3 For they, who supposed their secret sins were hid under the dark veil of oblivion, were scattered in fearful trembling, terrified by apparitions. 4 For not even their inner chambers kept them UNAFRAID, for crashing sounds on all sides terrified them, and mute phantoms with somber looks appeared.
Darkness afflicts the Egyptians, while the israelites have light. This description of the darkness of the ninth plague is a development of the ideal that true light comes from a pure conscience. For the first and only time in the Septuagint the Greek word for “conscience” occurs. There is no Hebrew word that is equivalent; the idea is expressed indirectly. The horrendous darkness is not extinguished with the lightings of fire that only contributed to the terror.
These three days of complete darkness stretched over the lands of Egypt—not those of the Hebrews, who enjoyed light by day—in the ninth plague. It was so dark that the Egyptians could not see each other. After this plague, the Pharoah attempted to negotiate the freedom of the Hebrews. His bargain that they could leave if their flocks were left behind was not accepted.
Darkness of the Soul
Understanding conscience is essential for the life of faith. A solid grasp of Catholic teaching about conscience makes it possible to live a moral life. And sadly……a defective understanding can destroy your moral life. This is true darkness! For the beginning Catholic, this is an essential issue to understand properly. And conscience may be the single most misunderstood issue among Catholics today! This topic is important so carefully study the Catechism’s section on conscience.
A natural facility to judge
Conscience is a natural facility of our reason that does three things:
1. Reminds us always to do good and avoid evil.
2. Makes a judgment about the good and evil of particular choices in a specific situation.
3. Bears witness after the fact to the good or evil that we have done. (I.e., having a guilty conscience.)
Conscience is a powerful and remarkable facility that is distinctly human. Understand that conscience is a judgment of reason. It uses the objective principles of the moral law to judge the morality of acts in specific circumstances. Conscience is not itself the source of the moral law.
· This is a common point of misunderstanding. Many who reject Church teaching will say, “I’m just following my conscience.” What they usually mean is that they’re looking to their conscience as the source of moral principles, which is a serious error.
· It’s likely that some other Catholics will challenge you on this point, and you’ll have to defend it. Use the Catechism to defend this point. This article will help you read the Catechism’s section on conscience accurately. Also see the excellent article on conscience on the Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) Web site. Beyond that, Pope John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor contains a definitive discussion about conscience in sections 54-64; number 64 particularly speaks to this point.
Everyone has a duty to form their conscience. Formation of conscience simply means educating and training it. We do this by learning and taking to heart the objective moral law, as found in Scripture and the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church. This forms conscience in objective moral truth as taught by Christ and his Church. Practicing the virtues is another aspect of forming the conscience. This not only lets us do good acts, but it trains the will to desire to do good. In particular, the virtue of prudence affects the ability of conscience to judge rightly.
You must follow your conscience
A fundamental principle of Catholic morality is that you must follow your conscience. But be careful: there’s a strong tendency for all of us to distort the full meaning of that principle! We tend to use it as a giant loophole for doing any old thing that we’d like. A well-formed conscience will never contradict the objective moral law, as taught by Christ and his Church. (Catechism, 1783-5, 1792, 2039) A safe way to read this principle is: if your conscience is well-formed, and you are being careful to reason clearly and objectively from true moral principles, then you must follow the reasoned judgment of your conscience about the morality of a specific act. Otherwise, seek reliable guidance in forming your conscience. The principle that we must follow our conscience derives from…
The dignity of conscience
The authority of conscience, and our need to follow it, come from its dignity. Pope John Paul II tells us that conscience is an “interior dialog of man with himself” about right and wrong. It “is also a dialog of man with God”: it is “the witness of God himself” calling him to obey the moral law and is a person’s “witness of his own faithfulness or unfaithfulness.” This is the basis of the great dignity of the conscience: it derives from its witness to objective moral truth. (Veritatis Splendor, 57-58, 60) Conscience is the means God has given us to make moral decisions. Our freedom demands that we use it: “When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.” (Catechism, 1777) But we compromise this dignity of conscience if we haven’t formed our conscience well, or when we do not take care to reason clearly and objectively. Again, Pope John Paul II teaches: Jesus alludes to the danger of the conscience being deformed when he warns: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt 6:22-23). (Veritatis Splendor, 63)
