The Catholic Defender: The History of Christmas Carols

Posted by John Benko - December 5th, 2013

My Mother passed away 1 August 2006 just before I was to deploy with the 2-5 Cavalry to Iraq for what would be a 15 month deployment.

I was on leave and on the final day of my leave, my wife and I was just leaving for Fort Hood Texas when we received the news something was going on with my Mother.

I drove back to the farm and ran into Mom’s bedroom. She was not breathing (agonal respirations) normal and she obviously was in a coma state.

I quickly began doing rescue breathing 1 breath every 5 seconds. My wife, Gigi was listening to the breath sounds as we worked together to keep oxygen going through her. She had a pulse at the time so I didn’t need to do CPR.

As I was doing the rescue breathing for her, we called for the Ambulance to come and get her. I was praying the rosary then the Divine Mercy Chaplet as we worked on Mom.

Finally, we got her to the hospital and I called Father who came and anointed her with the Anointing of the Sick. Mom would pass early in the morning after my Brother and I had prayed the rosary together for her.

I received an extension on my leave as we had a week before the funeral. People were coming from miles around to honor my Mother. Many were Indians from Kansas Reservation, Oklahoma, and Missouri. Several camped out all over the farm and celebrated some of the Indian rituals.

My Brother was concerned that I might try to preach to them so we made a pact that these people were here to honor Mom.

She was getting a Catholic funeral, with some of the honor friends and family gave her. On the night before the funeral, the Indians set up a large set of tables and held a feast. They honored my wife letting her sit in Mom’s place and they gave her Mom’s blanket.

After this, everyone got into a large circle when an Indian drummer and singer sang Indian songs for a few minutes.

My Brother began to tell stories of Mom as we remembered her life.

Then he began singing a Johnny Cash song which led to people singing what ever came to mind.

I went and grabbed Gigi’s auto harp when she saw me. She motioned me to not bring that out but it was too late.

The Indians saw me with it and implored her to sing. She began singing some of the show tunes she sang competing for Miss America.

Then one Indian asked her if she could sing a Gospel song. Gigi sang “How great thou Art” and everyone loved it. They asked for more. She sang for a good half hour and I was so proud of her.

Gigi did more to reach them through the sweetness of her voice and the power of the song than I could by preaching to them. My Brother was right on this one!

Gigi would sing a song at the funeral Mass for Mom her favorite song.

This touched everyone at Mass to include those not Catholic. It is a great blessing to me when we get together with others and sing songs of the faith.

I use to love to go Christmas Caroling with groups going out through the neighborhood. I would participate with Soldiers as we would go through our Camp in Iraq singing Christmas songs. Even in a place like that you could be filled with peace.

Christmas Caroling has a unique history. Pope Telephorus, the seventh successor of St. Peter, began the tradition of Midnight Mass on the eve of Christmas as early as 125 A.D. He had much to do with beginning the Church calender we continue today.

In AD 129, Pope Telephorus said that a song called ‘Angel’s Hymn’ should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. This tradition would take off as the people developed a universal celebration of Christmas.

In 1223 St. Francis began setting up Nativity plays throughout Italy and through the singing of these plays, the people began to spread this devotion to France, Spain, Germany and throughout Europe.

Christmas caroling would grow as people of good will everywhere wanted to share the Christmas story in song.

Singing on Christmas Eve was symbolic of the shepherds who keep vigil over the flocks when the angels announced the good news, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

Soon several orchestras and choirs were drawing large crowds in the cities enhancing the popularity of Christmas Carols. Christmas carols were very popular at Midnight Mass along with the candlelight services.

At times because of war and plagues, Christmas caroling slowed down, at other times, it was most popular. Today, we see a decline of interest in Christmas caroling in society as different groups try to keep alive the Christmas spirit. Some of my favorite Christmas songs are:

Away in a manger
Hark the Herold angels sing
Joy to the world
O come all ye faithful
Silent Night
The first Noel

May the Lord place a good song in the heart and give everyone of you a very Merry Christmas!

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