CHRISTMAS IN POPULAR DEVOTION
must now pass to those popular devotions to the Christ Child which, though thev form no part of the Church's liturgy, she has permitted and encouraged. It is in the West that we shall find them ; the Latin Church, as we have seen, makes far more of Christmas than the Greek.
Rome is often condemned for using in her liturgy the dead language of Latin, but it must not be forgotten that in every country she offers to the faithful a rich store of devotional literature in their own tongue, and that, supplementary to the liturgical offices, there is much public prayer and praise in the vernacular. Nor, in that which appeals to the eye, does she limit herself to the mysterious symbolism of the sacraments and the ritual which surrounds them ; she gives to the people concrete, pictorial images to quicken their faith. How ritual grew in mediaeval times into full-fledged drama we shall see in the next chapter ; here let us consider that cult of the Christ Child in which the scene of Bethlehem is represented not by living actors but in plastic art, often most simple and homely.
The use of the "crib" (French creche, Italian presepio, German krippe) at Christmas is now universally diffused in the Roman Church. Most readers of this book must have seen one of these structures representing the stable at Bethlehem, with the Child in the manger, His mother and St. Joseph, the ox and the ass, and perhaps the shepherds, the three kings, or worshipping angels. They are the delight of children, who through the season of Christmas and Epiphany wander into the open churches at all times of day to gaze wide-eyed on the life-like scene and offer a prayer to their Little Brother. No one with anything of the child-spirit can fail to be touched by the charm of the Christmas crib. Faults of artistic taste there may often be, but these are wont to be softened down by the flicker of tapers, the glow of ruby lights, amidst the shades of some dim aisle or chapel, and the scene of tender humanity, gently, mysteriously radiant, as though with " bright shoots of everlastingness," is full of religious and poetic suggestions.
The institution of the presepio is often ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi, who in the year 1224 celebrated Christmas at Greccio