Conscience does not always judge properly. Out of ignorance or bad reasoning, it can judge wrongly. Erroneous judgment is often our own fault, and can have many causes (from Catechism, 1791-2):
· Lack of care in forming our conscience or our powers of reason
· Misunderstanding conscience
· Damage caused by repeated and habitual sin
· Following the bad example of others
· Rejection of Church teaching
· Ignorance of Christ and the Gospels
· Neglecting the work of our conversion to Christ
· Neglect of charity
If our conscience errs and we’re responsible for the error, then we are guilty of the evil committed. We are not guilty for the evil if we’re not responsible for the error. But even if the guilt is not imputable to us, it’s still an evil act. This greatly hinders our ability to advance in the moral life and live in union with God. As Pope John Paul II puts it:
…[T]he performance of good acts… constitutes the indispensable condition of and path to eternal blessedness…. Only the act in conformity with the good can be a path that leads to life…. If [an act is not good]…, the choice of that action makes our will and ourselves morally evil, thus putting us in conflict with our ultimate end, the supreme good, God himself. (Veritatis Splendor, 72, emphasis in the original)
The key to the moral life
The good or evil of specific acts shapes our whole life. We choose God or reject him specifically in the morality of our actions. We must choose to do good in order to choose God, grow in freedom, sanctify ourselves, and let God’s grace work in us to make us “children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” (Catechism, 1996) Moral conscience is the key that makes this moral life possible: it is exactly how we know what the good is in specific cases, and it beckons us to always choose the good. And even when we choose wrongly, conscience calls us to seek God’s merciful forgiveness so that we can begin again.
The Wolff of the Ardennes
Men are frequently blinded by fear and as a result often harmed themselves. The grace of God gives confidence to see the right and to stand when called. Father Paul was called to stand and became General Patton’s guide during the “Battle of the Bulge” while he was still a teen. Father Paul Wolff was 15 years old when he first joined the Belgium resistance during the years of the Nazi occupation of World War II. He was the youngest member of the Belgium resistance. Unfortunately, he and other members of his group were captured and at 17 he was tortured, condemned to death and imprison in the Nazi Prison in Liege, Belgium. There he languished yet his faith would not allow him to lose all hope and the resistance still worked to get him and the others (256) out. Part of the plan was to get a radio to the prisoners. To do this the resistance secreted small parts of a crystal radio inside bars of soap. Interestingly these were “Lever” brother bars of soap and were large about the size of a brick. Father Paul related that during the Nazi occupation not all Jews were in German prisons if they were of use to the Nazi’s. In this case the soap bars were made by the Lever Jews and the radio parts were easily hidden inside the soap bars. Father Paul stated that when they received the soap they then washed their hands raw in wearing away the soap to get to the radio part. Then after several bars they constructed the radio which was the Morse code type. Father Paul typed in code in English which he spoke along with German and French the words over and over “SOS SOS 256 prisoners in Liege prison condemned to death SOS SOS.” They hoped someone would get the message and somehow, they would be rescued. All they had was hope.
Father also related that it drove the Nazi’s crazy because they intercepted the message but never suspected it was coming from the prison. Father Paul said that in the cell they were in there was only one barred window, but it was so high that to look out it required a person to stand on the shoulders of a fellow prisoner. He further relayed that they when they would see women that were friendly with the guards coming and going they would call them the nastiest things they could think of calling them. Yet one day during an air raid while the guards were hiding as deep as they could go; one of these young women (secret agent) came and taking the heel of her shoe wrote on the pavement that during the air raid they are going to be rescued by commandoes and they were. Father Paul stated neither he nor the others ever lost hope.
After his escape he went underground. He was a friend of King Leopold III. He served as General Patton's Belgian guide during the battle of the bulge.
