In the Italian National Parish of St. Lucy in Brooklyn, New York, during the 1950s and 1960s, a presepio was set up with a manger which excluded the Baby Jesus until Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, which was a neighborhood event. My friends and I served as altar boys at the Mass. The senior choir began singing Christmas carols at 11:00 pm, followed by a procession of the statue of Baby Jesus through the church just before Mass began. The choir and worshipers would sing the popular Italian Christmas carol Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle (You Come Down From The Stars), composed by St. Alphonsus Liguori with the modern, revised words written by Pope Pius IX. As the procession circulated around the church, the priest held the infant Jesus statue on a pillow. The profoundly moving song aroused and inspired almost everyone in the church to sing and to welcome Baby Jesus into the world. As an altar boy at many Midnight Masses, I could see the faces and reactions of the faithful as I passed each pew. Some would bow respectfully, some would pray reverently, some would genuflect solemnly and many scrambled to the aisles to place donations into the baskets and touch a kiss to the feet of Baby Jesus. Each in his own way offered homage to the Infant. The statue of Baby Jesus was then placed in the manger and Midnight Mass would begin. When the celebrant sang Gloria in Excelsis Deo, every bell in the church was rung, including the big bell in the tower to remind everyone of God’s gift to the world, the presence of the Baby Jesus among us.
By Vincent Manago of Manhasset, New York