What Child is This?

How well do you know this beautiful hymn, set to an English melody from the 16th century?

Having prayed the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary during my high school and college years, I was privileged to become familiar with the full text, which is so beautiful.  (It was used as the hymn every Thursday evening.)

There are references in this text, written 150 years ago, that I find touching.  Their poignancy seems a fitting match for the almost-haunting melody of Greensleeves, to which they are now set.

This seemingly simple Christmas carol, What Child is This?, has a way of combining some important aspects of our faith all in one place.

This evening, we again sang this hymn at vespers.  This was my second time today of hearing it, since this morning we sang and learned about several familiar carols at the Bible Study I lead for our residents.


Crib set in St. Anne’s Chapel

I would encourage you to read over the full text thoughtfully, taking time to let it touch your heart as well. Continue reading

“O Come, Let us adore Him” with the Christmas Crèche


Pictured here is a 66 year-old nativity scene, or crèche, which Sr. Elaine Marie, bookkeeper at St. Anne’s received for a Christmas gift at nine years of age.  As she grew up, she and her parents would set it up on their farmstead each year.  More figures, such as a deer, Santa, some of the angels, and, of course a dog, where added to the original set over the years.  Even after Sr. Elaine entered Religious Life in the late 1950s, her parents continued to put up the set at Christmastime.  When they moved to live and work at St. Anne’s some years later, they brought it with them; her mom continued setting it up in her apartment here.  Today, this crèche sets on top of a file cabinet in the main office here at St. Anne’s, where staff can be reminded of the miracle of the first Christmas.

Sr. Elaine's mother set up the scene in her room.

Sr. Elaine’s mom set up the creche in her apartment.

So, this is the history of one particular, special, nativity scene; but what is the history of the crèche in general?  St. Francis of Assisi and a special Christmas celebration at Greccio in 1223 played a very important role.   In an article re-published by the Catholic Education Resource Center, Fr. William Saunders shares the history as it relates to St. Francis.  According toWikipedia, St. Francis had recently returned from the Holy Land.  Greccio was a small town in south-central Italy where St. Francis would be spending Christmas.  In a cave near there, St. Francis’ famous Christmas commemoration took place.  Fr. Saunder’s article draws from St. Bonaventure’s writings:


  • It happened in the third year before his death, that in order to excite the inhabitants of Greccio to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus with great devotion, [St. Francis] determined to keep it with all possible solemnity; and lest he should be accused of lightness or novelty, he asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis….Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem. A certain valiant and veracious soldier, Master John of Greccio, who, for the love of Christ, had left the warfare of this world, and become a dear friend of this holy man, affirmed that he beheld an Infant marvelously beautiful, sleeping in the manger, Whom the blessed Father Francis embraced with both his arms, as if he would awake Him from sleep…

According to the Friends of the Creche, “the Low Latin word cripia, meaning manger, was the origin of the terms creche, crib, krippe, krubba, szopka and wertep meaning Nativity Scene respectively in French, English, German and Swedish, Polish and Russian.”

Wikipedia also shares that “such pantomimes became hugely popular and spread throughout Christendom.  Within a hundred years every church in Italy was expected to have a nativity scene at Christmastime.”  Through time, statues were used in place of live participants.  In Catholic countries in early modern times, “sculpted cribs were set up in Catholic churches and homes, often exported from Italy.”  These scenes became more elaborate and had their peak in Naples in the 1500s-1700s as well as in Genoa, Italy.  By the close of the 19th century, nativity scenes were also even popular outside of Catholic context and had many variations.

Modified from an ariginal post on The St. Anne’s Scoop in December of 2014.  

Sing to the Lord a Song of Praise!

Picture1.pngI was at home cleaning and doing a bit of laundry this afternoon.  I hadn’t planned to do washing, but our top altar cloth in chapel had a soot stain I was trying to remove.

I had applied a series of treatments to it, starting with an overnight setting with OxiClean, followed by treatment with other chemicals, including alcohol and bleach.  The final step, I hoped, was to wash it in the machine.

So home I went and put it and some other white items in the machine.  Meanwhile, I went to work cleaning.  We had decorated for the upcoming celebration of Christmas the other evening, and there was evidence of this in the tinsel that lined the carpet in places.

While I was doing my cleaning, a song somehow came to mind that I learned back when I was involved with my parish youth program.  Some of the words include: “Sing to the Lord a song of praise; with new hearts bless His name.”   Amidst vacuuming, sweeping, and dusting, it’s good to lift the heart and mind in prayer, praise, and gratitude.  (I could, after all, be wheelchair-bound and unable to do this cleaning.)   Thinking of, or listening to, such music as this song can help put words of thanks and praise into our hearts and minds.

