Did you know Christmas carols are a rich source of catechesis for your RCIA groups? A good carol has the power to “teach” the theology of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection—the paschal mystery.
A cosmic dance between Divine and human
For example, Charles Wesley’s 1739 text, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” has several verses paschal-preaching verses:
Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.
Here in this text, the meaning of the word becoming flesh is not simply a Hallmark-card image of a baby in a manger or a sweet-sounding lullaby.
- It is the great exchange—the cosmic dance—between the Divine and the human
- It is the primordial clash between light and dark
- It is the serpent in the garden and the empty tomb that shouts, “Death, where is your sting?”
Is your life too busy for RCIA this holiday season? Maybe your planning to take a break. Or maybe you plan to slog through, hoping the catechumens will show up for your sessions.
What if there were a third way? What if you could continue forming faith without having to hold formal sessions?
- Discover four ways to teach catechumens about the Blessed Virgin
- Connect Santa and last-minute shopping with Eucharist—in a good way
- Learn about two major ethnic traditions that are all about the journey of faith
- Uncover the catechetical riches of Christmas carols
Date: Thursday, December 1, 2011
Time: 2:00p to 3:00p Eastern Standard Time
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The divine exchange
God becomes one of us so that we may become more like God. In this lover’s exchange, God is clothed in human skin and takes on the mortality of earthly life so that we may be clothed with Christ and wear the garment of immortality.
This mystical union is the nuptial dance between God and creation, the weaving together of death and life, the push and pull of sadness and joy, and the counterpoint of our earthly song with the heavenly choir.
The definition of a carol is “an old round dance with singing.” It is the dance that comes first. Our carols teach us that Christian life is not about remaining at Bethlehem, frozen in winter snow, but about dancing together through the seasons of life to Jerusalem, to the cross and the empty tomb, dying and rising and thus birthing new life.
The dance of life and death
Another fine carol is “Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day.” William Sandys’ 1833 text conveys that Christmas is “merry” because God dances with us even through death.
Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance.
Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.
The crèche and the cross
There are two little-known verses of “What Child is This?” that have disappeared from almost all of our hymnals. These lost stanzas by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898) invite us to go deeper into the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, even in the middle of our celebration of Jesus’ birth. They remind us that the paschal mystery is the “theme” of every season. Next time you see an image of the baby Jesus or hear the angels’ “Gloria,” see, too, the wood of the cross and the lance at the side, and hear, also, the song of the Easter Exsultet, “Rejoice, O heavenly powers, sing choirs of angels!”
Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear. For sinners here,
the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear, shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary!
So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh.
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings.
Let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise the song on high. The Virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy, for Christ is born, the Babe, the Son of Mary!
Three more catechetical carols for your RCIA group
Here are three more carols that have the power to teach Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
This is probably not listed in the Christmas section of your hymnal, but this 5th century text is an extraordinary image of the Word made Flesh.
Of the Father’s Love Begotten
This simple chant sings of the Incarnation as salvation history.
Good Christian Friends, Rejoice
This 14th century text answers why Christ was born: that we may no longer fear death.
What carols can you think of?
What carols have you used to catechize with? Or which ones might you use this Advent and Christmas to teach the paschal mystery?
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