Expecting a blue Christmas?

The term was news to me when I first heard it, but observances of a “blue Christmas” seem to be spreading. These are worship services designed for those who know that the upcoming Christmas celebrations will be painful for them, usually because of the loss of a loved one in the past year. A blue Christmas service allows people to acknowledge their sense of loss and the shadow it casts over this holiday season, with its deeply emotional and familial traditions.
I wonder whether there are Catholic parishes that offer a blue Christmas worship service too? And what liturgical forms are proving helpful here?

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18 comments

  1. During Advent I usually include in the Intercessions a prayer for those who are not looking forward to Christmas, for whatever reason – for example:
    Those who have been bereaved, or who have a family member or other beloved person who has disappeared and is untraced.
    Those who are experiencing financial hardship, and do not know how or whether they will be able to provide.
    Those for whom Christmas brings bitter memories of deep hurt.
    Those who fear violence or abuse or substance abuse or family discord at this time of year.
    Those who feel isolated, or who feel alienated by the presumed festivity of the time.
    Those who are homeless, or refugees.
    Those who have serious illness in the family, perhaps someone approaching death.
    Those in a situation of crisis pregnancy for any reason.
    Other reasons, I’m sure, could be added.

    1. Re # 1: I find these intercessions very thoughtful and helpful. Thank you for posting them here. I will be more mindful during Advent, in open intercessions after the scripted ones, to voice some of these needs.

  2. This has been done in my diocese for the past 10 years or so by a small number of parishes, in the days leading up to Christmas. It is normally a “Blue Mass”, with a big emphasis on hospitality, praying specifically and at length for loved ones who are no longer alive but also including others who are in other places (e.g. prison). The rationale for having Mass is that those who attend are precisely those who do not feel able to attend a Christmas Mass which they would formerly have been able to do alongside their spouse, child, parent, partner, etc, because the memories are just too painful. The use of Advent texts, hymns and songs on the theme of watching, waiting, and hope seem to fulfil a need, and numbers attending are often high.

    1. Re # 2: liturgically, this idea of a “Blue Mass” intrigues me. We are gathering a liturgical community here out of those who are pained and alienated by what the liturgical season itself (and its cultural overgrowth) has produced. I wonder whether that paradigm is applicable elsewhere (e.g., Easter — for those who continue to stand under the cross, when the church explodes with Hallelujahs). Or is this primarily a felt need at CHRISTMAS, with its heavily familial, emotional, gift-giving, love-on-earth overtones?

    2. @Paul Inwood – comment #2:
      I haven’t lived in your diocese for 12 years or so, but I would love to attend such a Mass. I should ask around East Anglia now I’m up here…

  3. I have been working in intercessions that do refer to struggles with this time of year. That said, like you Teresa, am intrigued with the idea of a mass.

    And even before I had read your full comment, thoughts of Easter came to mind, because not everyone feels the power of the resurrection on cue, do they? Christmas is so obvious, but there is something about Easter as well…

    I will ponder and pray. And bring up at liturgy committee, and additionally to the parish where I am employed.

    For what it is worth, a friend of mine is offering an online retreat during Advent, along these very lines. It is called, Waiting in the Night: Spirit and Struggle in Advent I am interested in what she is doing as I consider our pastoral care models in the parish.

    Thank you for such rich food for thought.

  4. I can see some sense in having a separate celebration.
    But the goal beyond that, surely, is to integrate the blue into the parish community, particularly by bringing about an awareness in the parish that there are those in the parish who are suffering in some way.
    The support of the Christian community can be galvanised through this sensitivity, so that those in difficulty do not have the added burden of being unnecessarily isolated. To be Catholic means to be welcoming to all, including those whose experience at this time is not according to the standard presumed model.
    The Christmas narrative itself has it’s own portents of suffering, as for example in the Holy Innocents, and in the words of Simeon in the Temple.

    1. @Pádraig McCarthy – comment #6:
      I agree with you about the darker side of the Christian story of Christmas (think but of mangers depicted as miniature coffins in some paintings). It is more the larger cultural production of Christmas that has so sentimentalized the stark reality of God being born into rather miserable human conditions that causes people to have the blues and find them incongruous with Christmas.

  5. In our parish we have been celebrating a Mass of Remembrance on All Souls Day for many years giving those who have lost loved ones to death either recently or long ago an opportunity to honor and remember them before the “holidays” begin. Attendance grows every year and participants voice their appreciation for the celebration but the emphasis is on loss to death. It was originally an effort to respond to Blue Christmas celebrations that this practice began in our parish. This gives me much food for thought about considering either including some of these aspects of the “down or blue” aspects of the season of celebration that are painful for many people either in this Mass or at a separate celebration. I am also intrigued by the idea of a special celebration during the Easter or Lenten season for those who suffer and may feel alienated then.
    Thank you for these inspirations.

