It was over thirty years ago that Saint John Paul II introduced a new tradition, Bambinelli Sunday, the blessing of the Christ Child figurines on the Third Sunday of Advent. On that day, the children of Rome present their little Baby Jesus for the Pope’s blessing before returning home and placing it in the crèche. This delightful tradition is gradually spreading to parishes around the world and is, I think, a beautiful connection between the parish and the domestic church.
On this occasion in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared:
The blessing of the “Bambinelli” as they are called in Rome, reminds us that the crib is a school of life where we can learn the secret of true joy. This does not consist in having many things but in feeling loved by the Lord, in giving oneself as a gift for others and in loving one another. Let us look at the crib. Our Lady and St Joseph do not seem to be a very fortunate family; their first child was born in the midst of great hardship; yet they are full of deep joy, because they love each other, they help each other and, especially, they are certain that God, who made himself present in the little Jesus, is at work in their story. And the shepherds? What did they have to rejoice about? That Newborn Infant was not to change their condition of poverty and marginalization. But faith helped them recognize the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” as a “sign” of the fulfilment of God’s promises for all human beings, “with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2: 12, 14).
This, dear friends, is what true joy consists in: it is feeling that our personal and community existence has been visited and filled by a great mystery, the mystery of God’s love. In order to rejoice we do not need things alone, but love and truth: we need a close God who warms our hearts and responds to our deepest expectations. This God is manifested in Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary. Therefore that “Bambinello” which we place in a stable or a grotto is the centre of all things, the heart of the world. Let us pray that every person, like the Virgin Mary, may accept as the centre of his or her life the God who made himself a Child, the source of true joy.
So many Christmas traditions no longer have an obvious connection to the sacredness of the feast. Their symbolism has been lost over the years and is not apparent. Bambinelli Sunday stirs my catechetical heart – what an opportunity to emphasize the proper place that Jesus has in our homes and hearts, especially during the Advent/Christmas season! I can just imagine the solemn procession of a family returning from Mass, the figure of Baby Jesus carried by a young child and placed within the manger. A little prayer and perhaps a little egg nog to seal the deal!
If your parish has not yet introduced Bambinelli Sunday, your pastor will surely be willing to bless your Baby Jesus if you ask him. In doing so, you might just be the spark that starts a new parish tradition.