Glencairn Abbey Cards

Featured card of the day: Holy Night

Today we feature card C13, Holy Night, one of Sr Paula’s illustrated capitals.

Around Christmas time we will frequently hear Adolphe Adam’s popular “O Holy Night”, which sings of the “Holy night when Christ was born.” The Gospel doesn’t actually tell us at what time of day Jesus was born, but it is traditionally understood to have been at midnight. The book of Wisdom says that “All was silence and night had run just half of its course, when your all-powerful Word, Lord, leaped down from heaven.” So developed the custom of having Mass at midnight to celebrate Christ’s birth.

In the scene on this card, the newborn infant lies in his crib, watched and adored by the Virgin Mary and St Joseph. Once again, the infant is in the lowest position on the card. He has humbled himself and come down to earth, as a tiny child, in the lowest place, laid in a manger. His surroundings are utterly simple – his very basic crib, his plain swaddling blanket, the unadorned clothes of Mary and Joseph.

All the lines point to him. The rays of the star lead our gaze down to him. The position of the adult figures, the direction of their gaze, the line formed by the three haloes, the little line formed by the bent fingers of Joseph’s hand, all draw us to Jesus. Though he is apparently the lowest and least, he is in fact the centre of all that is happening.

Just two colours are used in the card: dark blue and silver. The silver is found in the star and in the haloes, representing divinity and, as with the Infant (Come Let us Adore) card, tells us that the infant has his origin in the heavens.

And see: here is the cross again. This time it is not just the letter “t” (in “night”), but two other crosses are added, one “dotting” the “i” and the other as a kind of punctuation mark at the end. They are undeniably crosses, reminding us that the child whose birth we celebrate is also the one who will die on the cross for our salvation. And these crosses are in silver, for the cross too is transformed by God into a pathway to glory.

We do not see the features of the faces of the three people in this scene, apart from the eyelashes of Mary and Joseph – and yet the artist is so skillful that these truly are faces, people that we can relate to.

The arc of the capital H can be seen as the frame or doorway of the stable at Bethlehem, over which the star is shining. Or the thick hump of the arc, through which the divine light from the star is penetrating, can be seen as the barrier which had been established by sin between God and humanity: through the birth of Christ that barrier is now penetrated, as heaven has truly come down to earth.

What are those stalks emerging from the crib? Jesus’ crib was a manger, a feeding-trough for animals – are they stalks of hay? Or wheat? They seem like something fruitful, edible… is this a sign that Jesus himself will become our food, bread for the world? And these stalks are leaning not towards Jesus but out to all corners of the world, which he will feed with his own flesh and blood.

Finally, the text “Holy Night” itself leads us to think of the other “Holy Night” celebrated in the liturgy, the night of the Easter Vigil and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, to which this Holy Night of Christmas is oriented.

Inside, the card includes the text of a beautiful antiphon from the Christmas liturgy: All that the prophets foretold is fulfilled. Christ is born of the Virgin Mary; like rain falling gently on the earth he comes to save his people.

And the greeting is: May this holy night fill you and your loved ones with an abundance of blessings.

This card is available only in English.

1 comment

  • I can also see the nails of the crucifixion in the posts of the crib. Thank you for the beautiful card and the sensitive analysis of its meaning.

    Patricia Huntzinger

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