When I tried searching for the full lyrics later, I realized that it is based on the very psalm that I am preparing to sing for our Mass Christmas night: Psalm 96.

Prayers would be appreciated that I can make it through that psalm of praise despite my nervousness at the amount of people present. (I have never led the psalm for as large a group as we expect Thursday.).  We end up hauling chairs and scurrying around to help seat a little over a hundred people in our chapel for the occasion each year.

Sr. Christina M. Neumann, OSF

Like Mary, the first Missionary

I don’t know where I first heard it, but I know Our Blessed Mother Mary has been referred to as ‘the first missionary,’ having brought Jesus to Elizabeth and John the Baptist while He was still inside her.

r6-2I was reluctantly preparing to lead the weekly ecumenical service for our protestant residents (here at St. Anne’s Guest Home) Saturday morning.  The regular leader is out of town for two weeks and there weren’t a lot of other people jumping at the chance to take over in his absence.  Thankfully, he had prepared the ‘curriculum,’ for lack of a better word, ahead of time.  I don’t feel very comfortable doing this but didn’t want to have it fall on Sr. Elaine, who has more than enough on her plate already.

As I glanced over the chosen gospel reading for Saturday services, that of Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth, I remembered Mary’s being acclaimed “the first missionary.”  As I begin thinking about what I might say to our residents, I think I “might be onto something” in reflecting on this title and role of Mary.

So, what should I tell our residents (and myself) tomorrow morning?  Mary serves as an example to us, ordinary people.  She lived in seemingly ordinary circumstances, yet she brought Our Savior into the world.

We, by our deeds of kindness and love, can also bring Jesus to others.  A simple smile from ordinary me, or you, can show the love of Jesus to someone who really needs it.

Mary was open to the Holy Spirit and quickly went on a mission of charity to her elderly relative.  We, too, I think, should pray daily to the Holy Spirit, to guide us in our lives.  We never know who He might want to send us to, in order to bring Jesus to them!

O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s Stem…on the Jesse Tree

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Sr. Annella left St. Anne’s some years ago, I inherited her job of leading a weekly ecumenical Bible Study for our residents.  Attendance any given week usually ranges from eight to thirteen people of various Christian faith traditions.

A tradition I inherited (and further developed) from Sr. Annella is that of the Jesse Tree.  She had cut out green leaf/branches with names of prominent figures in salvation history written on them.  she had a little type-written prayer service as well.  A couple of years ago, Shelly (our activity directer) and I made a felt-board for these leaf/branches.

I printed up a little booklet with the texts of hymns, prayers, and readings from Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, etc., which shared a brief story of salvation history leading up to Christ’s coming.

Now, every year. we use it for a Bible Study in mid-December.  The residents get to be engaged in reading, singing, and putting up the branches with Velcro.  I hope they enjoy it as much as I do, and for the feedback I’ve received, I think they do like it.  I have to explain who Jesse was, though.  This reminds me of a verse from the beloved Advent hymn: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which refers to King David’s father.  One English text renders it:

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust Thy mighty power to save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

christmas (7).JPGI am always touched by the beautiful experience of celebrating ‘the Jesse Tree’ with our residents.

Doing All Right?

IMG_0894Do you ever wonder: “Am I doing all right?  Is there something I should be doing different?  I guess we all sin, we all make mistakes, so the answer to the second question would be a ‘yes.’

However, as disconcerting as we all may be to ourselves at times, I found comfort today in the words I read from our Franciscan Rule as I devoted a little time to spiritual reading.

The passage that touched me was: “Let them put aside all attachment as well as every care and worry.  Let them only be concerned to serve, love, adore, and honor the Lord God, as best they can, with singleheartedness and purity of intention. ”

If we are single-hearted, serving, adoring, and honoring the Lord God “as best as we can,” we can truly put aside “every care and worry,” knowing we are on the right track.

Amidst the busyness of life, especially this time of year, I pray I may keep my eyes on our Lord, knowing that if I am doing so, attentive to the above passage, I need not worry or be anxious that I’m not ‘doing all right.’

Maybe I’ll write the passage up and tape it on my medicine cabinet as a reminder, to keep me ‘on the right track.’

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

Be merciful as your heavenly Father !

IMG_0894I consulted my good old friend “Google Translate” again this evening.  Although I’ve had several years of Spanish and have picked up a little bit of Latin, I couldn’t quite guess the complete meaning of the motto for this Jubilee of Mercy, which was opened today (Dec. 8) by Pope Francis.

The motto is: “Misericordes sicut Pater!”  On first glance, I recognized that misericordes pertained to mercy and that Pater means ‘father.’  My dad, who had studied a bit of Latin in school taught me the phrase “Te amo pater” (I love you father.) years ago.

