ and ‘on a cold winter’s night’ in preference to Australian carols like this one by John Wheeler and William Garnet James:
The north wind is tossing the leaves,
the red dust is over the town,
the sparrows are under the eaves
and the grass in the paddock is brown,
as we lift up our voices and sing
to the Christ-child, the heavenly King.
As Christians, we have a real word of hope that so many in this world are longing to hear: that God became one of us and remains with us. Jesus did not remain a helpless infant, but grew up, lived and died and rose again. Most importantly, he is still Emmanuel, ‘God with us’, here and now, in the reality of our everyday lives.
Christmas liturgies need to provide an experience for all, including those who join in public worship only occasionally. Liturgy that is vibrant and welcoming will give these people a sense of being at home with the community. Extra care is needed to cater for the overflow crowd. Can they see, hear and participate actively in the liturgy? Are there sufficient seats, parish bulletins and hymn sheets?
On 26th December, Christmas Day will be over, shopping centres will have put away their Christmas decorations in readiness for the Boxing Day sales, and families will be heading off on holidays. Yet people are searching for something to hold onto, something that lasts more than a day. Our parish celebrations need to proclaim: Christ is with us each day.
In the wonder of the incarnation
your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith
a new and radiant vision of your glory.
In him we see our God made visible
and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.
(Preface for Christmas I)
I wish you all a happy, holy and peaceful Christmas that sustains you during the new year!