In Austria, celebrations are underway this year to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the beloved Christmas carol, “Silent Night.” In the original German it is “Stille Nachte, heilige Nachte”, which means “Silent Night, Holy Night.” It is the most popular Christmas Carol of all time and the version sung by Bing Crosby is the third best-selling single of all-time
The original church where “Silent Night” was first heard, St. Nikolai in Oberndorf, Austria is now a pilgrimage site. Every year on Christmas Eve the bells chime to the tune of the world-renowned Christmas carol from the church tower as pilgrims gather for Holy Mass. “Silent Night” was composed and first performed during the difficult and impoverished times of Europe following the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815) These wars which had caused such great hardship had just come to an end when early on the morning of Christmas Eve, 1818, Father Joseph Mohr of the newly established St. Nicholas Parish requested the local school teacher and organist, Franz Gruber to write a “fitting melody” for his lyrics.
Gruber was to compose a melody for two solo voices together to be accompanied with choir. The parish priest wanted the music to be beautifully wedded to the God inspired words to “Silent Night.” Later that day, Franz Gruber presented his melody and music to Fr Joseph, who was overjoyed at the work. Since the parish organ was malfunctioning, Fr Mohr asked the parts to be written with an accompanying guitar. He would sing the tenor part and provide the accompanying guitar while Gruber sang the bass. The song was met with “general approval by all” of the small and impoverished congregation of St. Nikolai.
This beautiful hymn is written about one of the most Holy Nights in all of history. It reflects how God is still present in the stillness and silence, not only on Christmas Eve, but every day.
Yes, our loving God is always present in the silence of our hearts. “Silent Night” reminds us of our need for silent prayer and adoration of our loving God in our lives. Such prayer and adoration have never been in greater need in the midst of the loud and noisy culture in which we now live. This Christmas Carol beautifully and simply reflects Fr. Mohr’s desire to bring peace to the anxious people of his congregation.
These simple folk were living in the midst of the great economic hardship of post-war Europe including hunger, homelessness, unemployment, poverty and great suffering. The prophetic Fr Mohr penned the beautifully inspired words of “Silent Night” to which Franz Gruber leant his musical gift. These two men together created one of the loveliest marriages of words and music in any Christmas Carol.
Christmas Eve has always been a most sacred and holy night. In the Church, we sing sacred hymns and carols. We bless our crèche. We proclaim the birth of our Lord. And we prayerfully sing: "Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright, round yon' virgin, mother and child, holy infant, so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace; sleep in heavenly peace."
Robert Cardinal Sarah in his book, the Power of Silence, reminds us: “Through silence, we return to our heavenly origin, where there is nothing but calm, peace, repose, silent contemplation, and adoration of the radiant face of God.”
As we approach the most silent and holy of nights on Christmas, join us at Mass to commemorate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Join us in joyful song and silent prayer as we give thanks to God for the gift of His Son born on Christmas. Join us we call upon the strong Son of God to help carry our crosses.
Before we enter the joyful noise and distractions of family celebrations, take some time to come in silent adoration before the Christ Child. Kneel humbly before the King of Kings and Prince of Peace. Make Christmas 2018, a silent night, a holy night of faith, hope and love.
On behalf of Fr. Barrow, Fr. Connors, Deacon Dowd, Sister Lourdes and Sister Emma, I wish you a very Merry Christmas! Please know of our prayers for you as we celebrate Masses on Christmas. May the blessings of the Christ Child be yours this Christmas. A Happy and Holy Christmas!