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To see with ‘our own eyes’ the poverty into which Jesus wanted to be born

800 years of Christmas in Greccio

05 December 2023

Br Cesare Vaiani, OFM, General Definitor and member of the Committee of the Franciscan Family for the VIII Franciscan Centenary, describes to us the peculiarity of Saint Francis' Christmas in Greccio 800 years ago.

After celebrating the Rule (1223-2023), this year we also celebrate the 800th Anniversary of Christmas in Greccio.

Francis wanted to celebrate that vigil on Christmas night, in which to see with ‘his own eyes’ (as he himself writes) the hardships and poverty in which Jesus wanted to be born and reconstructs in whatever way he could the same environment wherein Jesus’ birth came to pass: the cave, the donkey, the ox and an altar placed on the manger filled with hay. What is interesting to note about that night is that the celebration of the Eucharist is at the very centre of it, because according to Francis every time the Eucharist is celebrated the mystery of the Incarnation is repeated, because God makes Himself present in a piece of bread, in a little wine, as was evident on the night in Bethlehem. For this reason, at Christmas in Greccio there are no statues, but there is in fact the celebration of the Eucharist. The other beautiful intuition of Greccio's Christmas is the joy and beauty that Francis recognizes and reconstructs of the poverty of Jesus: an aesthetic of poverty" is born that makes us admire that essential poverty as a place of manifestation of beauty. Not the beauty of the world, but a deeper and truer beauty.

Approval of the Rule and Christmas at Greccio: can you explain, in your opinion, what is the relationship between these two events?

I think first of all we must be cautious in asserting a temporal and historical relationship between the two events, because experts tell us that the Rule was certainly approved by the Pope on 29 November 1223, but months passed before the official Bull was finished and reached Francis (it is said in March 1224). 

In this case, there would not be an immediate connection between the 'material' arrival of the approved Rule and the Christmas of Greccio. However, we can say that if the central insight of the Rule is to live the Gospel, the Christmas of Greccio is a reenactment, in the noble sense of the term, a dramatization of a central episode in the Gospel accounts. That passion for living the Gospel, for making it tangible, which animates the endorsed Rule, which animates all of Francis's life, is found in an exemplary manner in this episode of his life 

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