This feast of the Holy Family has been part of our liturgical calendars for almost 100 years. We don’t know much about the daily life of the Holy Family except for the few things recorded throughout the Gospels. However, we do know the amount and the depth of love that is needed today for a healthy and holy family life — the life Mary, Joseph and Jesus shared.
The Gospel account is the story of Jesus remaining in the Temple after his parents began the journey home to Nazareth. His response to their inquiries about why he had done this confused them, and led Mary to hold all these things in her heart.
Families come in all shapes and sizes — the nuclear family, a single-parent family, blended families, couples who do not have children, families where a member might be alienated, or families composed of children and grandparents. For all these families, Mary, Joseph and Jesus are models of love, fidelity, sacrifice and deep faith.
One of my earliest family memories was the trip with my parents after Christmas morning Mass (and during the entire Christmas season) to view the crèche — the Nativity scene described in the Christmas Scriptures. Parents (then and now) bring their children to the manger scene to help them begin to understand and appreciate the mystery of the Incarnation. The blessing of the crèche, often done on Christmas Eve, asks that all of us who see the manger “be reminded of the humble birth of Jesus, and raise our thoughts to him who is God-with-us and Savior of all.”
The crèche was created by St. Francis of Assisi in Greccio, Italy, on Christmas eve in 1223 to help people realize the impact of Christ’s birth, “the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manager with an ox and ass standing by.” Francis had a real manger prepared, filled it with straw, and then placed the image of the infant Christ on it. “Simplicty was honored, poverty was exalted, and Greecio was made, as it were, a new Bethlehem.”
The opening prayer of today’s liturgy asks God to teach us the sanctity of human love, the value of family life, and to help us live in peace with all. That same prayer for peaceful living will be heard in the prayer over the gifts, the prayer after Communion, and again in the general intercessions. The priest may also use a special blessing at the end of Mass from the ‘Sacramentary’ or the blessing for families given in the “Book of Blessings.”
As we view the Nativity scene and recall the gift of the Holy Family this Sunday, may our prayers of gratitude and intercession include the members of our own family, living and deceased, who have formed us and continue to sustain us in faith and love.
Sr. Rehrauer is the director of Evangelization and Worship for the Diocese of Green Bay.