  6. Another hint: don’t deliver all the splendor on Christmas and let it fade through Christmastide. Rather, build towards Epiphany, which in American culture carries virtually none of the blue baggage that Christmas does.

  7. I am responsible for providing these prayers at Sunday and Holy Day Masses at our four parishes. I regard this duty with an eye towards both the serious obligation to keep the premise of a “universal prayer” in tact, while also bringing forth an acknowledgement of local, national and transnational situations wherein universal prayer within the community appears necessary.
    I am therefore ill at ease with any corpus of prayers under the formulae, on any Sunday, that systematically hammers home a series of prayers to edify what becomes then a didactic objective. Universal prayers are not, by defintion, thematic. This is not to say that nuancing each intention is necessarily bad practice. But, for example, to abuse the formula by construing each intention towards AIDS awareness or Christmas Blues is disingenuous, IMO.

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #11:
      I don’t think I would ever construe each intention of the prayers of the faithful toward those who face the blues during the Christmas season! At the same time, naming some blues (maybe especially those present in a congregation) — whether in the scripted or unscripted part of the intercessions — simply is part of the universality of our prayers. Why occlude that kind of suffering?

  8. Thank you Teresa for bringing this to mind. For me, the most unfortunate aspect of the Christmas season is the materialism. This saddens me the most. Christmas time, or any time, is not a time to judge the lifestyle or possessions of others. Still, as someone who grew up materially privileged, I now realize that a person requires very little for him or herself. More often many persons have an abundance of material and emotional wealth to give this time of year. Perhaps doubts about materialism cannot or should not be expressed explicitly at a Blue Christmas Mass, but this aspect can be considered with internal reflection.

  9. Thanks, Teresa – some of us have been fighting society’s continued stigmatism of mental health diseases for decades. Clinical depression is no different than someone struggling with cancer – they are both medical conditions, pure and simple. (and so, we may need to be more pointed?)

    Those with these conditions need support from family and friends; need to be able to talk and pray with folks; need to not hide or feel ashamed.

    Historically, scripturally, and traditionally, the church has always prayed and remembered the sick – guess it is an open question in terms of how detailed you get in specific intentions (would err more to *general* than long winded explanations, topic of the month type of intentions and lots would depend upon the specific community – is this an older group, know each other well, etc. in terms of how specific?) But, your point is well made.

  10. Here the campus ministry at Ohio State University, run by the Paulists, has had a “blue Mass” in the evening of Dec. 24 for some years now. I believe they’re considered something of a pioneer in this effort.

  11. At St. Nicholas in Evanston, (archdiocese of Chicago), our pastoral care ministry to the bereaved organized an evening of prayer and reflection for those who lost loved ones to death this past year, specifically to address the coming holidays. It was held the week before Christ the King and was well received.

  12. A number of things are available in local parishes around here, often cross listed in parish bulletins.

    Divorced or separated? Struggling with the holidays? Join us for a special 4-week mini support group for those having difficulty facing the holidays as a result of separation and divorce.

    GETTING THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS-AFTER YOUR LOVED ONE HAS DIED” – This is a special free program presented by XXX Funeral Home on Sunday November 11th.

    This Sunday afternoon we invite all who are facing the approaching holidays grieving over the loss of a loved one to an afternoon called Hope for the Holidays. This simple program takes place in our chapel from 2:00 to 4:00 pm and contains time for reflection, prayer, and sharing ways we can help one another to deal with our loss. There is no cost or need to pre-register. Just come and bring others you know who could benefit from this.

    The problem is that Thanksgiving and Christmas are family celebration times. Separations such as divorce and death change those family celebrations in complex ways.

    When my mother died 20 yrs ago, I continue for the following 10 years to observe Thanksgiving and Christmas with my father who lived alone. However we went to his sister’s house. When Dad died 10 years ago I continued to travel to my aunt’s house who lived alone since her husband died the year before Dad. All these celebrations adapted in complex ways to the changing situations.

    Last year my aunt had to give up her house; I spent Christmas at home without family. I decided for the first time to observe Advent and Christmas with the local Orthodox Church beginning with the presentation of Mary right before Thanksgiving, daily Vespers the Week before Christmas, the Christmas Vigil, and the day-after-Christmas Divine Liturgy. These new liturgical customs took up the vacuum created by the absence of family rituals.

    So liturgical celebrations that we have shared with our love ones might actually not have to become specifically “blue” but just “different” enough to help us through the holidays. We might not have to change the liturgy as radically as Blue Mass seems to imply.

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