Christmas is almost upon us! The time of Advent and waiting is drawing to a close. As we make our final preparations in our homes and our hearts, we have also begun decorating the church campus for the celebration of Christmas. Trees are up in the Nave and the Gathering Space, and the setting for the manger has been placed. If you have been on campus this week, you may have noticed that this year, the crèche has been moved from in front of the altar to the left front side of the Nave, where we usually feature a large statue of Mary. This was done to be in accordance with Church directives.
The documents of the Church are clear that the manger or crèche should not be located near the altar, or in the area where the liturgy is celebrated. In other words, the manger should not be placed near the altar, pulpit or presidential chair. The manger should also not obstruct other liturgical areas, for example the baptismal font or tabernacle.
- According to the General Instruction Of The Roman Missal (#299) “In every church there should ordinarily be a fixed, dedicated altar, which should be freestanding to allow the ministers to walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people.”
- According to The Book Of Blessings (#1544)
“If the manger is set up in church, it must not be placed in the presbyterium. A place should be chosen that is suitable for prayer and devotion and is easily accessible by the faithful.” (The presbyterium is “that part of the church where bishops, priests and ministers perform their ministry. Large enough to permit the sacred rites to be readily seen and carried out, it is usually in an elevated part of the church….”) Dictionary of the Liturgy, Catholic Book Publishing 1989
- According to Built Of Living Stones (#124-125, 128)
Plans for seasonal decorations should include other areas besides the sanctuary. Decorations are intended to draw people to the true nature of the mystery being celebrated rather than being ends in themselves. Natural flowers, plants, wreaths and fabric hangings, and other seasonal objects can be arranged to enhance the primary liturgical points of focus. The altar should remain clear and free-standing, not walled in by massive floral displays or the Christmas crib, and pathways in the narthex, nave, and sanctuary should remain clear.
It should be noted that the Christmas crèche is an object of devotion. Placement of the crèche should foster intimate prayer. Ideally, it should be placed where people, especially families with children, can conveniently draw near. At Our Lady of Perpetual Help, previously people would have to climb the steps to the altar to truly draw near to the crèche and pray. These steps can vastly limit accessibility for some individuals. You can see from the accompanying photo that this year, our crèche is still displayed in a beautiful, prayerful way, in an obvious location in our church. It also provides enough space and accessibility for everyone to draw near. While this is a departure from the decorating style that many of you have come to be familiar with over the years, the crèche was moved this year to adhere to the guidelines and rules put forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
We want to remind you that from 9 am until 1 pm on Thursday, December 24, the church will be open for personal prayer and family photos. The church will be completely decorated for Christmas Eve Mass at this time (with figures and all!), so we encourage you to get photos at this time rather than after Mass. This is also a great time for those who are uncomfortable joining us in person for Mass to come and see the Nave all decorated and spend a moment in prayer in the presence of Our Lord.
We are so excited to celebrate Christmas with all of you, in whatever capacity you are capable of joining us! May God bless you all and your families, and may you have a safe and enjoyable Christmas season!
Much of this text was taken from a document prepared by the Worship Office, Archdiocesan Center, 171 Clifton Avenue, Newark NJ 07104-0500, (973) 497-4345.