Vatican Nativity scene unveiled

The Vatican's Nativity scene at dusk on Christmas Eve. (CNS photo by John Thavis.)

The Vatican's Nativity scene at dusk on Christmas Eve. (CNS photo by John Thavis.)

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.

A few changes for the pope’s midnight Mass

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.

POPE BENEDICT BLESSES CHILDREN DURING MIDNIGHT MASS

Pope Benedict XVI blessed the children who brought flowers to the Baby Jesus during his midnight Christmas Mass in 2007. (CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

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.

In the past, children from around the world, dressed in their native costumes, would bring flowers to the statue of the Baby Jesus and receive a blessing from the pope during the “Gloria.”  This year, Msgr. Marini said, the children will bring their flowers to the basilica’s Nativity scene at the end of Mass when the pope goes over to lay the Baby Jesus in it.

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.”

POPE CELEBRATES MASS INSIDE SISTINE CHAPEL

Pope Benedict XVI at the main altar in the Sistine Chapel Jan. 13, 2008. (CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti, Reuters)

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.

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