A blessed, holy and Merry Christmas 2012! Buon Natale! Recently a friend from many Christmases past asked me to describe what Christmas is like, from a pastor's point of view, at the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Youngtown. This friend who is an advocate of "all things Italian" was especially interested in Mt. Carmel Church, steeped in Italian tradition with the majority of the members' family trees rooted in many of the towns, provinces and regions of Italy. My friend's question caused me to collect my thoughts and memories of the recent past in light of what soon will be my 26th Christmas as the pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Youngstown. It also stirred up within my emotions a deep sense of gratitude as we approach the festive season of Christmas when believers profess and sing, "Today is born Our Savior, Christ the Lord."
I vividly remember my very first Christmas Eve as pastor of Mt. Carmel and the large crowds of people for the 5pm and midnight Masses. With great surprise I remember realizing that I was in an "Italian Church," as the people came to the Altar for Holy Communion and I caught the smells of freshly fried calamari, smelts and red fish sauce for the pasta that clung to their clothing. Once upon a time, Christmas Eve was a strict day of abstinence from meat as a day of penance; but somehow in joyful anticipation for this great holiday in Italy, it became an occasion for an abundant fish dinner for families. Depending on the region of Italy as place of origin, families boast of 7, 12 or even more kinds of wonderfully prepared fish for the supper table in observance of the Christmas Feast. The observance begins around the table with family members, usually the more the better. The fish supper of Christmas Eve then yields to the festive dinner of Christmas Day, but now with meat and everything from soup to nuts and the traditional Italian candy, "torrone." Once again, usually the more family members that are around the table, the better is the observance of the Christmas Day Feast.
But beyond the meals and the gifts, the Christmas Midnight Mass and Christmas Day Masses are the highlight and are at the heart of Christmas for both parish and families. The family at the table in the home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day points clearly to the Table of the Lord in Church. The Christmas Mass is the great act of Faith by the family of believers in God the Father's Only Begotten Son, Jesus, who came down from the heavens and the stars (Tu scende dalle stelle, popular traditional Italian hymn), as an infant, a human being like us, though still God, born of the Virgin Mother Mary; to begin a journey that led to the Cross and the Empty Tomb, to a Death and Resurrection so that we may be saved from sin's reality and have eternal life in Heaven.
The Christmas tree, flowers, lights -- all point to the Table of the Eucharist, celebrating the great Mystery of Faith, our salvation in Christ Jesus. At Mt. Carmel at each Christmas Mass a newborn infant during the past year and the Infant Jesus are brought forward at the offertory procession by the newborn's parents who place the Infant Jesus in the manger. We bless the manger. We seek the Christ-Child's love, peace, mercy, grace, His all.
What then is Christmas at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel like? It is the family at home, the families at Church and, of course, the more family members the better. At Mass this family stands still before the Altar and manger. In Faith we adore the Savior of the world. Today the strong and weak, the faithful and not so faithful, the elder and the young, are all together as family before the Infant Savior. Today I often wonder if the cell phone, the TV, the computer, the iPad and iPod have made us less human but more robotic. However this much I do know, this Christmas we are once again invited to let the Newborn in the manger touch the deepest recesses of our souls and touch us with His Love. In such a way we can become more human than ever before on this Christmas Day. For, "Today is born Our Savior, Christ the Lord."
The Ostia Cookie, which is a tradition at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, is made of a wafer like the Host at Mass, suggesting the Eucharistic Bread, and in between the wafers are delicious chocolate and nuts, symbolic of the sweetness of the Birthday of our Lord. May this Christmas for all the readers of La Gazzetta Italiana be filled with the goodness and sweetness of the Lord. Buon Natale 2012 - Italian Style.
Msgr. Michael J. Cariglio, J.C.L., ordained 1970, is pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel-St. Anthony Parish, Youngstown. He also serves as Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Youngstown.