Thursday, December 15, 2005

You Descended from the Choir Loft....

I got an e.mail from one of our wonderful priest-readers the other day. The good Father's eager to do it up for Christmas Eve and the placing of the Baby Jesus in his church's Creche, so he asked for insights and possible resources to help him along.

Regrettably, as it is written, the rite for the blessing of the Creche is pretty sparse, so the onus of making a memorable moment relies on the imagination of the celebrant and the sensibilities of the community. And, as such things often do, this got me to thinking of the things I've seen at Christmas liturgies which have really amazed me and made the holiday even more resonant and meaningful....

I could go on for days, but here are two of my most-cherished ones. As a primer, I belong to an Italian ethnic parish entrusted to the Augustinian Friars. Now, just in case anyone out there reading this has the misfortune of not knowing any Italians, whenever possible we like: 1. being expressive and 2. doing things up. (Piero Marini, gift of God that he is, isn't one of us for nothing.) As an example, my parish doesn't just do May Processions -- out of fairness, our boys crown Christ the King on that year-end feast, processing the statue around the church. It's just lovely.

Of course, when it comes to the up-doing and expressiveness school, Christmas is the gran enchilada. And the Bambino -- because he is the Bambino, after all -- must enter with some flair, just so He can have no doubt of our warm welcome and return the favor with His favor.

In days past, at the vigil Mass of Christmas, for the post-Communion meditation hymn, the parish choir would begin to intone the old country carol "Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle" -- in case you haven't heard it, the beginning translates as "You came down from the stars, O king of the heavens, and came to a cave in the snowy cold...."

As these beautiful words wafted over a dimmed church, a basket would fly over the heads of the faithful along a rigged zipline from the choir loft to right in front of the creche. Having descended, the Birthday Boy would be placed in the Creche. Just our Italian way of saying that Christmas had come again.

From my days as a choirboy, there was another moment which rings clear in my memory. We would do the 5pm vigil on the Eve at our Cathedral-Basilica here in Philadelphia. As the Gospel for that Mass is the geneaology of Jesus, a device was employed which involved a very expensive set of handbells acquired for the International Eucharistic Congress, which took place here in 1976.

For each of the 42 generations which produced the Prince of Peace, a boy on either side of the ambo would alternate in ringing one of the large, low-toned bells. When the text reached its culmination, "Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah," the rest of us up in the loft, each armed with a bell of varying size, let loose, producing an aurally jubilant carillon effect to the pleasant surprise of the congregation. It was wonderfully memorable.

So what've you all seen or done at Christmas liturgies that remains with you, or that you still get to experience? I'd love to know -- the box is open.



Blogger Anonymous said...

""You came down from the stars, O king of the heavens, and came to a cave in the snowy cold...."

As these beautiful words wafted over a dimmed church, a basket would fly over the heads of the faithful along a rigged zipline from the choir loft to right in front of the creche."

Hmm ... reminds me of Superman.

15/12/05 05:16  
Blogger RightJack said...

Can't say that I warm to all of this as much as you do, Rock, beginning with the fact that there is no "post-communion meditation hymn" in the Roman rite.

And what does the basket from the "sky" say about Incarnation in Mary's womb?

I hope that you would shudder at the prospect of a porcelain Christ rising up out of a trap door in the sanctuary at the Easter Vigil. This high wire entrance is simply the other end of that spectrum. Merry Christmas!

15/12/05 13:01  
Blogger Brian Michael Page said...

"there is no "post-communion meditation hymn" in the Roman rite."

The GIRM does allow for a "Hymn of Praise" after Communion, but it's only an option.
88. When the distribution of Communion is finished, as circumstances suggest, the priest and faithful spend some time praying privately. If desired, a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may also be sung by the entire congregation.

To this day, however, there is still no mention of a "recessional hymn". We've all (well most of us) just added it in for the last 40 years.


16/12/05 07:02  
Blogger Father Martin Fox said...

Here's my plan for bringing il Bambino into church, at the Vigil (not Midnight) Mass:

The procession will proceed up the center aisle, turn left to the creche, where I'll bless the creche with holy water and a prayer (the dull-as-dirt Book of Blessings says to bless the creche after the homily!); then I'll have a family, who came forward in procession, place il Bambino in the creche.

Then, the hymn will resume (or a new one -- I haven't worked this out with the music director), and we'll proceed to the sanctuary.

There the servers will do the usual thing; I'll incense the altar, the cross, and then--the creche! Then we'll go on with Mass in the usual fashion.

Sorry, Rocco -- no zipline from the choir loft, as charming as that is!

However, I do intend to have incense everywhere called for, including at the elevations of the Eucharist. And, this will be the first Mass, in years, with bells! That is, if the servers are up to it.

Whaddya think?

16/12/05 19:31  
Blogger RightJack said...

Thanks, Brian, for your citation which supports my statement that there is no "post communion meditation hymn" in the Roman rite.

16/12/05 23:20  

Post a Comment

<< Home