The Peace of Mary
This year for the first time I was able to participate in the celebration of Epiphany at my Church (The Christian Community – the Church inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner). I was privileged to participate in the most beautiful children's festival I have ever been a part of. I would like to tell you about this.
In front of the altar, we built a "mountain" of chairs. This was covered by brown and white cloths and lengths of ivy were strewn here and there on it. To the rear of the mountain there was a shallow grotto. On its shelf was placed a picture of Mary and in front of her a number of votive (nightlight) candles and several large minerals, such as rose quartz and amethyst. On one side the censer hung, filled with charcoal, ready for incense.
The room was darkened, lit only by candles and a few dimmed lights. A member of the congregation played quiet Epiphany carols on the piano and the families were let in, the chairs of the sanctuary arranged in a semi circle before the mountain. From where they were sitting, those assembled could not see the grotto or what was within.
Then there was a loud knock at the door – it was opened and in walked the Three Kings, bearing their gifts, singing majestically and in beautiful harmony. An angel appeared and they followed the star she carried. The kings spoke of their quest and their journey and then laid their gifts before Mary. Then they stood to one side, leaving a space between themselves and the grotto where Mary gazed out.
The angel went to the families assembled and, taking three children at a time, led them to a table where she solemnly placed a crown on each child's head. Then she slowly led them around the mountain to where they paused before the grotto. They stood for a moment in silence. Then the angel took some incense from the gift given by the King and placed a few grains into each child's hand. Then in turn each child carefully – so carefully – sprinkled the incense into the censor. The smoke and scent filled the room. Then the angel slowly led the children back to the table, removed their crowns and the children quietly returned to their seats as the angel took the next three on their journey. Not a word was spoken the whole time.
I had the good fortune to be sitting closest of anyone to the grotto. I had the best view in that I could see every child's face completely. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I watched children from barely 2 to over 12 walk reverentially and carefully with the angel. There was no messing around. There was no whispering. There was nothing but the most blessed reverence and awe as each child looked deeply into the picture of Mary and each child carefully offered his or her gift. Not one of them even looked at the kings who stood not more than 3 feet away. Their eyes – and hearts – were completely and utterly focused on Mary. Even those children who had done this several times before over the years gave no indication whatsoever that this was anything but the most Holy, most sacred thing that they were doing. There was no "oh not this again." A true ritual, a true act of reverence, rings true every time it is done, and never becomes stale.
The peace in the room was absolute. The adults and those older children who did not go up sang or hummed quietly along with the piano. There were a few breaks in the singing – no directions, questions, whispering – not even fidgeting! – broke the peace in the room.
When all the children had gone up, the angel departed. Then the kings sang again, traveled around the room and left. They continued to sing as they walked out through the vestry and into the main part of the Church – there was absolute stillness in the sanctuary as everyone listened to their strong beautiful voices fade into the distance.
Then our priest spoke a few words and everyone left quietly, peacefully. How blessed those children and families were to begin the New Year with such a gift! How rare it is for children – and adults – to be able to experience such a spirit-affirming and uplifting act.
A member of the congregation protested that the way the mountain was set up meant that the parents could not see Mary. But the priest who was organizing the festival said that if the parents could see Mary, many would say to their children something like "So – did you see Mary?" or similar. But if they did not know what the children saw, they could then just receive what the children might – or might not – share. And as children (especially the very young) see far more than adults do, they might have something very special indeed to share with their parents.