The Maronite journey to Christmas is one that is unique and beautiful. Although this reflection could probably fill the whole page of this paper, we’ll focus on two of the very unique aspects of this journey.
Like all the Eastern Churches, as Maronites, our theology or beliefs can be found in the liturgical celebrations of the church. So the best place to start a reflection on the Maronite journey to Christmas, is in fact the liturgy.
Much like the season of Advent in the Roman Catholic Calendar, the Maronite journey to Christmas is a distinct season within our liturgical cycle that aims to prepare the faithful to welcome the birth of the Messiah. Officially known as the “Season of the Glorious Birth of our Lord” or the “Season of Announcements”, the journey goes for six Sundays and focusses on the announcement to Zechariah, the Annunciation to Mary, Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, Birth of John the Baptist, Revelation to Joseph and the Genealogy of Jesus.
These six stops provide us with an opportunity to follow the Christmas narrative as it is told in the opening chapters St Luke’s and St Matthew’s Gospel. Focusing on “The Announcements of the Lord that will make the universe rejoice” (Entrance Hymn from the Annunciation Liturgy) and through the Epistle, Gospel, hymns and prayers of the liturgy, we journey as a community through the events which occurred leading up to Jesus’ birth.
One thing that is really unique in our Maronite tradition is that Para-liturgical way in which pray the Christmas Novena from 15 to 23 December. The novena is prayed with the Blessed Sacrament exposed and with all the incense you would expect from an Eastern Church celebration. Hymns and prayers are sung that really bring to life the Syriac Antiochene heritage of the Maronite Church.
Inspired by the poetry of the Syriac Fathers, each day of the novena draws us ever more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation and how we participate in this great mystery through the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church. An example of this can be found in the novena prayer for 20 December:
“O Word of God, you have come from the mouth of God to be the life for all people. You became the living Bread and were born in Bethlehem, ‘the House of Bread,’ to satisfy our hunger. We implore you, through your pure Nativity and through the intercession of your Mother and Saint Joseph, your chosen one, to grant us an insatiable hunger for your pure Body and Blood. May we approach your altars, and with proper preparation receive your Sacred Mysteries for our salvation and eternal life. Amen.”
In this year, where uncertainty, fear and separation were the order of the day, the coming Christmas celebrations remind us that the hope of Christ is always available. The birth of Our Lord gives us the chance to look at the Child Jesus and know, that the God of all creation, the King of Kings, took on flesh out of a great love for us. We can know that through this great mystery we can share in God’s divine life and love. It is because of this hope that we are able to look forward with hope and sing:
We praise and give you thanks, God the Father, and the Son,
And the Spirit, three in one.
O Strong and Holy God, undivided Trinity,
You are blest from age to age.
hal-lel. hal-lel. hal-lel-loo-noh! (Praise him! Praise him! Praise him, our Lord!)
(Verse 7 of Maronite Hymn God Sent His Only Son)
Fr Charbel Dib is a recently ordained priest for the Maronite Church and is the Youth Chaplain at Our Lady of Lebanon Co-Cathedral, Harris Park.