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Every Christmas I marvel at God’s surprising choices. Who would have ever expected a young unwed girl to become the Mother of God? Who could have guessed that uneducated and poor shepherds would hear the songs of angels? Who would have imagined a poor infant born in a stable to be Emmanuel, God-with-us? And yet, it is precisely in the unexpected that God chose to be revealed to us.
This year as we approach Christmas I have been wondering how God might be present to us today, given everything that is happening in our world, our nation, our cities and our personal lives. I found comfort in a cherished song we sing during Lent: O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This song makes clear that the simple and profound answer we received 2000 years ago holds even today: Emmanuel, God is with us here and now, always and forever even and most especially in these most extra-ordinary times.
We are all wondering how we might celebrate Christmas this year. Surely it will not be the same as in years past. However we can and must make it meaningful and memorable, both in church and at home, because Christmas is such an important reminder of the fact that God is with us. That is the very essence of Christmas. It is the message we so desperately need to hear and embrace today.
Our goal, at The Basilica of Saint Mary is to make sure that those of you who will be with us for Mass in-person as well as those who join us via livestream will have a great Basilica Christmas experience. To that end we have creatively re-imagined our Christmas décor, our musical offerings and we came up with some new initiatives that hopefully will lift us up as we contemplate the promise of a better world brought to us by the Christ Child.
One of the new initiatives is our drive-by Blessing of the Bambinelli. As you prepare your nativity scene in your home, please join us for a drive by blessing of the Christ Child from your home nativity on Sunday, December 20 between 12:30-1:30pm. At that time you will also receive a Home Blessing Kit to be used on Epiphany for the traditional Epiphany blessing of your home.
This kit will include Holy water, a prayer and a piece of chalk. As part of the blessing you are to draw the following on the lintel above the main door into your home:
+ 20 C B M 21 + . C M B stands for Christus Benedicat Mansionem or May Christ Bless this Home. Of note is that the letters C M B are the initials of the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar whose visit to the Baby Jesus we celebrate on epiphany.
I know this Christmas will not be the same, but I am convinced that we can still celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus in meaningful and moving ways. We, the staff at The Basilica of Saint Mary are committed do to our part to make it so.
May the Christ Child bring you many blessings, even and especially during these extra-ordinary times. And may you discover Emmanuel, God-with-us in the most unexpected places.
A regular highlight of my Advent season is our bilingual celebration in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, whose feast day is December 12. Although more subdued and socially distant this year, we will have a bilingual celebration on Sunday, December 13, at 4:30pm Mass, in partnership with the Spanish speaking community at our sister parish, Church of the Ascension, on the near north side of Minneapolis. Ascension pastor (and former Basilica vicar) Fr. Dale Korogi will be the celebrant. You are invited to join us via livestream or in person.
Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to an indigenous man, Saint Juan Diego (whose feast day is December 9), outside of Mexico City on a hill called Tepeyác in 1531. Our Lady had both indigenous Aztec and Spanish characteristics, and in his native language she told Juan Diego to ask the bishop to build a church in her honor. The bishop requested proof of her request, so Our Lady instructed Juan Diego to gather blooming roses in his tilma (cape). When he unfurled his cape before the bishop, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe miraculously appeared on the cape. The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe was constructed on the hill in her honor. A beautiful mosaic of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, made at the Vatican Museums in Rome, is installed in the southwest corner of our Basilica.
In other years, Aztec dancers, in beautiful feathered attire, would joyously dance on our front plaza and in the church. Guests wearing traditional attire would process with statues and banners of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a festive celebration with customary foods would follow in our Teresa of Calcutta Hall.
Though more subdued this year, without dancers, processions, or delicious treats, the celebration in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe provides us inspiration during COVID-19. By choosing Juan Diego as her messenger in 1531, she often represents empowerment for the least powerful and marginalized. She has also been a source of comfort and strength for Latinos and others almost 500 years. During our global pandemic, may her example of patience, solidarity, and grace provide us all with comfort and inspiration.
In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection. This week, Johan shows us three representations of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception at The Basilica, in honor of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. May Mary, the one full of grace, guide us through Advent to the great celebration of the Incarnation, the birth of her Son.