The Holy Family is surrounded by three shepherds, two men and one woman. Even though they are all inside a dark stable, everyone’s face is reflecting light. This symbolizes that these are people of faith. Even though these people had not heard any of Jesus’ teachings or seen any of His healings, they already believe.
The peasant woman is looking directly at you. Can you see how she is communicating with you? She carries a basket near her head, but she is able to lift two fingers and point them to Heaven. It’s like she is telling you, This Baby is special. This Baby is God!
The shepherd on the left takes off his hat, which is a gesture of respect. Men never wear hats in a Catholic church! Why? Because gentlemen never ever wear hats indoors, and especially not a church.
Now look how the shepherd touches his heart. We Catholics touch our hearts during Mass. Why do we do this? This gesture means that we just realized something extremely important about God, and we are starting to deeply understand it. What do you think that this shepherd just realized?
Let’s look at the shepherd closest to the front of the painting. We can see that he is poor. Look at his bare foot sticking out of his leggings; he doesn’t have a good set of shoes to wear. His jacket is ragged and torn; you can see his white chemise poking through a tear in his jacket’s shoulder. This bergerie (meaning "shepherd" in French) wears a sleeveless sheepskin cote over his jacket.
Who is he looking at?
Is he kneeling, or is he genuflecting?
What is he doing with his hands? Why is he doing that?
The shepherds have brought a gift for the Baby Jesus. Can you see what it is? It’s a lamb. This lamb is not acting like a baby sheep. It’s not jumping and playing. It’s laying there, not moving. Can you find the lamb’s hooves? Can you describe them? Yes, they are bound together with rope. Why would the shepherds do that? And why is the lamb kind of hiding under the manger?
Mary is the only person in that space who might be able to see the lamb laying there; the manger would hide the lamb from everyone else’s view. Even still, the others also “knew” and adored Baby Jesus. Their gestures and attitudes mimic ours as we kneel toward the altar during the consecration of the Host. Before we receive Holy Communion, we ask the “Lamb of God” to take away the sins of the world.
We listen to Bible stories. We know that Jesus shows His love to the poor. Jesus said that poverty is holy. Poverty allows both givers and recipients of alms to practice virtue. This is something for us to think about and do. How will you and your family help others rejoice this Advent season?
And what's up in the sky? It's not a helicopter! Tell your parents what's going on there.
Now, with The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ
in our imagination, let us pray.
Hold the Crucifix in your right hand. Make the Sign of the Cross properly, using the right hand only.
Still holding the Crucifix, state what you believe as a Catholic by saying the Creed.
Move to the first bead. Pray one Our Father.
Move to the next beads. Pray the Hail Mary three times, once on each bead.
Move to the next bead and pray one Glory Be.
Stay on the same bead. Announce the Mystery by saying these words: The Third Joyful Mystery, The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Roman Emperor ordered all citizens to pay their taxes, but they had to travel to their home cities to do it. So St. Joseph helped the Blessed Virgin Mary onto the back of a donkey, and they travelled to a town called Bethlehem. Bethlehem was so full of visitors that Joseph and Mary could not find a house or inn to sleep in, so they had to camp. They found a spot that was sheltered, and there in that place, Jesus, the Savior of the world, was born. Jesus' birthday was the first Christmas.
Stay on the same bead. Pray one Our Father.
Move through the next ten beads, praying the Hail Mary on each one.
Move to the next bead. Pray one Glory Be.
Stay on the same bead. Pray the Fatima Prayer.
Make the Sign of the Cross using the Crucifix. AMEN!
An Advent Application
Gaudete, Holy Family Families!
The Lord is near!
(BTW, gaudete is pronounced in 3 syllables:
gow-det-tay , and no syllable is stronger than another.)
It's time to light three candles on your Advent wreath: first violet (hope), then another violet (faith), then finally rose (joy).
Gaudete is Latin for rejoice, and that is what we all are too ready to do in this year that seemed to rob us of joy and delight. We will not let Satan win! We have learned to stop and to listen in order to hear the Holy Spirit whispering, leading us to discover ways of joy and happiness.
As you set up the stable, cow, donkey, hay, and manger, think of how Jesus' parents showed flexibility and toughness as they settled in and prepared for Jesus' birth... in a place they really didn't want to be.
As you set up the shepherds and sheep, think of their hope for a better life and their faith in this Infant to help them get there.
As you add St. Joseph, think of his joy when the Baby finally arrived; he saw that, for now at least, they were safe and sound, and he was grateful for it.
Don't place the Baby Jesus in the manger yet -- put that piece aside. You'll place Him in the manger on Christmas Eve night, or on Christmas Day. Instead, if your Nativity set has never been blessed, bring the statue of the Baby Jesus or the manger (crib) to Mass with you this week. It's Bambinelli Sunday! Ask the priest or deacon to bless it. (It should only be blessed once.)
Talk about this question with your family: How will I help others rejoice this season, even when everything seems disappointing or not as fun? I'm sure you will think of something fantastic.
Mary Acevedo, Director of Religious Education
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