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Pope Francis on Christmas: The manger is a sign that God is with us and loves us

December 24, 2022 Catholic News Agency 3
Pope Francis offers Christmas Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 24, 2021 / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Dec 24, 2022 / 12:20 pm (CNA).

A manger, the Christ Child’s first resting place, can teach us a lot about the meaning of Christmas, Pope Francis said in his Christmas homily.

“In order to rediscover the meaning of Christmas, we need to look to the manger,” he said on Dec. 24.

“Yet why is the manger so important? Because it is the sign, and not by chance, of Christ’s coming into this world,” he said. “It is how he announces his coming. It is the way God is born in history, so that history itself can be reborn.”

Pope Francis celebrated the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord with Mass during the night, held in St. Peter’s Basilica at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 24.

“The Christmas manger, the first message of the divine Child, tells us that God is with us, he loves us and he seeks us. So take heart,” the pope said. “Do not allow yourself to be overcome by fear, resignation or discouragement. God was born in a manger so that you could be reborn in the very place where you thought you had hit rock bottom. There is no evil, there is no sin, from which Jesus does not want to save you.”

The Christmas Mass, which had around 7,000 people in attendance according to the Vatican, began with the chanting of the traditional Kalenda Proclamation of the Birth of Christ from the Roman Martyrology. A statue of the Baby Jesus, displayed in front of the altar, was then unveiled as the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica rang out.

The choir sang the traditional Christmas carols Silent Night, the First Noel, and Adeste Fidelis, among others. The Mass concluded with the traditional Italian carol Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle, which means “You come down from the stars.”

In his homily, Pope Francis said God wants to tell us the following message: “If you feel consumed by events, if you are devoured by a sense of guilt and inadequacy, if you hunger for justice, I, your God, am with you. I know what you are experiencing, for I experienced it myself in that manger. I know your weaknesses, your failings and your history. I was born in order to tell you that I am, and always will be, close to you.” 

The pope focused on the three places in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke where it mentions the manger.

“First, Mary places Jesus ‘in a manger’ (Lk 2:7); then the angels tell the shepherds about ‘a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger’ (v. 12); and finally, the shepherds, who find ‘the child lying in the manger’ (v. 16),” he said.

Francis explained that by being born in a stable and placed in a manger to sleep, the Son of God showed us that true wealth is found in relationships, not power and money.

“Around the manger there is very little: hay and straw, a few animals, little else. People were warm in the inn, but not here in the coldness of a stable. Yet that is where Jesus was born,” he said. “The manger reminds us that he was surrounded by nothing but love: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds; all poor people, united by affection and amazement, not by wealth and great expectations.”

He said the Church is called to show the same affection toward the poor.

“We are called to be a Church that worships a Jesus who is poor and that serves him in the poor,” he noted, quoting St. Oscar Romero, who said on Jan. 1, 1980: “The Church supports and blesses efforts to change the structures of injustice, and sets down but one condition: that social, economic and political change truly benefit the poor.”

“Certainly, it is not easy to leave the comfortable warmth of worldliness to embrace the stark beauty of the grotto of Bethlehem, but let us remember that it is not truly Christmas without the poor. Without the poor, we can celebrate Christmas, but not the birth of Jesus,” he said.

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Full Text: Pope Francis’ Christmas homily

December 24, 2021 Catholic News Agency 1
Pope Francis offers Christmas Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 24, 2021 / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Dec 24, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ homily for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, delivered Dec. 24, 2021 in St. Peter’s Basilica.

In the darkness, a light shines. An angel appears, the glory of the Lord shines around the shepherds and finally the message awaited for centuries is heard: “To you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). The angel goes on to say something surprising. He tells the shepherds how to find the God who has come down to earth: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger” (v. 12). That is the sign: a child, a baby lying in the dire poverty of a manger. No more bright lights or choirs of angels. Only a child. Nothing else, even as Isaiah had foretold: “unto us a child is born” (Is 9:6).

