Generally speaking, our family made a big thing of Christmas. The preparations already began with the First Sunday of Advent. At that time, the Rorate Masses were celebrated at six in the morning, and the priests wore white vestments. Normally violet is the color of the vestments in Advent, but these were special votive Masses that were supposed to recall the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to the Mother of God and her words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). That was the main theme of these “liturgies of the angels,” as they were also called, in which the appropriate passage from the Gospel of Luke was read. After we started school, we used to attend these Masses in the early morning, before classes began. Outside it was still night, everything was dark, and the people often shivered in the cold. Yet the warm glow of the sanctuary compensated for the early rising and the walk through snow and ice. The dark church was illuminated by candles and tapers, which were often brought by the faithful and provided not only light but also a little warmth. Afterward we went home first, ate breakfast, and only then set out for school. These Rorate Masses were wonderful signposts leading us to Christmas.
In our family, though, it was not only Christmas that was marked by the deep faith of our parents and the religious customs of our homeland. From our parents we learned what it means to have a firm grasp of faith in God. Every day we prayed together, and in fact before and after each meal (we ate our breakfast, dinner and supper together). The main prayer time was after the mid-day dinner, when the particular concerns of the family were expressed. Part of it was the prayer to Saint Dismas, the “good thief,” a former criminal who was crucified together with Jesus on Mount Calvary, repented on the cross, and begged the Lord for mercy. We prayed to him, the patron of repentant thieves, to protect Father from professional troubles.
Read more at and view a slideshow at Huffington Post Religion.
Read or download the ZENIT-exclusive “Excerpt from My Brother the Pope,” by Monsignor Georg Ratzinger as told to Michael Hesemann. Ignatius Press will release the English translation of the book on March 1, 2012.