COVID-19 can’t kill Christmas 2020
COVID-19 may have radically changed 2020 but it can’t really touch what we celebrate at Christmas, or rather WHO we celebrate at Christmas. Certainly the “how” has been modified for many. So let’s remember Jesus as we share what it’s like as a typical monastery Christmas approaches. We have told you some of these customs in the past but, given that people may have more time for reflection and pondering the Mystery of the Incarnation this year, we present them afresh.
The hectic pace and pressures of the secularized ‘Holiday Season’ too often tries to encroach itself even into the cloister despite our best efforts. Holy Mother Church, in her liturgical cycle, counters this mad trend and allows us to bask in Christmas for forty full days. Wouldn’t you like to cradle the Infant Jesus in your home actively for forty days?How about in your heart forever? The way we celebrate this in our festivities and decorations promotes and strengthens this desire.
For us in the monastery, Christmas begins at Midnight Mass on December 25th. And, unlike what we witness in the world, it doesn’t end on December 26th. It doesn’t even really depart from us when Ordinary time resumes and we keep the creches up until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation.
We get the decorations out of storage a few days before Christmas Day. Then the entire monastery is abuzz with activity as trees are put up, lights strung, wreathes fluffed and hung, and nativity sets carefully placed in central areas. Anywhere the eye can look, we can place reminders of the true meaning of Christmas. A feast for the mind, soul, and eyes as we see trees, garland, lights, holly, and angels meaning it is almost time to greet the Infant King. A humble, but much loved, Nativity Scene graces the Mass Chapel and an empty creche awaits the Master Beloved.
Likewise the Oratories, large rooms, and the inviting fireplaces and mantles become focal points for nativities and trees. Even old Christmas cards from the past provide a touch of the season anywhere we like from cells to halls to window sills. There is no escaping the signs that we must prepare our hearts to welcome the Christ Child.
One great advantage of a monastery Christmas is that we aren’t scrambling in the shopping malls to fill out a gift list. Nor are we worrying about what we will get. We focus instead on what we will give Jesus for his Birthday celebration. While some in the world may be mentally preparing their New Year’s Resolutions about dieting and exercising, each Sister is prayerfully contemplating what she can give her Spouse in the coming year. Where can she live the Rule better? How can she live her vows better? How can she love God and her Sisters better? How will she sacrifice for priests better? Whatever she discerns is between her and the Divine Infant. And before Midnight Mass, the Sisters all assemble outside the Mass Chapel and process (weather permitting) in singing “Silent Night” acapella into the glowing Chapel and gather around the Nativity scene. Reverend Mother comes last, bearing the Babe of Bethlehem and he is lovingly placed between Joseph and Mary.
All the Sisters offer prayer intentions and then assemble in the pews to sing Christmas Carols for the hour preceding the Midnight Mass. Midnight Mass (yes, at midnight!) is a magnificent way to enter into Christmastime by receiving our Lord Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
The Christmas Octave
During the Octave (the eight days of Christmas), we literally celebrate Christmas Day every day. Then we have the privilege of basking in Christmas and spending extra time in Chapel and with Our Lord in adoration.
During Advent, the Sisters cease receiving or sending personal mail in order to better prepare for Christmas. While we do receive our Christmas mail on Christmas Day and read it, it is the custom not to immediately write any personal mail until after the Octave is over so that we can truly spend it with Jesus.
Even when Ordinary time resumes, we do not abandon all thoughts of Christmas. The extra decorations of common areas are taken down and put away but we deliberately leave up precious icons of this wonderful time of year, the Nativity Sets, until the Feast of the Presentation. This allows for a gentler and more prolonged absorption of Christmas and serves as a wonderful antidote to the yearly syndrome some may be familiar with: “We just put the tree up and now we have to take it down?!” Christmas doesn’t end on the 26th.
Monastery Christmases are a premier way to spend the holiday with the Christ Child Himself. So often ignored and neglected in the ‘Santa Klaus’ world, here we can welcome him as the Infant King and keep in our hearts forever. But these customs are not limited to us nuns. Opening your heart to the Infant King longer is for all.
If COVID-19 threatens to reduce your Christmas activities, don’t allow it to reduce the room you prepare in your heart for the God-man’s coming as a helpless Babe in winter. Now, as the historic year 2020 draws to a close, however much we are tempted to want it to ‘go away’ let’s grab on to Christmas and hold tight. We embrace the Light of the World who shines in our darkness.