December 24, 1944
Father Paul communicated to me the tale about the battle of the bulge that has not been recorded in history. During WWII the US Army was segregated and black men were not mixed with white men. Black men mostly served in support roles such as transportation and as cooks, etc. During the course of the Battle of the Bulge’ Hitler sent in a special operations team to confuse and destroy the American Army. It was composed of American NAZI’s and German’s, who spoke perfect American slang, knew the culture, baseball stuff, etc. These Spec Ops were equipped with American Uniforms and equipment that was captured by Gen. Rommel from North Africa. Father Wolff was at a meeting with Gen. Patton, Bradley, Eisenhower and the English Gen. Montgomery in Luxembourg City on the evening of Dec. 24th 1944. The Generals were very excited and afraid because of the effect these NAZI spec ops were having in the warzone and due to the fact that they had murdered many men. They did not know what to do. Patton who was a visionary, suddenly stood up and said, I know exactly what to do. From this time forward nothing in the American Army will move without a black American in the group. Patton knew there were no black NAZI’s. As a result, black units were moved forward and integrated and as far as I know this was the first time in American History since the Civil War. As a result, the NAZI spec ops team was neutralized.
Read: The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him . . . including the fact that he was born to die for us.
Reflect: Take time to reflect on today's readings by practicing the ancient art of Lectio Divina.
Pray: Offer up these words to the Heavenly Father for a renewed spirit of evangelization, so you might live as a missionary disciple this liturgical year.
Act: Take some extra time with this passage today
and remember the true spirit of Christmas. "Behold, you will conceive in
your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus . . . and of his kingdom
there will be no end." (Lk 1:31-33)
Love compels us to “Be Not Afraid”
1. "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy.... For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2: 10-11). On this Holy Night, the liturgy invites us to celebrate with joy the great event of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. As we have just heard in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is born into a family poor by material standards, but rich in joy. He is born in a stable, for there is no place for him in the inn (cf. Lk 2: 7); he is placed in a manger, for there is no cradle for him; he comes into the world completely helpless, without anyone's knowledge, and yet he is welcomed and recognized first by the shepherds, who hear from the angel the news of his birth. The event conceals a mystery. It is revealed by the choirs of heavenly messengers who sing of Jesus' birth and proclaim glory "to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Lk 2: 14). Through the ages their praise becomes a prayer which rises from the hearts of the throngs who on Christmas Night continue to welcome the Son of God.
2. Mysterium: event and mystery. A man is born, who is the Eternal Son of the Almighty Father, the Creator of heaven and earth: in this extraordinary event the mystery of God is revealed. In the Word who becomes man the miracle of the Incarnate God is made manifest. The mystery sheds light on the event of the birth: a baby is adored by the shepherds in the lowly stable, at Bethlehem. He is "the Savior of the world", "Christ the Lord" (cf. Lk 2: 11). Their eyes see a newborn child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger and in that "sign", thanks to the inner light of faith, they recognize the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets.
3. This is Emmanuel, God-with-us, who comes to fill the earth with grace. He comes into the world in order to transform creation. He becomes a man among men, so that in him and through him every human being can be profoundly renewed. By his birth he draws us all into the sphere of the divine, granting to those who in faith open themselves to receiving his gift the possibility of sharing in his own divine life. This is the meaning of the salvation which the shepherds hear proclaimed that night in Bethlehem: "To you is born a Savior" (Lk 2: 11). The coming of Christ among us is the center of history, which thereafter takes on a new dimension. In a way, it is God himself who writes history by entering into it. The event of the Incarnation thus broadens to embrace the whole of human history, from creation until the Second Coming. This is why in the liturgy all creation sings, voicing its own joy: the floods clap their hands, all the trees of the wood sing for joy, and the many coastlands are glad (cf. Ps 98: 8; 96: 12; 97: 1). Every creature on the face of the earth receives the proclamation. In the astonished silence of the universe, the words which the liturgy puts on the lips of the Church take on a cosmic resonance: Christus natus est nobis. Venite, adoremus!
4. Christ is born for us; come, let us adore him...God became man in order to give man a share in his own divinity. This is the good news of salvation; this is the message of Christmas! The Church proclaims it tonight, by means of my words too, for the peoples and nations of the whole earth to hear: Christus natus est nobis Christ is born for us. Venite, adoremus! Come, let us adore him!
