VATICAN CITY — The Vatican unveiled its Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square at dusk on Christmas Eve. Workmen dropped a white curtain, and a few hundred camera flashes went off as a Vatican police band played. The scene changes a bit each year, and this one featured smaller home settings alongside Jesus’ manger in Bethlehem. A fountain and a hearth represented regeneration and light.
VATICAN CITY — Like anyone preparing a traditional Christmas celebration, the pope’s master of liturgical ceremonies said he wants the venerable, tried and true elements to speak to people’s hearts as if they were brand new.
On Monday Msgr. Guido Marini, the papal Mass organizer, gave the Vatican newspaper a listing of rites and furnishings that have been added or moved for the pope’s Yuletide celebrations this year.
First, a prayer vigil will precede the pope’s Christmas Mass at midnight with “an alternation of readings, prayers and music to help the souls of everyone present enter a climate of prayer,” Msgr. Marini said. The vigil will end with the singing of the “kalenda,” an official proclamation of Christmas that had been part of the papal entrance procession for more than 20 years.
Then, he said, the bells of St. Peter’s will ring during the singing of the “Gloria” to join the angels in announcing Christ’s birth with joy.
Another change involves the Vatican’s wooden statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus on her lap — a statue usually placed by the altar on the Jan. 1 feast of Mary, Mother of God. This year, Msgr. Marini said, the statue will be near the altar from Christmas Eve onward in order to “underline how Christmastime is also a Marian time. The Holy Virgin does not take anything away from the mystery of the Son of God made man, but helps us understand its real meaning.”
He also said that on the Jan. 11 feast of the Baptism of the Lord, when the pope will baptize 13 newborn children of Vatican employees in the Sistine Chapel, he would celebrate Mass at the chapel’s fixed altar, as he did a year ago. Under Michelangelo’s fresco, “The Last Judgment,” the altar is against the wall, requiring the pope to celebrate part of the Mass with his back to the congregation.