We began the day at Shepherd’s Field, where Scripture tells us the Angel (St. Gabriel, by tradition) heralded the birth of the Messias to lowly shepherds tending their flock at night (Lk 2:8-15). At once the Angel was joined by the whole heavenly host rejoicing at God made man, singing Gloria in excelsis Deo.
A twentieth century Franciscan shrine with an especially good acoustic has been erected on the peak overlooking the field below in honor of the appearance of the holy angels to the shepherds. The side of the hill surrounding the shrine is speckled with caves were shepherds, for millennia, have corralled their flocks at night for safekeeping. The entryways to the caves are narrow and would be partially covered with a drape. To help keep the sheep from wandering out and to deter wolves from wandering in, the shepherds would sleep at night kneeling in the upright position at the entrance. This is not necessarily the safest job for the shepherd because the wolf might eat him too, if it’s hungry enough! The shepherds of Luke’s Gospel, likewise, would have received the Angel’s message kneeling at the entryways of the hillside’s many caves.
In the Bible, the sheepfold is often used as an image of the Church. Its door is narrow. To pass, you must be brought in by the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.
At the request of Fr. Kratz, the brothers chanted the Gloria in the church for the other pilgrims. Mass setting VIII (Missa de Angelis) seemed the appropriate choice. Although this Mass setting is easily the most commonplace at traditional parishes, some pilgrims were moved to tears, having never heard the ancient Latin chants of their own ritual church. For many it was their first hearing of the sacred, angelic song in Latin. It was a great privilege for the brothers, with the assistance of the holy angels, to be an instrument of such a grace on the very spot where the Gloria was first heard by human ears.
And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us. (Lk 2: 15)
Following in the footsteps of the humble shepherds, we make our way next to Bethlehem to find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.