HAPPY NEW YEAR !! And we’re finally back on track with the bulletin published on the same week we write it. I sent an e-message last week, and I want to repeat some of it so it’s officially in our bulletin.

My first Christmas at St. Monica was terrific, as I could have expected, with some unusual elements figured in from this year. The music was consistently excellent, with its own parameters—much singing of just refrains by the congregation, and reliance on one or two cantors rather than choirs. Our Director of Liturgical Music Heather Martin Cooper brilliantly substituted fine instrumental performances in place of prelude choir pieces. I had the Mass in the gym, which had its own charm— great musicians filling in for quarantined parishioners, a good crowd, and pleasing warm holiday appointments. The church itself of course looked beautiful, thanks to those who transformed it in a flash. Lectors, Eucharistic ministers, usher especially, and deacons gave extra generous service.

In the homily I used a train (with the help of some kids) to visualize Jesus’ humanity getting us on track, and training us to live temperately, justly and devoutly (Mass at Night, Titus 2:11-13). Msgr. Blood focused on the shepherds going out from the birth to be evangelizers, core to our mission.

A special factor of course was limited congregations. I’m grateful to so many for cooperating with the reservation system for Masses, used by many (but not all) parishes this year. It worked well for us to minimize problems and collisions of crowds not prudent. Heather again began planning weeks ahead for two simultaneous 5:00 P.M. Masses and charting a reservation system, and went to the remarkable length of preparing family pew name signs and changing them for all 5 Masses!

Jim Reinhardt was a huge help in organizing the ushers for check-in at the Masses, and was present himself throughout the Masses.

Friday’s Christmas Day proceeded quickly to the Sunday feast of the Holy Family, a touching time to see the reality of Jesus’ life and upbringing. Then we observed an ancient feast of Mary, actually a Solemnity, of Mary as Mother of God, on the New Year’s and Eve dates.

Sunday was Epiphany– many cultures even today celebrate Christmas on this day, with liturgies, parties, exchanging of presents. And we had astounding musical presentations for this great feast. Before Saturday night’s Mass, 5th grader Anne Newcomer did a beautiful piece on the harp, as her sister Clara also cantored. After Mass Lilly Kinnison did an outstanding piano interpretation of ‘Hark the Herald Angels” And Sunday morning after 9:30 Mass, before Lilly reprised her piece at my request, Audrey Thomas, who grew up and was trained here under Heather and is now Director of Liturgy at a Michigan parish, did a fine Bach fugue postlude. The Mass was enhanced also by Becky Niesen on flute, who shares that role with Jen Esarey. It was all so exceptionally well done, I couldn’t help feel that the Christ Child and the Wise Men appreciated the honors.

Today brings the great feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a mystery to contemplate. This brings the Christmas Season to an end, and we resume Ordinary Time on Monday.

There is no change in the directives we must follow in church. While the vaccines are starting to circulate, it’s going at 50% of the pace that was expected. We’re a long way from any collective immunity. The County and the Archbishop have directed the wearing of masks, over the nose to the chin, in any indoor gatherings. No doctor’s orders override this for any private property, including the church. We’ll get there, but there is no slackening of the responsibility to protect ourselves and each other from serious harm.

One more word about Christmas things. It was obvious that the Nativity Scene was in a different place in church. This was no last-minute thought. For over 30 years the church has directed that nothing—not even the Nativity Scene—be placed directly in front of the altar. The clear reason is that the bread and wine on the altar, changed into Jesus’ body and blood, must never be distracted from or obscured. That’s the focus and the reason for the sanctuary area. (Flowers don’t call our attention to themselves the same way, but even they are to be tasteful and not obstructing).

We’ve had great pastors here, but every one of us goes into a new place and finds some important things that hadn’t been implemented yet. Several of our liturgy Worship Committee members were aware of this and knew we were overdue to make this change. If you look at our cathedrals, none of them have the Christmas scene obscuring the altars anymore, and hardly any parish churches do either. I fully intended to comment on this here in the bulletin ahead of time, but

all the pandemic crowd management issues occupied me; yet I’m sorry I didn’t notify you on this before seeing it. A real other benefit of the Nativity Scene in its own place is that it created a little devotional area of its own, complete with a kneeler, not possible before the altar. Many people enjoyed having this separate place to “journey” to, like the Holy Family had to. One practicality we learned doing this the first time here is that it would help to raise the whole scene a bit for better visibility, and we’ll look into this next year.

Fr. Tom Wyrsch

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