Sermon Illustrations

Silent Night Carol

On a cold Christmas Eve in 1818 Father Joseph Franz Mohr (1792-1848) walked the three kilometres from his home - in the Austrian village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg - to visit his friend Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863) in the neighboring town of Arnsdorf bei Laufen.

Mohr brought with him a poem he had written some two years earlier. He desperately needed a carol for the Christmas Eve midnight mass that was only a few hours away.

He hoped his friend, Gruber, a school teacher who also served as the church’s choir master and organist, could set his poem to music.

And so Franz Gruber composed the melody for the carol Silent Night ("Stille Nacht") for Mohr in just a few hours on that December 24, 1818.

Recent flooding of the nearby Salzach river had put the church organ out of commission, so Gruber composed the music for guitar accompaniment.

A few hours after Gruber finished his composition, he and Mohr stood before the altar of the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf to perform their own work.

A local choir group backed them up as the sounds of the brand new carol broke the silence of that “Silent Night” in the mountain village of Oberndorf on 24th December 1818.

Sadly, the story of the broken church organ, though famous - is a fiction. Though it is true that Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber did write the carol “Silent Night” in 1818.

Distinguishing fact or fiction is what this morning’s Gospel reading is all about.

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