Advent and Christmas: On 29 November, we began the Season of Advent, to wait for the Lord’s coming. He comes everyday in our lives, in different forms, in different events and through different persons. With four weeks’ preparation, we would be celebrating his arrival amid us, in the form of a tiny babe, very vulnerable, exposing himself to the dangers and threats to life. St Paul writing to Titus says: “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit 2: 11-13). Let this season be a time of intense preparation for the arrival of the Lord, with the purification of hearts. We can use the daily reflections and novenas available through different publications. We should encourage families to read and reflect on the readings of the day to pray and prepare for the birth of Jesus.

Care for the Poor and Renunciation of Extravagance: During the birth of Jesus, the poor are often mentioned. He himself chose to be poor. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8: 9). What a great example the Lord has given us! Poverty was all around then, and he chose the poorest of the poor place to be born in this world. Only the pure in heart could see him, and he had hidden this knowledge from the wise and the learned. We know now that the poor are the privileged people because the Lord visits them in their own form.

“The little babe of Bethlehem wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger because his parents could not find a room in the inn is the symbol of our Christmas celebration this year. He represents the poor who go to bed hungry because they have no food, the homeless that sleep on our streets because they do not have a roof, the unemployed who struggle to maintain their families because they have lost their jobs, those affected by COVID and other diseases and do not have money to pay for their medicines, parents who struggle to educate their children because they cannot provide them with the necessary means. All people who are suffering because of injustice, exploitation, all those innocently jailed and punished are embodied in that child Jesus whose earthly life journey would end in innocent imprisonment and an unjust death” (Advent and Christmas Pastoral Letter 2020 of Ranchi Archdiocese).

If the Lord has chosen poverty as his milieu, our celebrations also reflect the original spirit. Due to the corona pandemic, we experience poverty all over, and the situation also invites us to be simple in our celebrations and avoid all sorts of extravagance. The spread of the virus is not contained yet, and therefore, we must avoid larger gatherings. Liturgical celebrations are to be conducted with care, following the directives already given towards safety.

Decorative Lights and Inner Illumination: The situation demands that we avoid too many decorative lights and spend money on it. Instead of focusing on the external lighting for decorations, we must think of beautifying the internal reality. What we think of spending on the externals, we must save so that from this amount, the poor families could be helped to celebrate Christmas joyfully. The Lord invites us saying, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5: 16). Let us help the poor so that they too celebrate Christmas.

Christmas Cultural Programmes (Bandhutva): This year the Christmas cultural programmes, the visits of Santa Claus, and visiting houses with carol singing are to be avoided, lest we put the lives of children and others in danger. I would like to remind everyone to focus more on spreading the Good News of Jesus’ birth through a one-to-one encounter. May our people truly experience the visit of the Lord, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Every year, during Christmas, we invite the people of other faith traditions to celebrate with us, Bandhutva or Sauharda Christmas. This year, however, it will not be possible. Let us keep in mind that at least when we meet one another in our neighbourhood, we communicate the joy of the birth of the Son of God amid us.

Facilitating Communion with God for the Elderly, the Sick and Little Children: Many are deprived of the joy of communion with the Lord in the Eucharist. During Advent, the Parish Priests can plan the Eucharistic celebrations in smaller groups, especially for the elderly, sick and little children, of course keeping in mind the safety measures given by the authorities. In open and well-ventilated places, in Small Christian Communities, Eucharistic celebrations can be organised for these groups.

Penitential Rites and Confessions: The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not administered during the lockdown period in many places. Many are asking for confessions. It is our practice that common penitential rites and confessions are organised during Christmas. Parish Priests are to work out a plan for this purpose, observing physical distancing (6 feet), wearing face masks, refraining from touching the penitent while imparting the absolution and seeing that place is well-ventilated for the purpose.

Christmas Day: More Masses are to be arranged so that many can participate in the Eucharistic celebrations. Prayer services can be organised in families on Christmas Day to contemplate the incarnation of Our Lord.

Christmas Sharing: Many families have a good practice of sharing Christmas sweets with neighbours. Fellowship has to be promoted in some way, so that love for our neighbours is shown in making small sacrifices for them.

Holy Innocents’ Day: Usually, on this day, the parents bring the children to be blessed. I request the Pastors to remind the parents to organise prayer services at homes and make special prayers for the children. A few families of the small Christian community can come together for praying the Rosaryand bless the children.

New Year 2021: Different organisations have declared 2021 for different themes, for peace and trust, for health workers and caregivers. We shall focus more on evolving the pastoral plan, keeping in mind the poor and needy and spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Eucharistic Procession: On the first Sunday of the New Year, on the day of the Epiphany of the Lord we have been organising the Diocesan Eucharistic Procession from Milagres Church to Rosario Cathedral. However, considering the overall situation of the pandemic, we will not hold the procession on 3 January 2021. I request all the Parish Priests to organise Adoration on this day and pray for the Papal intention for the month. “Human Fraternity: May the Lord give us the grace to live in full fellowship with our brothers and sisters of other religions, praying for one another, open to all”.

Wish you all a Happy Christmas and a Bright New Year 2021.

+ Peter Paul Saldanha
Bishop of Mangalore

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