BREWER, Maine — Five-week-old William Matthew Whalen rested silently in the arms of Michele Maybury, 10, Thursday afternoon at the front of St. Joseph Catholic Church.
The girl, clad in blue, only occasionally needed to look down at him. On one side of the “mother and child” stood other Brewer children clad as angels. On the other, stood “her husband,” Joseph, and several boys dressed as shepherds. Three more children, outfitted as the wise men, carefully clutched their gifts for the Christ child.
“This was how the birth of Jesus Christ took place,” the Rev. Roland Nadeau, the chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, read from Matthew. The first chapter tells the story of the marriage of Mary to Joseph and the child’s virgin birth.
It was a scene repeated Christmas Eve in Catholic and Protestant churches around the globe as Christians focused on the religious significance of their Savior’s birth celebrated today. Most churches throughout Maine were, like St. Joseph’s on North Main Street in Brewer, full with people shoulder-to-shoulder in pews and latecomers standing at the back.
“There’s a new kid in town and he’s lying in a manger down the road,” the choir group sang. “There’s a new kid in town, but he’s just another baby, I suppose. Heaven knows there’s a new kid here in Bethlehem.”
The group blended the modern carol by Alan Jackson with traditional hymns such as “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger.”
“That is the best baby Jesus I have ever seen,” Nadeau, 73, declared as he began his homily and the child, born on Nov. 19, continued sleeping.
Speaking directly to the children, the priest, who lives in the St. Joseph rectory, asked, “What do you give Jesus for Christmas? What do you give someone who has everything?
“We give him our hearts,” Nadeau said, answering his own question.
Dawn MacKay, the parish catechetical leader, said after the Mass that it is important for children to put on costumes and re-enact the Nativity to “give them a visual for the story.”
“We’re also training our children to be leaders in the church,” said MacKay, 49, of Brewer. “This is another way to begin to do that. And, it brings alive the concept that we still are living this story today.”
Baby William continued to sleep after Mass, but in the arms of his real father, Jeffrey Whalen, 30, of Brewer. His daughter, Juliana Grace, who will turn 7 next week, held the hand of her mother, Shannon Whalen, 28, as people filed past the front pew to peer at her little brother.
Jeffrey Whalen grew up in St. Joseph’s church and was in the Christmas pageant as a child, he said.
“It was incredibly wonderful to see the whole family in church tonight,” said his mother, Cheryl Whalen, 57, of Brewer. “It was the best Christmas present ever.”