As the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend prepare their hearts for the gift delivered on a silent night in a stable, visitors and parishioners of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Decatur will be ushered into the season of Advent with three nights of formation and inspiration. Coined “Nativity Nights” by organizers, St. Mary in Decatur will host three special nights on three consecutive Thursdays: December 7 (with the vigil Mass for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception), December 14, and December 21.
Each week throughout the year, the parish has a regularly scheduled 6 p.m. Mass that is followed by Eucharistic adoration until 8 p.m. During Advent’s Nativity Nights, though, special additions will be made, including speakers, music, and reflections.
Father Dave Ruppert, Pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption, said Nativity Nights have been going on since 2020, describing them as a hybrid between a parish mission, a penance service, and the regularly scheduled celebration of Mass. “The hope is that everyone can find an evening or two over the course of three or four weeks to attend, whereas one night or several consecutive nights may not be open for some people,” he said.
Whenever an attendee gets there, Father Ruppert and his crew have created the opportunity for a multifaceted, meaningful experience. “The format (Mass, adoration, confessions, prayer groups, speakers, etc.) has remained essentially the same with the idea of a series of meditations to prepare gradually for the coming of Christ and Christmas, which is the theme of [the] Advent season.”
The theme of preparation is evident in the Advent service. “We prepare for Christmas in many ways,” Father Ruppert said, “on the outside by decorating our houses and lighting our trees and wrapping our presents, but Advent Nativity Nights ask … us to focus inside, to decorate our hearts in repentance and light our souls with Christ, …wrapping our lives in loving, giving, and forgiving to help us celebrate Jesus’ first coming and prepare for His Second Coming.”
Being open to change led to the success of the programming. “The idea grew,” Father Ruppert said, “during COVID changes that prevented large Advent penance services, as well as practical aspects of scheduling a penance service or parish mission … due to fewer priests available on the same night for confessions, as well as people having schedule conflicts that may prevent attendance on certain dates.”
The St. Mary community invites anyone to attend one or all of the evenings. “This year,” Father Ruppert said, “we will have two different speakers followed by a praise and worship event such that all will be independent events unified by Eucharistic Revival and Advent themes.”
More specifically, this year, three special nights have been planned as part of the Nativity Nights series. On December 7, Bob Kloska, Chief Partnership Officer for Notre Dame Federal Credit Union, will join attendees. As the speaker for the Eucharistic Revival’s “Good News! Nights,” Kloska will talk about evangelization, being a Eucharistic missionary, and bringing those we know and love to Jesus.
Jason Shanks will bring his voice of servant leadership to Decatur on December 14. Shanks is President of the OSV Institute for Catholic Innovation and is currently helping to organize the National Eucharistic Congress.
Finally, on December 21, Shema Culture will visit the Decatur church. The group seeks to glorify God in its music and bring unity to Protestant and Catholic Christians.
Unity in prayer is a key aim of the Nativity Nights. Prayer groups will attend to pray with individuals in a new ministry in Decatur, each with two or three on a team, said Kris Dohrman, a parishioner at St. Mary who is spearheading the prayer group.
“We are in the beginning stages of forming [a] prayer ministry,” Dohrman said, “and are grateful for the experience of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.” The additional teams will come from St. Elizabeth to pray at the church during the Nativity Night on December 21.
“It is an overwhelming joy,” Dohrman said. “Jesus didn’t [just heal] 2,000 years ago. He still heals today. It is humbling to help bring Jesus to brothers and sisters carrying so many burdens. There is so much pain, hurt, and sin in the world, and Jesus wants to heal. Prayer ministry is a blessing that enables us to communicate His healing power to someone in need of His presence.”
Another special type of prayer will also be available during the programming. Used regularly by the St. Mary community (including students at St. Joseph School in Decatur), quiet reflection can be made with the Stations of the Nativity, which parallel the Stations of the Cross, but with the birth of Christ, rather than His death, as the focus.
Focusing on the real meaning of the season, these evenings of prayer can be a gift to those who attend.
“We all sin,” Dohrman said. “We are all in need of Jesus’ healing touch. He wants to heal … physically, emotionally, spiritually. We invite all to come and see what the Holy Spirit is waiting to do!”
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