Christmas Eve Customs
The Christmas Tree
Much confusion surrounds what is arguably the season's most famous symbol. Christmas trees start appearing in shops, homes, and even some churches soon after Thanksgiving. Traditionally, however, the Christmas tree was not put up until Christmas Eve and was not taken down until the Vigil of the Epiphany. (Thus, it was only around for the Twelve Days of Christmas.) The reason for this will be explained in the section on Christmas customs; for now it suffices to point out that the Christmas tree is not meant to be a part of the Advent landscape. However, because finding a tree on December 24 can be difficult, one practical measure is to buy the tree early and leave it in the home undecorated until the 24th. An undecorated evergreen brought indoors is not a Christmas tree but a "Yule" tree, a harmless, pre-Christian reminder of life to help dispel the gloom of winter. When the tree is decorated, it will then be transformed from a natural token to a Christian statement rich with supernatural symbols for the season.
Making Room for Sacred Leisure
According to an ancient (and practical) tradition, by Christmas Eve the house is to be thoroughly cleaned, all tasks finished or removed from sight, all borrowed items returned, and no task allowed to be begun that cannot be finished by nightfall.
Christmas Eve Dinner and Celebration
Most people associate Christmas feasting with the dinner on Christmas Day, and rightfully so, for as a Vigil Christmas Eve was traditionally a day of abstinence and fasting. Yet there were also delicious Christmas Eve dinners that conformed to this restraint (see Foods). Afterwards, the family would gather around the newly decorated Christmas tree, reciting Vespers or praying and singing hymns to the infant Jesus now in the crib (the figurine had been conspicuously absent during Advent). In some countries, it was at this time that gifts were exchanged.
The Christmas Candle
One of the most
symbolically rich customs of Christmas Eve was the Christmas candle, a large
white candle representing Christ. In Ireland, a Christmas candle was bedecked
with holly and lit. It would burn through the night and be relit on each of the
twelve nights of Christmas. The entire family would pray before the candle for
their living and departed loved ones. In England and Ireland, the Christmas
candle often consisted of three individual candles molded together in honor of
the Trinity, while in Germany a highly decorated pyramid of smaller candles
called a Weihnachtspyramide was used.
Lights in the Window
Another Irish custom during Christmastide was putting lights in the window. This practice originated during the times of persecution, when Mass had to be held in secret. Faithful Irish believers would place a candle in the window on Christmas Eve as a sign to any priest who happened by that this home was a safe haven in which Mass could be offered. When interrogated by the British about the meaning of this practice, the Irish replied that the lights were an invitation for Joseph and Mary to stay the night. Unthreatened by this supposed superstition, the British left them alone.
of the Nativity or Christmas Eve
CHRISTIAN, for the love of Christ, and for thine own salvation, occupy thy mind, during this holy night, with holy thoughts and aspirations, in order to make thyself worthy of all the graces which Christ will grant thee on His coming. Consider how St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, in obedience to the edict of Cesar, and in perfect submission to the will of God, went to Bethlehem, and, finding no room there, at last entered an open stable, where they were content to stay. Does not the Son of God deserve all our love when He thus humbled Himself for us?
Christmas Eve was my father’s time to celebrate and open the presents and later we would go to midnight mass. Mom and Dad always put the presents under the tree as they got them; wrapped of course and I think this was done to create a sense of anticipation for Christmas. It was remarkable we didn’t break the gifts from all the shaking we gave them to try to figure out what the gift was. Mom and Dad never had much money, but Mom would start going to the garage sales in October and get tons of stuff on the cheap. We never knew what Mom would find but she never gave us anything that would take away from our dignity or disappoint us with an awful Christmas sweater. After all Christmas is celebrating the greatness of a God that took it upon Himself to raise the dignity of man.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, no witch has power to charm,
So hallow'd and gracious is the time. --Hamlet I.i
Since ancient times, popular folklore has attached a wondrous goodness to the night before Christmas. Like Shakespeare's Hamlet, many Catholics believed that there was not only a special charm about this night, but a holiness. Nature awoke with unbounded joy in the middle of the night to greet its Maker: bees hummed sweet symphonic hymns, cattle fell on their knees in adoration, and trees and plants bowed in the direction of Bethlehem. No wicked spirits roamed the earth on this night, no evil forces prevailed, for on this night God had blessed the earth with His Son. Consequently, one hour before midnight, some churches in the British Isles would toll their bells mournfully as if for a Requiem and then peal joyfully at the stroke of twelve. The funereal ringing was called the "Devil's funeral" to indicate Satan's demise at the birth of Christ.
