I’m somewhat ashamed to say, this story didn’t happen until I was about halfway through seminary: It was my first Christmas in Italy. After three years in the seminary in the United States, I had been sent to the North American College Seminary in Rome for the last four years of my seminary formation.
By that time, I thought I was pretty good at keeping Christmas centered on Christ. I had been assigned to parishes for the last three Christmas breaks in my home diocese of Tyler, Texas, far away from my family in Virginia. I had spent those Christmases serving the Christmas Masses and helping the priest around the parish. What could be more Christ-centered than that?
This year was different. We did not receive parish assignments, but we were not allowed to go back to the US for Christmas. We just had to figure something out.
Myself and a few of my friends asked ourselves: Where’s the best place to celebrate a Catholic feast? A monastery! We scheduled our travels to visit a few different cities, but to spend Christmas Eve, Day, and the following days at a monastery in Austria.
The trip went well and we arrived at the monastery on December 23rd. We were welcomed in, shown our rooms, and told the schedule. We spent the day scouting out the monastery grounds and joining in the communal prayers.
Christmas Eve started out well. We joined in the morning prayers, had breakfast together, and went for a walk. When I returned to my room, it sank in: there was nothing on the schedule for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day aside from simple meals, silence, and prayer. A lot of silence and a lot of prayer.
I resigned myself to the fact that I was simply going to be silent and pray – a lot – through the next 36 hours. I grabbed my breviary, rosary, and Bible, and push away the horror (mostly out of shame that I, a seminarian, was panicked that I would have to pray all Christmas!).
The next 36 hours, were the best 36 hours of my life up to that point. Christmas became utterly transformed for me. It was not a time to do more in order to celebrate the birth of Christ, but a time to do less in order to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Christmas became a time to sit in the silence and contemplate the Word Made Flesh with the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the angels, and the shepherds. It became a time to remain with Christ in the Eucharist for long hours, basking in the glory of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It became a time to imitate the Father on the seventh day by resting and contemplating His works which are “very good” (Gn 1:31).
Now that I am a priest in a parish, I do my best to encourage people to do less during Christmas, so that they can keep focused on what is most important: that God became flesh in the manger and is present in our tabernacles across the world.
5 Ways To Grow In Devotion To The Eucharist This Christmas
Here are 5 easy ways to make Christmas a little more centered on Christ and His presence in the Eucharist:
- Go to Mass on Christmas Day
Many people fulfill their Christmas obligation by going to Mass on Christmas Eve. Parishes often have children’s choirs, Christmas pageants, and other special touches at those Masses. While going to Mass on Christmas Eve is not a bad thing, putting Mass the evening before, means that Mass isn’t a part of Christmas day. The Mass and the Eucharist follow the adage “Out of sight, out of mind”, and Christmas ends up being about everything except the body of Christ.
- Make a visit to the Eucharist on Christmas afternoon
For most people, there is a slight lull or at least change in location in the afternoon on Christmas – the Christmas lunch is over, and you have a chance to relax before your Christmas evening obligation. While a nap is very tempting at that point, making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament is far more fruitful. If you have kids, that is a great time to bring them to the manger scene and then to the tabernacle to explain to them that what is represented in the manger scene is really and truly present in the Eucharist. With kids, you can make this a short visit to the church. If you don’t have kids, try to make a longer visit and contemplate our Lord with the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. If you fall asleep, don’t beat yourself up. You just took a nap with baby Jesus! (let’s be honest – Mary probably did the same thing on Christmas afternoon)
There is a close connection between Christmas and the Eucharist. Reading a book on the Eucharist at this time will help you to connect the two in your own mind. That connection will mean that every time you go to Mass, Christmas will come to mind, and when the Christmas season approaches, your devotion to the Eucharist will be rekindled.
- Go to Daily Mass the days before and after Christmas
Most people take off of work several days before and/or after Christmas. Spend some of that time of rest deepening your devotion to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Some really neat liturgical days happen right before and after Christmas. The last days of Advent have beautiful readings and feature the O Antiphons (learn more about the O Antiphons here and there are lots of meaningful feasts the days following Christmas to learn about here). Making it to Mass those days makes the whole celebration of Christmas more rich and keeps the season centered on the Word Made Flesh.
- Ask yourself, “What doesn’t have to happen right now?”
This is the big one. Many Catholics want to keep Christ and the Eucharist at the center of their Christmas celebrations, but busyness keeps our Lord on the margins. What in your normal Christmas schedule could be moved a few days? As Catholics, we celebrate the Christmas octave for 8 days after Christmas. How much better of a Christmas celebration would you have if you spread out over 8 days all of the things you normally try to cram into Christmas Day? Talk to your relatives and friends and encourage them to celebrate the octave of Christmas with you. You will end up having more time for Christ, better conversations with your friends and relatives, a less stressful Christmas day, and less burnt Christmas dishes!
More Resources On The Eucharist
The Catholic Faith begins and ends with Jesus Christ, culminating in the Eucharist as its Source and Summit. “Behold, it is I,” Jesus says, and the faithful believe. Examining these words of Jesus, Fr. George Elliott and Dr. Stacy Trasancos provide some of the most convincing proofs for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist from Scripture, Tradition, and the scientific investigation of Eucharistic miracles. In three sections, they walk readers through:
- A holistic and contextual reading of the Bible which points to the words of Christ at the Last Supper: “This is my body,” and “This is my blood,”
- How the Church Fathers handed on the teachings of the Apostles to the early Church in the centuries following Christ’s earthly ministry,
- How the data from the investigation of Eucharistic miracles begs the ultimate question of the certainty of faith. Do we need Eucharistic miracles to prove that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist? Should our certainty of faith be contingent upon Eucharistic miracles?
The reader may be joyfully surprised at where the journey of this book will lead you, from the burning faith of the saints all the way back to Christ in the Gospels. It plainly sets forth the reality that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ. Just as in Biblical times, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is not a ghost and not a myth, but flesh and bone, hands and feet. “Behold,” He said, “It is I.”
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