The stable is set up on the First Sunday of Advent. The next Sunday, livestock and empty manger are positioned. On the Third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday (Latin: 'To Rejoice'), is the same weekend that the Christmas Tree generally arrives in our home. This Sunday in Advent reminds us and mankind that our redemption is near as Christ soon approaches. At Mass the sacred ministers are clothed in rose colored vestments (the color of joy), flowers are allowed back on the altar, and the organ is once again played as on feast days. The arrival of the tree in the home coincides perfectly with Gaudete Sunday since the evergreen is the symbol of hope and eternity. Branches from the tree can also be added to the Manger Scene today. The Fourth Sunday of Advent brings the arrival of the Expectant Mother, Mary, her chaste spouse St. Joseph, and the donkey (this can also be done on Christmas Eve). With the arrival of Mary, we also place pine cones among the evergreen branches. Pine cones symbolize fertility and new life (because of the abundance of seeds in the cone). Before Midnight Mass and during the blessing of the Nativity Scene, described below, baby Jesus can be placed in the manger. On Christmas morning, the angel can appear together with the shepherds and their flock. Finally, on the twelfth day of Christmas, the Magi make their appearance on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6 which marks the visit by the three wise men.
The festive 12 days of celebrating Christmas traditionally begins with Midnight Mass. After the tree has been decorated and lit the family gathers near the tree while the Father initiates the sign of the cross.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE BLESSING
Father or Leader. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All. Who made Heaven and earth.
Antiphon (Father or Leader). All the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord, for He comes.
(Psalm 95 begs us to praise the Lord and sings of His coming at the end of time. Our Lord warned us to watch for the signs of His Second Coming in the Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent. We add, this night, our anticipation of His first coming).
Psalm 95 (can alternate reading the lines).
Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all ye lands: Sing to the Lord, bless His name, announce His salvation, day after day:
Among the heathen tell His glory, His marvels to every people.
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, to be feared more than all the gods:
The gods of the heathen are nothings, but the Lord - He made the Heaven.
Glory and majesty stand before Him, strength and splendor are in His sanctuary.
Declare to the Lord, ye families of nations, declare to the Lord His glory and strength:
declare to the Lord the glory of His name:
Offer sacrifice and come into His courts: worship the Lord in holy attire,
Tremble before Him, all the earth! say among the nations: The Lord is King.
He has set the earth firm, not to be moved, He rules the peoples with justice.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, the sea thunder with all its waves:
Let the fields be glad, and all their creatures, all the trees of the wood shout for joy
Before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to rule the earth:
He will judge the world with justice, and the peoples with His truth.
Antiphon repeated (Leader). All the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord, for He comes.
Leader. Lesson from the Prophet Ezechiel, 17:22-24.
Thus said the Lord God: I Myself will take the top of the high cedar, and will set it: I will crop off a tender twig from the top of the branches thereof, and I will plant it on a mountain high and eminent. On the high mountains of Israel will I plant it and it shall shoot forth into branches, and shall bear fruit, and it shall become a great cedar: and all the birds shall dwell under it, and every fowl shall make its nest under the shadow of the branches thereof, and all the trees of the country shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, and exalted the low tree: and have dried up the green tree, and have caused the dry tree to flourish. I the Lord have spoken and have done it.
All. Thanks be to God.
Leader. And there shall Come forth a shoot.
All. Out of the root of Jesse.
Leader. In Him was life.
Leader. O Lord hear my prayer.
All. And let my cry come unto Thee.
Leader. The Lord be with you.
All. And with thy spirit.
Leader. Let us pray. Holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God, Who hast caused Thy Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to be planted like a tree of life in Thy Church, by being born of the most Holy Virgin Mary, bless, we beseech Thee, this tree that all who see it may be filled with a holy desire to be ingrafted as living branches into the same Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of " the Holy Spirit, God, world without end.
All. Amen. (Sprinkles tree with holy water.)
Then the family can sing a hymn. The blessing of a manger scene can then follow, can occur before Midnight Mass, or on Christmas Day, but should occur after the Child Jesus is placed in the manger:
THE MANGER SCENE BLESSING
Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
Leader. A continuation of the holy gospel according to Saint Luke:
The birth of Jesus. In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.
Or: Isaiah 7:10-15--The birth of Emmanuel.
Leader. God of every nation and people, from the very beginning of creation you have made manifest your love: when our need for a Savior was great you sent your Son to be born of the Virgin Mary. To our lives he brings joy and peace, justice, mercy, and love.
Lord, bless all who look upon this manger; may it remind us of the humble birth of Jesus, and raise up our thoughts to him, who is God-with-us and Savior of all, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Source: Book of Blessings Prepared by International Commission on English in the Liturgy A Joint Commission of Catholic Bishops' Conferences, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1989
THE CHRISTMAS TREE BLESSING