A special devotion that can be performed during Advent to prepare for the coming of the Infant Savior. It can be adapted for adults and/or children and applied as is appropriate to your state in life.
· 14th day, December 24th: THE SWADDLING CLOTHES—Inward Recollection All your thoughts today, all your wishes, your aspirations, your love and your joy, must be for the dear Infant Jesus, who in a few hours condescends to be born in your heart.
Vigil of the Nativity or Christmas Eve
CHRISTIAN, for the love of Christ, and for thine own salvation, occupy thy mind, during this holy night, with holy thoughts and aspirations, in order to make thyself worthy of all the graces which Christ will grant thee on His coming. Consider how St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, in obedience to the edict of Caesar, and in perfect submission to the will of God, went to Bethlehem, and, finding no room there, at last entered an open stable, where they were content to stay. Does not the Son of God deserve all our love when He thus humbled Himself for us? Tender Him your heart as an abode, in the following
Prayer of the Church.
O God, Who givest us joy by the annual expectation of our redemption, grant that we may securely see Him coming as our Judge Whom we joyfully receive as our Redeemer, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who livest and reignest with Thee forever. Amen.
Nativity of our Lord, or Christmas
CHRISTMAS brings before us the happy day on which, in the fulness of time, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, was born of the ever blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, in the stable at Bethlehem.
Why does every priest say three Masses on this day?
1. To give thanks to the ever-blessed Trinity, Who cooperated in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
2. To honor the three-fold birth of Jesus Christ: His eternal birth in the bosom of His heavenly Father; His temporal birth of His virgin Mother; and His spiritual birth in our hearts, which He occupies by His grace.
Why is the first Mass celebrated at midnight?
The first Mass is said at midnight to remind us that before Jesus Christ was born the world was without the true light, and lay in darkness and the shadow of death. Again, it was in the night that He was born; and both His temporal and eternal births are mysterious truths, incomprehensible to our understanding.
Why is the second Mass celebrated at daybreak?
The second Mass is celebrated at daybreak because the birth of Christ brought light to the gentiles, whose salvation was then nigh, and because, according to tradition, it was about that hour that the shepherds came to see and adore the new-born Savior.
Why is the third Mass celebrated at daylight?
The third Mass is said at daylight because Christ dispersed the darkness of ignorance, and appeared as the Light of the world (John i. 9; Is. Ix. 8).
OF THE FIRST MASS.
The Introit of the first Mass reminds us of the eternal birth of Jesus Christ: “The Lord hath said to Me, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee” (Ps. ii. 7); “Why have the gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things?” (Ps. ii. 1.)
O God, Who hast made this holy night shine forth with the brightness of the true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may enjoy His happiness in heaven, the mystery of Whose light we have known upon earth. Amen.
EPISTLE. Titus ii. 11-15.
Dearly Beloved: The grace of God our Savior hath appeared to all men, instructing us that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and Our Savior Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to Himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works. These things speak, and exhort, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
How did the grace of God appear to all men?
Through the incarnation of His Son, Whom, in His infinite love, He made like unto us, to be our brother and teacher, that we might become children and heirs of God, and co-heirs with Jesus Christ.
What does Christ teach us by His incarnation?
That we should abandon impiety, infidelity, injustice, and worldly desires, and love God, and our neighbor, though he be our enemy, for God’s sake. The incarnation also shows the dignity and greatness of man, for as God gave His only Son for our redemption, we thereby perceive the worth of man in the sight of God.
What does the Apostle mean by worldly desires?
He means by them carnal and sensual desires and lusts, such as impurity, drunkenness, avarice, and such like. Christ teaches us to renounce these by the poverty, patience, fasting, and innumerable privations of His life.
How do we live soberly, justly, and piously?
