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Manassas parish offers comfort during a ‘Blue Christmas’

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“Blue Christmas” is more than just an Elvis Presley tune. It’s the way some experience what others call the most wonderful time of the year. Depression, the death of a loved one or other hardships can make treasured Christmas memories painful and leave old traditions out of reach. 

Sadness doesn’t always have a place among bearers of yuletide cheer. So for those who mourn, Michele Stanco started the ecumenical Blue Christmas prayer service at Sacred Heart Church in Manassas. “We all have sadness in our hearts, some more than others, and it is good to have this quiet, safe place to reflect on God's love,” said Stanco, who serves on the parish health ministry team. 

This is the third year for the comforting candlelit service led by Deacon Timothy H. Slayter and open to all Christians in the area. The liturgy begins with the singing of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and words from the book of Isaiah: “Even youth will faint and be weary and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Near the altar, after the Gospel, three candles are lit: one in remembrance of the dead, the other two in acknowledgment of loss, with a prayer for continual guidance from God during hard times. A fourth candle is lit as a sign of hope, a literal light in the darkness of the dimmed church. Throughout the lighting, they sing “My Soul in Stillness Waits,” a melancholy Advent hymn. Finally, each participant lights their own candle. 

“At the end, I’m at the front and it’s really moving to see the candles, even when there’s only a few people,” said Stanco. 

Each year, the service reminds Deacon Slayter of those who suffer in silence. “I remember that sometimes there are people who don't have a voice, and I think God looks favorably on those people. God loves them immensely in their suffering,” he said. “In the holiday season, loss is more prominent. My wife thinks about her mom who died young, and she misses her. Some people turn inward but this service lets us turn (sadness) over to prayer. It doesn't try to fix people, but it can have an element of healing.”

“If you’re sad about something, there’s a tendency to keep it to yourself,” said Stanco. “This is a chance to look around and say, ‘I'm not the only one who’s sad here. I can still find joy, I can still have a good time. It's OK for me to feel sad about something but I can still enjoy this wonderful time of the year in the church.’ ”

Find out more

The Blue Christmas prayer service will be held Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 12975 Purcell Rd., Manassas. For more information, contact Michele Stanco at 703/216-5668 or michele.stanco@yahoo.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018