Foreword by Maria Aselage:
With Christmas just days away, Bishop Baker sends a message. He suggests that Catholics around the diocese “join together this Christmas in a symbolic gesture of hope in the face of all the temptations to negativity and hopelessness” in our world today. He asks that families incorporate a Christ Candle and the twelve days of Christmas into their holiday season, a celebration which would be initiated at Christmas Liturgies.
The song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, tells the story of gift giving; and the composer carefully chose “gifts” that would appear innocuous, yet be filled with meaning to those who knew the translation. The “true love” mentioned in the song doesn’t refer to an earthly suitor, but to God Himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ. The other “gifts” in the song refer to beliefs of the Catholic faith.
Bishop Baker suggests that families celebrate the gifts Jesus gave to them by coming into the world and mark their own twelve days of Christmas (December 25-January 5). He asks family members to consider doing one positive, constructive action to better the world they live in, offering a special prayer (which is included in the Bishop’s letter), and lighting a Christ Candle each of the twelve days of Christmas. These symbolic actions can help ignite a sense of hope in a time when war, sickness, scandal, and sinfulness seem to be taking center stage in our lives.
An invitation from Bishop Baker:
This Christmas — in your church, in your home — offer up a prayer; make a commitment; light a candle of hope for the church, for the world.
In the light of the turmoil and tragedies of our times: the scandals in the Church, the war in Iraq, terrorist acts of vengeance in general, our own sinfulness in particular, our occasional hostile attitudes or acts towards others, a job loss, a serious family problem, a broken relationship, a sudden illness or death of someone in our family, our being alone at Christmas, we may be tempted this Christmas toward sadness rather than joy, despair rather than hope.
Christmas is the celebration of the breaking through history of the greatest event of all time – the birth of the Son of God into our world, who was victorious over all the forces of evil, past, present, and future.
Can we not enable the force of good that Christ brought into this world by his birth to impact our lives in our own day and time – this Christmas?
Hope is the virtue that enables us to experience now the reign of Christ. Hope unites past, present, and future by bringing Christ’s activity to bear on the present moment.
I, as your bishop, invite our clergy, religious, and laity to join together this Christmas in a symbolic gesture of hope in the face of all the temptations to negativity and hopelessness.
We can start using in our Churches this Christmas the Christ Candle that is often lit during Christmas Mass. It may or may not be situated in the center of the Advent wreath with its four Advent candles that had previously been lit each Sunday of Advent. The Christ Candle can be brought up during the Offertory procession after the homily, Creed, and Prayers of the Faithful.
The celebrant of the Christmas Mass may have in his homily talked about concrete ways of doing something positive this Christmas in one’s life to counter the negativity in the world. As the Christ Candle is being brought to a position in the sanctuary and placed, possibly in the center of the Advent wreath, a prayer is offered; an invitation is made to all in the congregation to commit toward doing something constructive, some random act of kindness, as soon as possible; and finally the Christ Candle is lit as a symbol of our prayer and constructive action, a Christmas symbol of hope, that is envisioned as bringing a little light into the darkness of the world in which we live.
People are then invited to have their own Christ Candle of Hope in their homes to be lit at their main Christmas dinner, after the opening prayer and after everyone in the household has a chance to think about doing one positive, constructive action to better the world in which we live during the Christmas season. Families might consider continuing to light the Christ Candle at their main dinner and offering the prayer below during the twelve days of Christmas (Dec. 25-Jan. 5).
This is Bishop Baker’s invitation to all in the Diocese of Charleston this Christmas, 2003, and perhaps every Christmas that will follow.
he following is a possible prayer to be used before lighting the Christ Candle:
God our loving Father, You sent your Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to counter all the forces of evil: sin, suffering, and death, and to overcome evil with the force of good, hatred with the power of love, your great love for us in Jesus. Help us never to curse the darkness, but to join with you in bringing your light into this world, the light that is your Son, born of the Virgin Mary, in Bethlehem. Help us to be instruments of your light and love by doing one special act of kindness or being your special instrument of reconciliation this Christmas season. May the Christ Candle we light symbolize our desire to bring light into a world of darkness and hope into a world of despair. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Published December 18, 2003, The Catholic Miscellany