Placing Nativity scenes in church

By Sr, Laura Zelten | The Compass | December 19, 2019

all , Question

Why do we put Nativity sets in the church sanctuary at Christmas? Isn’t it a distraction from Mass? (Allouez)

Answer

St. Francis of Assisi created the very first Nativity scene in 1223 in an effort to promote the true meaning of Christmas and worship of Jesus Christ. His idea caught on and, soon, a new Christmas tradition was born. Today, it’s almost impossible for one to go through the Christmas season without seeing a Nativity scene in front of a church, in a Christmas play, decorating someone’s yard or placed in model form on a fireplace mantel.

A Nativity scene is probably one of the most recognizable symbols of the Christmas season. The word “nativity” is taken from the Latin nativus, which means “innate” or “imparted from birth.” Nativities are art, models, carvings or live demonstrations depicting the night of Jesus’ birth. These scenes generally contain the same elements: the Christ child in a manger; his mother, Mary; his earthly father, Joseph; shepherds; angels; various barn animals; and sometimes, three wise men.

Many of us enter church on Christmas Eve and see, up near the sanctuary, a beautiful Nativity scene. There is not a specific place where a manger scene should be placed. The only guideline is that the manger scene should not be placed directly in front of the altar. (Off to either side of the altar would be fine.) However, if the church is exceptionally small and the manger can only fit in front of the altar, an exception can be made.

The Nativity scene is an object of devotion. Where you place the scene should foster intimate prayer. Ideally, the scene should be placed where people, especially families with children, can draw near. The Nativity scene is there to remind us that the child — who was born to Mary and laid in a manger — would one day grow up to die on a cross and rise again so each and every person who believes in him may receive eternal life.

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