The Gospel emphasizes this contrast. It relates the birth of Jesus beginning with Caesar Augustus, who orders the census of the whole world: it presents the first Emperor in all his grandeur. Yet immediately thereafter it brings us to Bethlehem, where there is no grandeur at all: just a poor child wrapped in swaddling clothes, with shepherds standing by. That is where God is, in littleness. This is the message: God does not rise up in grandeur, but lowers himself into littleness. Littleness is the path that he chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us and to bring us back to what really matters.

Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the lights and decorations, which are beautiful. We contemplate the child. In his littleness, God is completely present. Let us acknowledge this: “Baby Jesus, you are God, the God who becomes a child”. Let us be amazed by this scandalous truth. The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms. The One who created the sun needs to be warmed. Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled. Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly. The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child. The Bread of life needs to be nourished. The Creator of the world has no home. Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. His grandeur appears in littleness.

Let us ask ourselves: can we accept God’s way of doing things? This is the challenge of Christmas: God reveals himself, but men and women fail to understand. He makes himself little in the eyes of the world, while we continue to seek grandeur in the eyes of the world, perhaps even in his name. God lowers himself and we try to become great. The Most High goes in search of shepherds, the unseen in our midst, and we look for visibility, to be seen. Jesus is born in order to serve, and we spend a lifetime pursuing success. God does not seek power and might; he asks for tender love and interior littleness.

This is what we should ask Jesus for at Christmas: the grace of littleness. “Lord, teach us to love littleness. Help us to understand that littleness is the way to authentic greatness”. What does it mean, concretely, to accept littleness? In the first place, it means to believe that God desires to come into the little things of our life; he wants to inhabit our daily lives, the things we do each day at home, in our families, at school and in the workplace. Amid our ordinary lived experience, he wants to do extraordinary things. His is a message of immense hope. Jesus asks us to rediscover and value the little things in life. If he is present there, what else do we need? Let us stop pining for a grandeur that is not ours to have. Let us put aside our complaints and our gloomy faces, and the greed that never satisfies! The littleness, the wonder at that small child – this is the message.

Yet there is more. Jesus does not want to come merely in the little things of our lives, but also in our own littleness: in our experience of feeling weak, frail, inadequate, perhaps even “messed up”. Dear sister or brother, if, as in Bethlehem, the darkness of night overwhelms you, if you feel surrounded by cold indifference, if the hurt you carry inside cries out, “You are of little account; you are worthless; you will never be loved the way you want”, tonight, if you hear this, God answers back. Tonight he tells you: “I love you just as you are. Your littleness does not frighten me, your failings do not trouble me. I became little for your sake. To be your God, I became your brother. Dear brother, dear sister, don’t be afraid of me. Find in me your measure of greatness. I am close to you, and one thing only do I ask: trust me and open your heart to me”.

To accept littleness means something else too. It means embracing Jesus in the little ones of today. Loving him, that is, in the least of our brothers and sisters. Serving him in the poor, those most like Jesus who was born in poverty. It is in them that he wants to be honored. On this night of love, may we have only one fear: that of offending God’s love, hurting him by despising the poor with our indifference. Jesus loves them dearly, and one day they will welcome us to heaven. A poet once wrote: “Who has not found the Heaven – below – Will fail of it above” (E. DICKINSON, Poems, P96-17). Let us not lose sight of heaven; let us care for Jesus now, caressing him in the needy, because in them he makes himself known.

We gaze once again at the crib, and we see that at his birth Jesus is surrounded precisely by those little ones, by the poor. It is the shepherds. They were the most simple people, and closest to the Lord. They found him because they lived in the fields, “keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Lk 2:8). They were there to work, because they were poor. They had no timetables in life; everything depended on the flock. They could not live where and how they wanted, but on the basis of the needs of the sheep they tended. That is where Jesus is born: close to them, close to the forgotten ones of the peripheries. He comes where human dignity is put to the test. He comes to ennoble the excluded and he first reveals himself to them: not to educated and important people, but to poor working people. God tonight comes to fill with dignity the austerity of labour. He reminds us of the importance of granting dignity to men and women through labour, but also of granting dignity to human labour itself, since man is its master and not its slave. On the day of Life, let us repeat: no more deaths in the workplace! And let us commit ourselves to ensuring this.