According to my limited, yet talented, chum (Google Translate), the theme phrase “Misericordes sicut Pater!” means “Be merciful as your heavenly Father !”  I found that interesting.  Rather than simply reflecting on God’s mercy (although that certainly would be a sufficiently rich subject), this motto is also a call to us to be ‘merciful like the Father,’  as a paraphrase I saw later would have it.

This correlates with something I have seen elsewhere; that is a reminder, in conjunction with this year of mercy, about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  I saw these listed in a couple of places that were covering this special year.

As a reminder, the traditionally listed works of mercy are:


  • feed the hungry
  • give drink to the thirsty
  • clothe the naked
  • shelter the homeless
  • visit the sick
  • visit the imprisoned
  • bury the dead


  • counsel the doubtful
  • instruct the ignorant
  • admonish sinners
  • comfort the afflicted
  • forgive offenses
  • bear wrongs patiently
  • pray for the living and the dead

On a side note, there are certain churches which will have a “Holy Door” for this ‘Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.’  According to the Fargo Diocese’s website, “An important part of a Jubilee is pilgrimage to a Holy Door. Bishop Folda has chosen to have a Holy Door in one of the churches in each deanery.”  I actually live within a mile of one of these, that is St. Michael’s Church here in Grand Forks, ND.

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

Inspirations from the U.S. Air Force ‘Tops in Blue’ Performance

unnamed.jpgWednesday evening, Sr. Elaine, Sr. Rebecca, and I attended the U.S. Air Force’s ‘Tops in Blue’ performance at the Chester Fritz Auditorium here in Grand Forks.  The event, held there from time to time (possibly on an annual basis), was free and open to the public.  The performers, who entertained with a variety of music and dancing, were very talented!

Although this was a secular performance, a couple things from the program actually struck me on a spiritual level.  One of these was toward the beginning, when the performers were processing in.  Some were already up on stage while others walked down the aisles, past us in the audience, instruments in hand.  Each one had a role to play, whether it be blowing a trumpet, beating a drum, or doing some other musical task. What touched me was: No one had a huge task, but each one had his role to play.  Although it may seem insignificant, they all worked together, taking their places, to make a fantastic performance.

This, to me, stood as an allegory for God’s plan for our world.  Each of us is called to do our little part, to live our life in His plan.  When we do so, we become part of His masterful symphony.  Though our role may seem insignificant, we can all be part of this beautiful scene as it unfolds, like the one I saw before me that night.  It was touching to watch the performers come in and take their places, each with their part to play.

I guess I was in a bit of a reflective mood that evening because another aspect of ‘Tops in Blue’ stirred me as well.  Later in the performance, a violinist played the 1968 song “My Way.”  Having heard the words before, I knew that in this song the artist tells of having done things his way.  As I sat, listening and enjoying the beauty of the instrumental rendition, I thought about the lyrics of the refrain: “I did it my way.”  As I thought a little about it, I realized what I would want my lyrics to be.  It became almost a prayer.  I hope and fervently pray that my lyrics, my song, might be instead: “I did it Your way.”

I think this can be an inspiration to me, when I am called or inspired to do something I don’t really care to do, I can remind myself that life’s not about doing things my way, but rather, in the end, I truly want to have lived my life Your way.  In this way, I will have taken my small but fitting place in the beautiful masterpiece which is God’s plan for our world.


Songs for the Season…”O Come Divine Messiah”

Advent is such a beautiful time, so rich with touching hymns, prayers, and readings, which call us to look forward and prepare for Jesus’ coming.

It is a shame, it seems to me, that our society is unable, or unwilling, to wait.  We start hearing Christmas music before the Advent season even begins.  On the other hand, I love some of the hymns we sing at Advent.  It’s too bad we only have four weeks or less to use them.

Though “O Come O Come Emmanuel” will always have a special place in my heart (and the First Sunday of Advent just wouldn’t be complete without its use in the liturgy), I’d like to focus this article an another favorite of mine: “O Come Divine Messiah.”

unnamed.jpgI had guessed it to be a more contemporary hymn and was surprised this morning to learn that it is actually a 16th century French carol.  Over one hundred years later, Abbé Simon J. Pellegrin gave it its French lyrics.  Then, in 1877, it was translated into English by Sister Mary of St. Philip, SND, who was one of the first English members of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Liverpool, England, according to one source on seasonal hymns.

If you find time, I would encourage you to look over the lyrics below.  They could be a rich source for reflection and meditation this Advent season and serve as a beautiful, touching, and inspiring alternative to “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” or “Frosty the Snowman.”


O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

O Christ, whom nations sigh for,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Come break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

You come in peace and meekness,
And lowly will your cradle be;
All clothed in human weakness
Shall we your Godhead see.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.