We live soberly when we use temporal goods according to the intention and will of God, and to supply our necessary wants; we live justly when we desire for, and render to, our neighbor what, by the example of Christ, we are bound to; we live piously when we give God His due honor, love Him above all things, and love all men, in Christ, for His sake.
GOSPEL. Luke ii. 1-14.
At that time there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus the governor of Syria: And all went to be enrolled, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him up in swaddling-clothes, and laid Him in a manger: because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night-watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will.
Why did Caesar Augustus publish a decree that all the Roman subjects should be enrolled?
The immediate reasons of Caesar are not known to us, but the result shows that it was done by the special providence of God, for Joseph and Mary were thus obliged to go to Bethlehem, and so the prophecy of Micheas, that the Messias should be born there, was fulfilled.
Why is Christ called the first-born Son of Mary?
Because she had no child before Him; and, moreover, having no other after Him, He is also the only begotten of His blessed Mother, as He was the first-born and only begotten of His heavenly Father (Heb. i. 6).
Why was the Savior of the world born in a stable?
To show, from His very birth, that He had not come to establish a splendid worldly kingdom, but a kingdom of grace, justice, and peace, and to lead us to imitate His example of poverty, humility, and contempt of the world.
Why was the birth of Christ first announced to the poor shepherds, and not to the high priests?
To show that God does not distribute His graces
through respect for persons: He exalts the humble and humbles those who exalt
themselves. The angels for joy praised God, and sang, “Glory to God in the
highest,” that is, “Praise and thanks to our heavenly Father for sending His
only-begotten Son for the salvation of men, “and on earth peace” that is,
prosperity, happiness, salvation, and blessing “to men of good will.” Learn
from the angels to be thankful for all the benefits which God bestows upon thy
neighbor, and then you also will partake of them. In particular, thank God
to-day for the inexpressible benefit of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
This Polish custom of the breaking and passing of the thin wafery Oplatek bread at the Christmas Eve meal reminds us of our daily bread and the Bread of Life who came into the world.
We have adopted a custom from the Polish for Christmas Eve. At their Christmas Eve meal, after spreading hay under the cloth and (in times past) on the floor of the room, the Polish family stands together and the father breaks off a piece of the Oplatek (pronounced opwatek), the blessed Christmas wafer, and passes it on. This is a thin bread pressed in oblong irons in the convents, and on it in relief is the Nativity scene. Made like the host, it is a reminder of our daily bread and the Bread of Life who was born a man tonight. The father passes it to the next member of the family, who breaks a piece and passes it, until all the family has shared it. It is to remind them what this night is, who comes to us, why, and what it makes us, one to another. An extra place at table tells the little Christ and His Mother that they would be welcome in this "inn" should they knock at our door.
In the past the Oplatek was given us by our Polish friends. Now we use this holy symbolism with bread we bake ourselves — and mixing it is a beautiful meditation for a mother. It is baked as rolls in a round tin, round like the circle of eternity and like the everlastingness of God. After the Blessing of Bread, the father or an older member of the family sprinkles the bread with holy water, breaks off a roll and passes it to the person on his right, who breaks a roll from it for himself and passes it. It is our own custom, in terms significant to us. The father or ranking member of the family reads the Blessing of Bread.
A story was told us by a woman whose family is still in Poland. Every Christmas their family had Oplatek. When some migrated to America, those in Poland sent Oplatek to America and those in America sent Oplatek to Poland. Came the Russians with their persecution and espionage, and the family in Poland learned to conform, withdraw, carry their religion in their hearts and write between the lines of their letters.
When it was time to send the Oplatek, they determined to find a way. That year the family in America received a conventional card on which was pasted a red paper-like disk with a conventional greeting. The censor never suspected it was Oplatek, properly blessed, cut in a circle like a host, painted red for Divine Love not for Communism, and sent as a salute from one part of the Mystical Body to another half a world away. They were reminding each other that they share the same Body, eat the same Flesh.
· JESSE TREE: Jesus is Light of the World: John 1:1-14 Symbols: candle, flame, sun
Goffine’s Devout Instructions, 1896.
 Goffine’s Devout Instructions, 1896.