As we take one last look at the crib, in the distance, we glimpse the Magi, journeying to worship the Lord. As we look more closely, we see that all around Jesus everything comes together: not only do we see the poor, the shepherds, but also the learned and the rich, the Magi. Everything is unified when Jesus is at the center: not our ideas about Jesus, but Jesus himself, the living One.

So then, dear brothers and sisters, let us return to Bethlehem, let us return to the origins: to the essentials of faith, to our first love, to adoration and charity. Let us look at the Magi who make their pilgrim way, and as a synodal Church, a journeying Church, let us go to Bethlehem, where God is in man and man in God. There the Lord takes first place and is worshipped; there the poor have the place nearest him; there the shepherds and Magi are joined in a fraternity beyond all labels and classifications. May God enable us to be a worshipping, poor and fraternal Church. That is what is essential. Let us go back to Bethlehem.

It is good for us to go there, obedient to the Gospel of Christmas, which shows us the Holy Family, the shepherds, the Magi: all people on a journey. Brothers and sisters, let us set out, for life itself is a pilgrimage. Let us rouse ourselves, for tonight a light has been lit, a kindly light, reminding us that, in our littleness, we are beloved sons and daughters, children of the light (cf. 1 Thess 5:5). Brothers and sisters, let us rejoice together, for no one will ever extinguish this light, the light of Jesus, who tonight shines brightly in our world.

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Christmas at the Vatican: Here are the liturgies Pope Francis will celebrate this year

December 14, 2021 Catholic News Agency 1
Pope Francis celebrates Christmas Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 24, 2018. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Dec 14, 2021 / 15:35 pm (CNA).

The Vatican has published Pope Francis’ Christmas schedule for this year, which includes five special liturgies and prayers between Christmas Eve and the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

During the Christmas Octave, the pope is also scheduled to give an Angelus address on St. Stephen’s Day on Dec. 26 and hold a Wednesday General Audience on Dec. 29.

Papal Christmas Mass – Dec. 24

Pope Francis celebrates Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Dec. 25, 2019. .  Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis celebrates Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Dec. 25, 2019. . Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Pope Francis will offer Mass for the Nativity of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 24. This “Midnight Mass” will begin at 7:30 p.m. Rome time (1:30 p.m. EST) with the traditional Kalenda Proclamation of the Birth of Christ and will be broadcast live on EWTN.

Christmas Day Blessing – Dec. 25

Pope Francis gives the Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" blessing Dec. 25, 2018. .  Vatican Media.
Pope Francis gives the Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” blessing Dec. 25, 2018. . Vatican Media.

On Christmas Day, Pope Francis will give a traditional papal blessing at noon called the “Urbi et Orbi,” which in Latin means, “To the City and the World.” Along with the blessing, the pope gives an address that highlights humanitarian crises, war-stricken countries, and other situations around the world in need of prayer.

The pope typically gives this blessing from the central loggia of the basilica overlooking St. Peter’s Square (the same balcony from which a new pope is introduced), but last year Pope Francis gave the blessing from inside the Apostolic Palace to avoid a large gathering of people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vespers on New Year’s Eve – Dec. 31

Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 31, 2017. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 31, 2017. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Pope Francis will pray the First Vespers for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God in St. Peter’s Basilica at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31. After vespers, the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for Eucharistic Adoration and the “Te Deum” will be sung in thanksgiving for the past year.

Solemnity of Mary Holy Mother of God – Jan. 1

Pope Francis celebrates Mass for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Jan. 1, 2020. .  Pablo Esparza/CNA.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Jan. 1, 2020. . Pablo Esparza/CNA.

The pope’s first liturgy of 2022 will be in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Francis will offer Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in St. Peter’s Basilica at 10 a.m. On this day, Pope Francis will also mark the 55th World Day of Peace.

Mass for the Epiphany of the Lord – Jan. 6

Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord in St. Peter's Basilica Jan. 6, 2021. Credit: Vatican Media.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 6, 2021. Credit: Vatican Media.

Pope Francis will offer Mass on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica at 10 a.m. The Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. It focuses primarily on this revelation to the Three Wise Men.

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