Father Walter was making his rounds in the semidarkness of the large stone church after Midnight Mass with his chocolate colored dog. He smiled as he recalled so many familiar faces. He likes a full church. The dog followed him down the center aisle toward the massive wooden doors and the outdoor crèche full of sheep, goats and a donkey. Father Walter had just one last bank of lights to turn off, when his yelping dog skittered past him on the slippery tile floor.
Where was that silly dog headed in such a hurry? After just a few steps out the wooden door, the mystified priest found out. Right in the middle of the live manger scene was a panting mother goat delivering a little kid by moonlight. Unbelievable! Father Walter felt like he had just stepped right into the manger in Bethlehem. “What a holy night,” he thought to himself.
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Christmas Masses bring large numbers of visitors to church. Perhaps they come to see the manger or to sing Christmas carols, to please a grandmother, or just to mark the passing of another year. But beyond all of these reasons, God is gently pursuing each one, beckoning each one to come home for Christmas, inviting each one to experience new birth in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Christmas Carol Festival project is designed to search out these visitors and invite them to a sneak preview of Bethlehem during December. This project highlights the Christmas story as it is told through carols. It is designed for use outside of normal church settings in order to help unchurched, inactive or marginal Catholics connect with our Christian heritage, with the Church, and with God during the weeks before Christmas. The project involves three important phases: Preparation (July to November), Proclamation (the festival event) and Preservation (January). Volunteers include: greeters, singers, readers, musicians, faith sharing leaders and cookie bakers, willing to fill halls, school buildings and large living rooms with unchurched friends and relatives.
The Christmas Carol Festival project relies on Jesus-centered carols because they are valuable instruments of God’s message. Our hope is that by singing carols together we can help marginalized believers savor God’s promises both during the festival event and as they hear Jesus-centered carols that echo God’s voice in malls, on car radios and at holiday gatherings. Finally, in singing carols believers and visitors will be better prepared for approaching the altar on Christmas Day.
During 2007 presentations about the project were offered to over one hundred people from forty parishes in the Diocese of Trenton, and beyond. Many were surprised to discover that the majority of people under forty had not learned Christmas carols in public schools. The most common response to our presentations was excitement about adding carols to parish events in December. Thirteen parishes adopted carol singing and four parishes offered a complete Christmas Carol Festival event.
The centerpiece of the project, the Christmas Carol Festival event, invites new levels of faith through Christmas carols, witnesses, prayer, Gospel readings and the simplicity of the empty manger. For most, this evangelistic project will not mean adding lots of commitments to organizational or parish calendars. It will mean reconsidering the time before Christmas through the lenses of evangelization and compassion for disconnected Catholics. One pastor remarked, “Before this training, I thought that everybody was out of synch when they sang carols before Christmas. Now I realize that I am out of synch with thousands of people that God might want to touch.”
John and Therese Boucher
P.S. 2013 Festivals included over a twenty-five parishes and almost 6,000 guests.