Shepherds' Procession Returns to Holy Trinity


The Shepherds' Procession is, in the words of Fr. Francis X. Weiser, S.J., "a charming relic of medieval piety" that was preserved for many years by the German faithful at Holy Trinity. The custom fell into disuse in recent decades but has been recently revived by the Latin Mass community. On Sunday, January 7, 2001, fifteen little shepherds, three small wise men, and one star-bearing angel arrived at the noon Tridentine Mass to honor the Feast of the Holy Family (held the Sunday after Epiphany in the old calendar). After the Mass ended they solemnly processed through the church while many carols of the Christmas season were sung. They found their way to the large crèche at Our Lady's altar, where the three Magi formally presented gifts to the infant Jesus. The event culminated with the celebrant, Fr. Harold Johnson, leading the congregation in the Consecration of the Family to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The day afforded both adults and children alike a fitting opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the Christmas season and the Christian family, and successfully carried on Holy Trinity's legacy as the "Christmas parish." An explanation of the event (from the Program), along with photographs, follow.


The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

After having celebrated the initiation of our Lord into the elect family of Abraham on the Feast of the Circumcision, today's Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph invites us to reflect on what was predestined from eternity to be the sweet model for all familial households. In the words of His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, "Nothing truly can be more salutary or efficacious for Christian families to meditate upon than the example of this Holy Family, which embraces the perfection and completeness of all domestic virtues." But the Feast of the Holy Family is also noteworthy because it affords a final opportunity to celebrate the Christmas mysteries. Coming as it does within the Octave of the Epiphany, the feast encompasses the whole mystery of our Lord's birth along with His manifestations to Jewish shepherds, Gentile kings, and (as we learn in today's Gospel) Temple Doctors.

Both of these dimensions are reflected in today's Shepherds' Procession, a charming Midnight Mass custom from the early days of Holy Trinity Church that was later modified for the Holy Childhood Association and moved to this Sunday. The procession of little shepherds and magi to the crèche retells the story of the Nativity and Epiphany, as does the specially selected order of carols that will be sung. The symbolic offering of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Infant Jesus at the end of the procession calls to mind the Kingship, Divinity, and Burial of our Lord, as well as reminding both adult and child alike of the importance of adoring God. Finally, the consecration of our families to the Holy Family is made to restore the tranquil harmony of domestic union that our own proclivity to sin (not to mention modern times in general) all too easily disrupts. As Pope Leo XIII predicted over a century ago, love of the humble Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph "fosters charity, exerts a good influence over conduct, sets an example of virtue, and makes more bearable the hardships of every life."


1. The Procession of the Shepherds & Magi

(Above) Led by Fraternity of St. Peter seminarian Domenic Gentile as crossbearer, the Shepherds' Procession begins at the conclusion of Mass.

(Right) The Procession proceeds through the nave of the church.

(Above) Some of the Shepherds in procession.

(Right) Fr. Harold Johnson, flanked by Acolytes, follows the shepherds and shepherdesses.


2. Presentation of the Magis' Gifts to the Infant Jesus

The Magi on route to the presentation of their gifts at the crèche.


3. Consecration of the Family to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

(taken from the Raccolta)

At the crèche, after the Magi have presented their gifts, Fr. Johnson leads the congregation in consecrating their families to the Holy Family

O Jesus, our most loving Redeemer, who having come to enlighten the world with Thy teaching and example, didst will to pass the greater part of Thy life in humility and subjection to Mary and Joseph in the poor home of Nazareth, thus sanctifying the Family that was to be an example for all Christian families: graciously receive our family as it dedicates and consecrates itself to Thee this day. Do Thou defend us, guard us and establish amongst us Thy holy fear, true peace and concord in Christian love: in order that by conforming ourselves to the divine pattern of Thy family we may be able, all of us without exception, to attain to eternal happiness.

Mary, dear Mother of Jesus and Mother of us, by thy kindly intercession make this our humble offering acceptable in the sight of Jesus, and obtain for us His graces and blessings.

O Saint Joseph, most holy Guardian of Jesus and Mary, assist us by thy prayers in all our spiritual and temporal necessities: that so we may be enabled to praise our divine Saviour Jesus, together with Mary and thee, for all eternity.

"Our Father," "Hail Mary," and "Glory be" three times.


Addendum: Carols Used in the Shepherds' Procession

(Arranged to tell the Story of our Lord's Birth)

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (Prophecy and Hope)

It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold: Peace on earth, good will to men, from heaven's all gracious King; the world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing. - For lo, The days are hast'ning on, by prophets seen of old, when with the evercircling years, shall come the time foretold, when the new heav'n and earth shall own the Prince of Peace their King, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.

O Little Town of Bethlehem (Anticipation and Fruition)

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. - For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above, while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wond'ring love. O morning stars together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

Sleep, Holy Babe (Birth and Solitude)

Sleep, Holy Babe, upon Thy Mother's breast! Great Lord of earth and sea and sky; how sweet it is to see Thee lie in such a place of rest. - Sleep, Holy Babe, Thine Angels watch around; all bending low with folded wings before th'Incarnate King of Kings, in rev'rent awe profound.

See, Amid The Winter's Snow (Dawn and Joy)

See, amid the winter's snow, born for us on earth below; see, the tender lamb appears, promised from eternal years. Hail, thou ever blessed man, Hail, Redemption's happy dawn! Sing through all Jerusalem, Christ is born in Bethlehem. - Lo, within a manger lies He who build the starry skies; He, who throned in heights sublime, sits amid the Cherubim. Hail! Thou ever blessed morn, Hail, Redemption's happy dawn! Sing through all Jerusalem, Christ is born in Bethlehem.

O Dear Little Children (Invitation and Presence)

O dear little children, O come one and all, draw near to the crib low concealing His might, see here by the rays of the clear shining light, in cleanliest swaddle the Heavenly Child more beauteous than legions of hosts undefiled. - He lies there, O children, on hay and on straw, dear Mary and Joseph regard Him with awe, the shepherds, adoring, bow humbly in prayer, angelical choirs with song rend the air, - O children bend low and adore Him today, O lift up your hands like the shepherds, and pray. Sing joyfully, children, with hearts full of love in jubilant song join the angels above.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Proclamation and Celebration)

Hark! The herald angels sing "Glory to the newborn King!" Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with th'angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!" - Christ, by highest heav'n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord; late in time behold Him come, offspring of the Virgin's womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th'incarnate Deity. Pleased as Man with man to dwell; "Jesus, our Emmanuel!"

Silent Night, Holy Night (Savior and King)

Silent night, Holy night! All is calm, all is bright, 'round yon Virgin Mother and Child; Holy Infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace. - Silent night, Holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar, heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia; Christ the Saviour is born, Christ the Saviour is born. - Silent night, Holy night! Song of God loves pure light, radiant beams from Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Presentation of the Magis' Gifts: We Three Kings (Revelation to the Gentiles)

We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar; field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star. - O, star of wonder, star of might, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to the perfect light.

Recessional: The First Noel (Journey and Visitation)

The First Noel the angels did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay; in the fields where they lay keeping their sheep, on a cold winter's night that was so deep. Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, Born is the King of Israel. - A star drew nigh to the northwest, o'er Bethlehem it took its rest, and there it did both stop and stay right over the place where Jesus lay. Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel. - Then enter'd in there wisemen three, fall rev'rently upon their knee, and offer'd there in His presence, their gold and myrrh and frankincense. Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel.


Special thanks to Mr. George Krim for selecting and arranging the music and musicians for this event.



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