The monks of New Melleray celebrate the Lord’s birth

The monks of New Melleray had a quiet and prayerful Christmas celebration over the past few days.  In a monastery, Advent is observed with deep appreciation for its distinctive character.  This is not shopping seas for monks.  It is not Christmas.  Christmas decorations, which in the general culture appear shortly after Thanksgiving, are nowhere in sight in a monastery until Christmas Eve.  Advent and Christmas are different.  Advent is the period of joyful expectation.  Christmas is the celebration of the birth of God into the world, born of Mary.  There is something exhilarating about seeing all the Christmas decorations come out a once and on the very day in which all the hymns, antiphons, and prayers all shift from sober foretelling of the Lord’s appearance to jubilant celebration of his birth.  The miracle finds expression in the complete transformation of our ordinarily very austere and plain monastic chapel into a banquet of greenery, candle light, and flowering poinsettias.  Midnight Mass was made especially joyful by the presence of about 80 guests quietly attending to the prayer of the monks int he middle of the night.  As usually happens at Midnight Mass, most of the people present were people we could not remember ever having seen before.  Maybe God intended them to be a sign to the monks of the power of Christmas to unite in prayer and love people who before then were strangers to one another.