We finish the stable itself, with its rocks and trees first, then make sure that the shepherds come with their sheep in the last week of Advent, then don't bring St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother into the scene until Christmas Eve, and the Holy Infant arrives in the wee hours of Christmas day. Little did we know, however, that there is a formula that can be followed for the building of the Creche. We were thrilled today to find a flier in the vestibule before Mass, which spelled it out, making the whole Nativity Scene construction a giant devotion, full of significance and beauty! Wahoo! (We really get a charge out of things like this... Can you tell? &:o)
Anyway, I know this is long, but we've caught it just in time to get started with the "Traditional Manner," so I thought it might be good to post the whole thing for anyone else who might never have seen this and might want to follow it. I don't imagine, by any stretch of the imagination, that it's necessary to adhere to this formula 100%,. I expect, for instance, that we'll hang the blue veil with the Star of David over our Nativity Set, but not cover it (if I understand the meaning that this is to be done...), and we'll continue to move our shepherds into the scene about a week before Christmas ~ just because we like to do it that way. As we go, we'll morph this tradition with our own established one, and have much to talk about along the way. It'll be wonderful to have the extra depth of understanding that this old Catholic tradition brings to the custom of the Crib.
So, without further ado: Here it is!
The Traditional Manner of Setting Up the Creche
The Christmas Crib, or Creche, affords an effective and visible means of teaching the facts of Our Lord's Incarnation to all members of the parish, children and adults. Just as the Stations of the Cross is a pilgrimage in spirit along the way of Sorrows to Our Lord's Crucifixion, so the Christmas Crib is intended to foster the pious desire of the faithful to venerate His Lowly Birthplace.
On December 8th,the day on which we celebrate the beginning of the spotless life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the framework of the Crib is set up. This framework symbolizes the Virgin Mary's part in the Incarnation, for she was the "framework," or instrument, chosen by God, for the "god-bearer," the mother of Our Lord's humanity. The framework of the Crib (the stable) is covered by a Virgin Blue Veil upon which has been placed the double Davidic triangle, or star, and before the Crib a blue vigil light burns. All of this is very significant and teaches great lessons.
The Blue Veil is a symbol of the Messianic prophecies relating to the person of Our Lord. "Therefore, the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel." (Isaiah vii, 14)
The Davidic star is a familiar emblem of the Trinity and is a combination of two equal triangles, one with the apex upward and the other with the apex downward, thus forming a six-pointed star enclosing a hexagon, which is the symbol of the six attributes of God. The star is also a symbol of creation, expressing the fact that it was the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, who created the heavens and the earth. The Davidic star also expresses the truth that Our Lord not only is God, but that He also sprung from the Royal Seed of the House of David, insofar as His Blessed Mother and the lineage of His Human Body are concerned. (St. Mat. i, 1-18)
The blue vigil light symbolizes the dim light of faith which burned in the hearts of the faithful all through the centuries preceding Our Lord's Birth. It is also symbolic of His Second Advent when "He shall come again, in glory, to judge both the living and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end."
On December 18th,the day of expectation, the animals are placed in the stable, These too are symbolic of Our Lord's earthly mission and foreshadow certain events pertaining to the Ministry of the Incarnate Son of God. The lamb prefigures the words of St. John the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." The ox, the beast of burden, prefigures Our Lords' own words "Come unto me, all ye that are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." The foal of an ass foreshadows Our Lord's Royal entry into Jerusalem as foreseen by the prophet Zechariah: "Behold thy King cometh unto thee, lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass." (Zech. ix, 9; St. Matt. xxi, 5)
On December 24th,the Eve of the Christ Mass, the Holy Family and the lowly shepherds, the first to be brought the "good tidings of great joy" about the Saviour's birth, are placed in the stable and the blue veil is removed, to show that the Messianic prophecies are fulfilled.
On January 6th,
the Feast of the Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the shepherds are replaced by the Wise Men, or Magi. The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the visitation of the learned men from the East (probably Persia) who, by following the new star, which they knew meant the birth of a King, found the Christ Child. These Kings and their gifts are also symbolical -- the gold, of tribute to a King; the incense of adoration and prayer to God; the myrrh, of recognition as a mortal, a man of sorrows. These learned men would not have worshipped a mere child; even though He might have been of the lineage of earthly royalty. It was their conviction that Jesus was the destined God-Man incarnate, veiled in humanity.
Our Lord was nearly two years old by the time the Wise Men found Him and we read in St. Matthew ii, 11 that "when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His Mother, and fell down and worshipped Him." This explains why the Wise Men are not placed with the Nativity group until twelve days later, to denote the length of time which elapsed before they finally found the Child Jesus. To this day, the reigning Sovereign of England pays a twelfth-day oblation at the Offertory in the Mass, in gold, frankincense and myrrh, to commemorate this visit of the Wise Men to pay tribute to the King of Kings.
On January 13th,
the Octave of the Ephiphany, the Crib is removed, marking the close of the events surrounding the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
"Let us become little with the Little One, that we may grow in stature with Him.
"Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man."