This Advent, here in the parish of Our Lady Conceived Without Sin of Mitchelstown, Ireland, the Servant Sisters organized a "Christmas Mission" which was called: "Tidings of Great Joy." The purpose of the mission was to help the people of the parish prepare their hearts for the coming of Baby Jesus, as well as to reach out to others in the town who do not regularly participate in the parish, inviting them to re-discover their faith.
The Mission consisted fundamentally of two parts. The first was the "Empty Manger": An empty manger from the Nativity Scene was placed in front of the altar on the First Sunday of Advent, together with baskets of resolutions for both adults and children. People could take a suggested resolution from the basket, and if they completed it, the following week they could take a cotton ball from another basket and place it inside the manger. Then when Christmas arrived the manger was full of cotton balls for Baby Jesus to lie in: symbolizing how we wanted our hearts to be ready to receive Him!
The second part was really the "Mission" in itself. Each of the four weeks of Advent, a poster was placed at the entrances of the Church with a "Virtue of the Week" (to practice as a parish), a "Mission of the Week" (something to work on as a parish and to reach out to others), and an "Event(s) of the Week" (to help us grow spiritually as a parish and build community). Small cards were also handed out the First Sunday of Advent to people who wanted to take part in the initiative and reach out to others by inviting them to the different events of the Parish Mission.
Among the "Events of the Week" we had a special Vigil and Holy Hour for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, as well as a Marian Conference that was organized on December 8. We also organized several Penance Services, Christmas caroling for families and a movie night. The last Event of the Mission was on December 27 and consisted of a special Holy Hour to contemplate the mystery of the Nativity and sing Christmas Carols to Baby Jesus. The Holy Hour ended with the parish priest offering the image of Baby Jesus to be venerated with a kiss. It was a very beautiful way to end our mission and everyone was very happy. For a little while after the Holy Hour, a group of people remained in the Church while we continued singing Christmas Carols in front of the manger scene. Nobody wanted to leave!
Hopefully it was a sign of how happy Baby Jesus was to have been received with love and gratitude inside each of our hearts! Merry Christmas!