Gladwyne's St. John Vianney Church Celebrates a Christmas Eve Mass

PHILADELPHIA - St. John Vianney Church in Gladwyne staged on Christmas Eve a special en plein air mass that featured live animals and a Christmas pageant with children outfitted in period costumes and portraying the usual cast of characters in the story that is the Nativity of Jesus.

Photos: Sharon Kozden

On the day prior to Christmas Eve, I spotted large tents, outdoor heat lamps, and warming fire pits being erected and installed on the front lawn of the Parish House adjacent to the church.

St johns GoatA donkey gives a young girl the shy eye.Green outdoor carpeting had been rolled out, and hay was strewn in an area cordoned off for a menagerie of animals (sheep, goats, and a donkey) not likely to be found at the neighboring Gladwyne Animal Hospital. I actually would not have been surprised if a camel had been represented.

Curious as I am, I nipped onto the parish website after my construction sightings to discover the alfresco mass would replicate the very first one in Bethlehem. From 19035 to the biblical birthplace of Jesus without having to endure any holiday airport travel delays as omicron surged and spread. Count me in!

Fortunately, the weather was seasonally temperate and sans precipitation for the late afternoon celebration. Folks arrived early with lawn- and camping chairs to stake ideal viewing spots.

I was immediately drawn to the animals. These magnificent creatures wandered beneath a grand tent, mingling with smitten kiddos, who were curious and engaged. They hugged and petted with joy and delight; none seemed to care when errant hay straws clung to seasonal Sunday-best threads.

A beautiful and perfectly fit-to-scale manger scene in front of the church was well-lighted, colorful, and lifelike in its details, depicting the miracle and the glory of Christmas as celebrated by Christians the world over. This rustic outpost shelter, where baby Jesus was born because there was no room at the inn, is often referred to as a creche and was festooned with fragrant white-pine roping. As both a logophile and a Francophile, I'm enamored with the word creche, borrowed from the French and referring to a stall, crib or manger.

St Johns KidsChildren dressed in period costumes smile for a group pose before lining up in procession.

I'm guessing Mary and Joseph weren't members of Philadelphia's Union League, so Gladwyne's Old Guard House Inn clearly was an obvious "no vacancy" for the couple in search of shelter. If the room had been available, said creche may never have been a "thang," as the kids say. Imagine no manger scenes to front yards, arrange beneath evergreen trees or decorate fireplace mantles. This is my little Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-like imagined revisionist thinking.

St. John Vianney's resident Pastor Father Bill Donovan said the mass with his usual passion, warmly greeting and wishing all a Merry Christmas. Beautiful vocals and singing were offered up. Families and individuals in attendance clearly enjoyed the observance, the festive atmosphere, and the post-mass congregating. As stated in the church literature, the Christmas Eve mass was very special, indeed.

A mon avi (in my opinion), it also was exceptionally well presented with safety in mind, as Lower Merion Police were on hand for traffic control and to ensure all involved were minded with professional care and concern. 

Now about that camel for 2022's service ...