St Francis: The First Nativity Scene

St Bonaventure on the first live Nativity scene, created by Francis of Assisi in 1223:

Now three years before his death it befell that he was minded, at the town of Greccio, to celebrate the memory of the Birth of the Child Jesus, with all the added solemnity that he might, for the kindling of devotion. That this might not seem an innovation, he sought and obtained license from the Supreme Pontiff, and then made ready a manger, and bade hay, together with an ox and an ass, be brought unto the spot. The Brethren were called together, the folk assembled, the wood echoed with their voices, and that august night was made radiant and solemn with many bright lights, and with tuneful and sonorous praises. The man of God, filled with tender love, stood before the manger, bathed in tears, and overflowing with joy. Solemn Masses were celebrated over the manger, Francis, the Levite of Christ, chanting the Holy Gospel. Then he preached unto the folk standing round of the Birth of the King in poverty, calling Him, when he wished to name Him, the Child of Bethlehem, by reason of his tender love for Him. A certain knight, valorous and true, Messer John of Greccio, who for the love of Christ had left the secular army, and was bound by closest friendship unto the man of God, declared that he beheld a little Child right fair to see sleeping in that manger. Who seemed to be awakened from sleep when the blessed Father Francis embraced Him in both arms. This vision of the devout knight is rendered worthy of belief, not alone through the holiness of him that beheld it, but is also confirmed by the truth that it set forth, and withal proven by the miracles that followed it. For the ensample of Francis, if meditated upon by the world, must needs stir up sluggish hearts unto the faith of Christ, and the hay that was kept back from the manger by the folk proved a marvellous remedy for sick beasts, and a prophylactic against divers other plagues, God magnifying by all means His servant, and making manifest by clear and miraculous portents the efficacy of his holy prayers.

The Life of St Francis OF AsSisi (LEGENDA SANTI FRANCISCI), by St Bonaventure. X: Of his fervour and diligence in prayer

Read or download Bonaventure’s The Life of St Francis of Assisi here.

Benediction (John Macquarrie)

Benediction is not a practice observed in any Anglican parish I’ve been part of, but it’s played a part in my visits to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and, more recently, to the brothers of the Society of St Francis at Alnmouth. I’ve found it, and the accompanying Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, an uplifting spiritual experience.

The Franciscan friars helpfully provided a short essay by the late Anglo-Catholic theologian John Macquarrie, which explains the practice simply and beautifully:

Benediction … makes real to us in an impressive way the fact that God is always reaching out to us, to bless, to strengthen, to assure us of his loving kindness toward us.

Read the full essay here (PDF): Some thoughts on Benediction from Professor John Macquarrie (PDF)