LITURGY MATTERS: Word made flesh: Scripture brought to life!

Word made flesh: Scripture brought to life!

By Michael McKenna, Archdiocesan Master of Ceremonies

“The Word became flesh” is a phrase from John 1:14 expressing the foundational mystery of the Catholic faith – the Incarnation. Luke 2: 7 states simply: “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

It is perhaps a curious aside that St Francis of Assisi is commonly attributed with saying: “Preach the word of God wherever you go, even use words if necessary.”

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the first nativity scene created in a small grotto near an Italian village called Greccio.

At Greccio there were no statues, rather through the visual presence of animals, hay, and the manger, the Bethlehem scene came to life. The people gathered were able to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation in an entirely new way.

St Francis’ desire had been: “to recall the memory of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.”

St Bonaventure (1221 – 1274), a contemporary of St Francis, provides a complete account of the night of the first live nativity scene and observing of Francis he chronicles:

In the third year before his death… The man of God stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy…

Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.”

A fresco now decorates the grotto in Greccio. One half shows Francis kneeling in adoration of the baby Jesus while Franciscan friars celebrate Mass.

The other half, perhaps more familiar to us depicts Mary feeding the newborn saviour while Joseph, the ox and the donkey look on.

Pope Francis writes in his letter Admirabile signum, “The depiction of Jesus’ birth is itself a simple and joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture”.

In this the 800th year since the tradition began let us be encouraged to display this enduring symbol of the beauty of our faith proudly in our homes, workplaces and where possible the public square this Christmas.

Buon Natale!

Tags: Liturgy