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When Father Noah Casey was pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, he had a very special tradition for Christmas Eve Mass. Father Noah would select a young child from the parish to carry the statue of Baby Jesus during the entrance procession to be placed in the beautiful crèche at the front of the church.
For several years, my husband Dale, and I were ushers for the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass. Often, we would have our granddaughter Maigan with us since her mother was working 12-hour shifts as a nurse. Maigan would smile and greet the worshipers with me, and helped with the bulletins at the conclusion of Mass. Maigan would always bring her favorite doll with her to Mass, lovingly placing the doll in our back pew and covering her with the blanket which I had knitted for it.
The year Maigan was almost 5, she was selected to be the child to carry Baby Jesus for Christmas Eve Mass. With great anticipation, we purchased the traditional red velvet dress, matching hair accessory and new shoes. Maigan was excited and we, as proud grandparents, were looking forward to the honor.
On a very cold, starry night, we arrived for Christmas Eve Mass with our Maigan looking like a “Christmas princess,” and her ever-present doll was also dressed in a new outfit and warmly wrapped in her blanket. Father Noah came to the narthex with the beautiful statue of Baby Jesus. I have no idea where Father Noah had had that statue, but it was frigid! He gently placed the statue in Maigan’s arms and explained to her how the procession would be and what she was to do.
While he was talking to her, I noticed her occasionally looking at her doll securely wrapped in the knitted blanket. After his instructions, Father Noah turned to speak with the altar servers and the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. Maigan said to me, “Oma, Baby Jesus is cold; do you think that he would like my baby’s blanket”?
Knowing that Father Noah would have had a “spell” and a chuckle for the beautiful statue to have been covered with a knitted blanket, I assured Maigan that Baby Jesus would soon be laying in his warm manger at the front of the church close to his loving parents, Mary and Joseph.
Maigan processed up the aisle, sweetly carrying Baby Jesus with all of the dignity and adoration that an almost 5-year-old could have had. But, I really think as she proceeded to the altar and symbolically brought the Christ Child into our midst, that maybe she had the right idea of carrying and sharing and loving what Jesus came to proclaim to all of us. Maybe that night she grasped the true concept of worshiping the Babe of Bethlehem.
Maigan is now in high school. I doubt that this Christmas Eve memory is as vivid for her as it is for Dale and me. But it was special that cold night, and it is still very special to us these many years later, remembering our special granddaughter and our beloved Father Noah Casey.
(Jená Hartman, archdiocesan Birthline coordinator, is a member of SS. Francis and Clare Parish in Greenwood.) †