Dear OSJ Family,

In this fourth and final week of Advent, I draw our attention to what is probably the most beautiful and poignant symbols of this holy season, the crèche or nativity scene. At OSJ we are blessed to have two crèches—one in the sanctuary (on Christmas Eve), and the other in the courtyard. Both are beautiful and treasured religious articles of the parish.

The crèche is the most prevailing religious symbol of Christmas. It is central to every Catholic Church and chapel (and hopefully every Catholic home!) and is still, during the holidays, displayed and honored in many public places as well. Our Church incorporates this powerful symbol at the forefront because, as with all of our religious symbols, the crèche help us to better grasp the spiritual reality that it represents—the Incarnation of Our Lord. This great mystery and dogma of our faith is the embodiment of God the Son in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. John 1:14

As we have seen these past few weeks, Advent and Christmas in the Roman calendar are particularly rich in symbols. Today, in anticipation of the great celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas, we look at the history and meaning of the crèche.

This beautiful symbol was popularized in 1223 in the Italian hillside village of Assisi by Saint Francis, and later diffused throughout the Catholic world by his Franciscan friars and sisters. The first crèche was “a living nativity scene.” It was made up of living persons representing Our Lady, Saint Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, and even the infant Jesus. Added to this were live barn animals. It was only after St. Francis had visited the holy site where our Lord was born in Bethlehem that he decided to re-create a crèche at Assisi to cultivate adoration of the Holy Child. As this devotion began to spread throughout Europe, churches and chapels replaced the costly “living nativity” with figures made of clay, wax, stone, ceramic and wood.

Today this enduring symbol of God’s great love for us deserves our continued reverence and veneration. Please take a moment to visit one of our OSJ crèches and while there offer a prayer and draw inspiration! If you do not already have a nativity scene or crèche in your home, I encourage you to consider getting one. I’d be happy to bless it if you bring it to church!

I have a very small crèche that I bought while serving in El Salvador and its ceramic figures are painted in traditional Salvadoran campesino (farm worker) garb. My little “naciemiento” is a simple but beautiful reminder of what is most essential at this holy time of the year!

Have a blessed final week of Advent!

Fr Phil Florio, SJ