Sing these 6 carols in RCIA for strong holiday catechesis

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIADid 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?”
RCIA Without Meetings: Forming Faith over the Holidays

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAOne-hour webinar

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
Presenters: Nick Wagner and Diana Macalintal
Date: Thursday, December 1, 2011
Time: 2:00p to 3:00p Eastern Standard Time

Click here for more information

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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  1. While I didn’t even think of using carols for catechesis until just reading this article (though it’s not too late even for Christmas 2011), the hymn that came to my mind is “O Holy Night.”

    I’ve always grown fond of the lines:

    “Long lay the world in sin and error pining
    Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
    A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
    For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”

    Teaching points I see are:
    -original sin and the absolute necessity of a savior because of the dire situation humanity was in
    -the dignity of the human person (“the soul felt its worth”) and how Jesus reveals what it truly means to be human

  2. “The Holly and the Ivy”
    The relationship between Christmas and the Paschal Mystery.

    1. The holly and the ivy,
    When they are both full grown
    Of all the trees that are in the wood
    The holly bears the crown
    O the rising of the sun
    And the running of the deer
    The playing of the merry organ
    Sweet singing of the choir

    2. The holly bears a blossom
    As white as lily flower
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    To be our sweet Savior
    O the rising of the sun….

    3. The holly bears a berry
    As red as any blood
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    To do poor sinners good
    O the rising of the sun….

    4. The holly bears a prickle
    As sharp as any thorn;
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    On Christmas Day in the morn.
    O the rising of the sun….

    5. The holly bears a bark
    As bitter as any gall;
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    For to redeem us all.
    O the rising of the sun….

    6. The holly and the ivy
    Now both are full well grown,
    Of all the trees that are in the wood,
    The holly bears the crown.
    O the rising of the sun….

  3. Let us not forget “O come, O come Emmanuel” that gives us the church’s O Antiphons and is a catechetical diamond mine of names for our Savior to explain how He fulfilled the ancient prophecies. I bring a small tree on which we hang these symbols as we pray the prayer of the Church and sing the verse that goes with it.

    We also make a point of praying and reflecting on the Gloria, which the angels first sang to the shepherds about the newborn King.

  4. I enjoy this but have some concern about the Word holiday. Please why holiday catechesis. Why not Chrismas catechesis. Jesus is the reason for this season and so let us acknowledge Him.

    Thanks. Happy Christmas ALL!

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