Catholic Activity: Jesse Tree Ornament Ideas and Blessing
Here are some ornament suggestions for your Jesse tree and the formula for the Christmas tree blessing.
Several years ago Worship carried a delightful article by Sister Margaret Rose, C.S.J., about a Jesse tree. Since it was precisely what we needed to refresh with Christian dedication our own use of the Christmas tree, we want to recall it here.
The idea is somewhat the same as the decoration of our Christ candle described in Chapter 1, except that with a Christmas tree there is room for more things. Every symbol known or invented, every story, the Gospel and Advent figures — as many things as are suitable — compose the decorations for the tree. Using time-honored techniques for making Christmas tree decorations, we have cut, pasted, twisted, tied, painted, baked, and invented many decorations, and the attendant searching through Scripture for ideas and decorations would do a religion teacher's heart good.
First we made an apple of red paper (one year it was a cookie) with green leaves and two bites out of it. Then Lucifer, a bright yellow serpent cut from a circle with the cut circling inward so that he hangs like a spring. Our Lady is there, a lily piercing the serpent with its stalk — as she was prophesied in the beginning, there in the Garden. The ark is gay, and the dove with the olive branch pacific. Noe hangs, with a thread through his handsome beard, and Abraham walks with the sword and the fire, one in each hand. Isaac carries his bundle of sticks, like Christ His cross, and Jacob is there with his ladder, a folded paper ladder which spans from one branch to another as from Heaven to earth, while golden angels hanging from branches above seem to ascend and descend, somewhat stubbornly refusing to put their feet on the ladder. St. Joseph is there in the carpenter's symbols, and the donkey that carried Mary so faithfully is there. The manger is surmounted by a Chi Rho, and a trumpeter angel is there; a great star, and a crown with twelve stars around it, and little shepherds and their sheep. Then there are secret symbols of their patron saints which each child has prepared, to be guessed by the others; these saints are among the most important because, born in original sin like all the children of Adam, they were redeemed by the Babe of Bethlehem who died on the cross and grafted them by the Incarnation not only to His family tree, but to Himself in the Mystical Body by Baptism. Among these are our very good friends, the Advent and Christmas saints.
Some of our decorations are cookies, some are paper, some are odd combinations of pipe cleaner, foil, glitter, ribbon, wire — whatever we have saved because we were sure we ought not to throw it out. Tiny odd-shaped boxes, the cardboard forms ribbons come on, such things painted or covered with bright paper always suggest some symbol for a Jesse tree. For all those people who absolutely cannot draw a straight line (most probably can but haven't tried), the figures of the saints, angels, and prophets may be cut from old Christmas cards, illustrations, or wherever a likely figure appears, mounted on stiff paper and substituted for the figures done "out of your head." But do try them out of your head first. You'll be surprised to see what you can do.
A tiny house made from a box is Our Lady's house at Loreto, and there is a rose for the Christmas rose, a harp for David (we have a little harp from Ireland), and a gilded cross of twigs for St. John the Baptist, with a piece of chalk for Zachary (who had to write on his tablet "His name shall be John"). Some, of course, are not legitimate Jesse tree ornaments, but they still bear on this story, which begins our Redemption; as such, they have a place on our tree.
A round white disk like the Host and a tiny loaf of real bread remind us of both daily breads for which we ever pray.
Then there are the things from the fields and woods that are beautiful as they are, or sometimes painted or gilded; and there is popcorn on strings and cranberry garlands and gingerbread boys with long skirts to appear as prophets. Added to these are our traditional ornaments. One has not the heart to part with these, nor is it necessary — now that we know what a Christmas tree should do, what a Christmas tree should be.
On Christmas Eve the father of the house or some older member of the family reads the Blessing of a Tree, and we all think about the meaning of the ornaments, a shining forth of joy and gladness telling that a Saviour has been born.
Father or Leader. Our help is in the name of the Lord. All. Who hath made heaven and earth.
Antiphon (all). All the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord, for He comes. Psalm 95 (divide the group and alternate reading the lines).
(This Psalm begs us to praise the Lord and sings of His coming at the end of time. Our Lord warned us to watch for the signs of His Second Coming in the Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent. We add to this, this night, our anticipation of another celebration of His first coming.)
Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all you lands: Sing to the Lord, bless His name, announce His salvation, day after day:
Among the heathen tell His glory, His marvels to every people. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, to be feared more than all the gods:
The gods of the heathen are nothings, but the Lord — He made the heaven. Glory and majesty stand before Him, strength and splendor are in His sanctuary.
Declare to the Lord, you families of nations, declare to the Lord His glory and strength: declare to the Lord the glory of His name:
Offer sacrifice and come into His courts: worship the Lord in holy attire, Tremble before Him, all the earth! Say among the nations: The Lord is King.
He has set the earth firm, not to be moved, He rules the peoples with justice. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, the sea thunder with all its waves:
Let the fields be glad, and all their creatures, all the trees of the wood shout for joy Before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to rule the earth:
He will judge the world with justice, and the peoples with His truth.
Antiphon repeated (all). All the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord, for He comes.
Lesson from the Prophet Ezechiel, 17:22-24 (leader).
Thus said the Lord God: I myself will take the top of the high cedar, and will set it: I will crop off a tender twig from the top of the branches thereof, and I will plant it on a mountain high and eminent. On the high mountains of Israel will I plant it and it shall shoot forth into branches, and shall bear fruit, and it shall become a great cedar: and all the birds shall dwell under it, and every fowl shall make its nest under the shadow of the branches thereof, and all the trees of the country shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, and exalted the low tree: and have dried up the green tree, and have caused the dry tree to flourish. I the Lord have spoken and have done it.
All. Thanks be to God.
Leader. And there shall come forth a shoot. All. Out of the root of Jesse.
Leader. In Him was life. All. And the life was the light of men.
Leader. O Lord hear my prayer. All. And let my cry come unto Thee.
Leader. The Lord be with you. All. And with thy spirit.
Let us pray. Holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God, Who hast caused Thy Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to be planted like a tree of life in Thy Church, by being born of the most Holy Virgin Mary, bless, we beseech Thee, this tree that all who see it may be filled with a holy desire to be ingrafted as living branches into the same Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end.
(Sprinkles tree with holy water.)
Then we sing a song. The great carol rehearsal has always been a part of our Advent, even after we learned that Christmas carols are not proper, but only Advent carols, during the four weeks. We did not cling to our old ways to be perverse, but because we knew only one Advent carol, "The Cherry Tree Carol," and so few Advent songs. We are glad to discover more of them in the kind of notation we can read (after a fashion), to discover the two Advent songs included in The Story of the Redemption for Children, [Catholic Culture Editor's Note: This is now available online as a .pdf file from Musica Sacra] to see that the difficult Rorate Coeli (Drop Down Dew) and O Antiphons are not so difficult and may even be within our reach now that they are published in English translations and our kind of notation. We have yet to hear them sung enough, however, to be sure that we are singing them right.
Activity Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956