Putting the _____ back in Christmas.

A different spin on a well-worn (over-worn?) slogan.



  1. I think I’m inclined to agree with this “different spin,” and good riddance to “Merry Christmas” in the shopping malls.

  2. From my observations, the problem is not that Catholics are leaving the “Mass” out of Christmas although many are increasing the “super-crowding” of the Christmas Eve Masses, even as those Masses proliferate.

    In a parish where at a regular Sunday Mass people come late and leave early, I am fascinated by the fact that on Christmas Eve very, very few people leave early. People who are standing at the sides and the back of the church because they could not get a seat are still standing when the last verse of the hymn is sung! It seems that on this evening of all times they would probably have a lot of other competing things, yet they stay to the end of the Mass.

    It is also interesting how much well wishing takes place, among people who act like they have not seen each other in a long time. Perhaps some of this is people who have come home for the holidays. But I suspect some, perhaps a great deal, might be Catholics who have not seen each other in church since last Christmas! It is like everyone becomes Catholic again on Christmas eve.

    For those who participate in the “music culture” wars, it is interesting that these Christmas Masses are dominated not by Gregorian chant, nor by compositions since Vatican II (I rarely have hear either at Christmas) but by the old favorites (Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem) which everyone can sing!

    Of course, perhaps there are less people at Christmas. The collection is a big one in the eyes of pastors. Perhaps that is providing a finer measure of participation for those in the know?

    1. Jack, all you say is true. In my first assignment way back on Dec. 24, 1980, we had competing midnight Masses, one in the church with the traditional singing and one in the gym for the folk choir to host its contemporary Christmas music. We only did that once!
      What I have come to dispise is the proliferation of vigil Masses on Christmas Eve. We have 4:00 PM, 6:00 PM (children’s pageant) 8:00 PM and Midnight and two on Christmas Day. It’s a solid Mass from 4:00 PM to about 1:30 AM! Our 4:00 PM is the biggest!
      I like the video though, just how do we get the majority of people back to Christmas Day. I’d be lynched if I canceled all the Christmas Eve Masses.

      1. I’d be prepared to make a contribution toward the costs, in return for a front row seat at the lynching.

        Would there be audience participation? Can we make some of the acclamations in Latin?

      2. Fr. Allan,

        For a long time I’ve begun my Christmas celebration at 10am on Christmas Eve with the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from the BBC via PBS. That is 3pm Cambridge time. Then I have all Christmas Eve day to play my collection of liturgical music for Christmas.

        I wonder what psychological, sociological and liturgical principles are behind our tendencies to anticipate liturgical services. Somebody must have some theories about that.

        The welcoming in of the Year 2000 gave me a better way to understand all this as I traced the beginning of a new day at Midnight on Christmas Island (5am EST our previous day December 31st) and then proceed around the world.

        So that means Midnight in Bethlehem comes at 5pm EST, and Midnight in Rome comes at 6 pm EST. So we can think of a 4:30pm Mass as celebrating Christmas with Bethlehem and a 6pm Mass as celebrating with Rome. (Does not work so well for people in other time zones).

        You might think of this as an “Ad Orientem” approach to anticipation since it looks at the new day as coming from the East. It is also a nice way of thinking globally.

        A Christmas pageant in conjunction with Mass! I hope you have read what Fr. McNamara at Zenith had to say about that this November 30th!

      3. Jack, you should hear what my young associate pastor has to say about Christmas pageants during Mass, but alas, the old wild, radical 1970’s seminary student is still in me! 🙂 I liked your ad orientem observation!

      4. Eh. . . I was once that young curate. I still don’t like a Christmas pageant during Mass in principle, but ours is well done, it incorporates all of the appointed readings, and is followed by a sermon that redirects us to the rest of the liturgy. I’ve learned to live with it.

        My big issue is the higher attendance at earlier liturgies. The mass during the night is the principle mass of Christmas. When an anticipatory service becomes principal, there is a problem. I have lots of ideas for solutions, none of them “pastoral.”

      5. Fr. Cody, I know what needs to be done, I don’t have the courage in today’s anti-clerical, non-ultramontian climate to do it, so I’ll leave it to the next poor cleric who becomes pastor! By the way, they start arriving for the 4:00 PM Vigil Mass at 2:30 PM to get a good seat.

      6. It’s about the same here.

        As for me, well, I’ll take lessons-and-carols starting at Midnight, ending with the Gloria of Midnight Mass at about 1:30 a.m. and the whole thing finishing up around 3. Something about the nocturnal magic — the “this is utterly different (and a bit crazy too)” — that appeals to me. . . I really was born nine centuries too late and on the wrong continent.

  3. Why not start with a Christmas lucernarium, first vespers at 5:00 pm, then with an all night vigil of lessons and carols? Of course, fruitcake and wassail served at certain intervals throughout the evening (a Yuletide artoclassia). Finally, midnight Mass preceded by a procession carrying the bambino, or an icon of the nativity, and the blessing of the creche. As for the phony “vigil” liturgies on Christmas eve, just abolish them.

  4. I find myself unusually sympathetic to Fr. Macdonald’s view here, but I must point out one legitimate argument in favor of several Masses on Christmas Eve – the size of the parish. My parish offers 7 Masses each weekend, in two languages. Attendance is up at Christmas, of course, so it’s tough to cut either of the two we typically have on Christmas eve. Midnight Mass starts at midnight, and we usually have 3 or 4 more on Christmas Day. I’m not sure we could ask more of our 2 priests, nor manage the crowd with fewer…

    1. We do two on 12/24 — a 4 pm with pageant, and 11 pm. Only one on Christmas morning, 9 am, but late enough for me to take it as the mass “of the day” and preach on John 1, for which I have a passion. Christmas eve liturgies are packed; Christmas Day, attendance is such that I can have the congregation sit in the choir with room to spare.

      Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Parish just a few blocks away will do 4:30, 6, 8:30, and 11 pm on Christmas Eve, and 8:00, 9:30, 11:00, and 12:30 on Christmas Day.

      1. Good crowd at the RC parish, for sure. Our schedule is similar – I had in mind Midnight as separate from the earlier two. Come to think, I’ve not yet seen this year’s schedule.

  5. In the parish that is mine when I am in France, there will be one Mass on Christmas Eve at 11pm, and none on Christmas day. That’s because we have 3 priests (plus 2 retired priests, over 75) to minister to 28 parishes.

  6. I once worked as liturgy director at a parish which had eighteen Masses for Christmas (normal Sundays we had 12 Masses). For Christmas we held three at 4pm, two at 5:30, one at 9 and two at midnight. On Christmas day, there were ten Masses, so they outweighed the Christmas eve celebrations. One of my friends quipped that it was rather like the Long Island Railroad timetable. But we tried to make each one excellent in its own way. The ones I really regretted were the ones at 4:00. So very early. Yet I was happy that people came.

    1. Yikes! Big campus, large priestly staff, clearly. I suppose, in theory, we could do two more-or-less simultaneous Masses, since we do have a fairly large gym. But then again, we would run into a significant parking problem…there are limits to parallel processing.

  7. Another Christmas eve possibility that I have never experienced myself but heard a lot about is the Polish tradition of a big 12 course meatless meal. The day was a day of abstinence in the old calendar. After the big dinner in the evening everyone went to Midnight Mass. So perhaps reviving this custom might be a way for people to have their big meal, family celebration on Christmas Eve leaving time for Liturgy at Midnight Mass or Christmas day.

    As I understand the tradition the women spent most of Christmas Eve preparing all the food for both Christmas Eve and the next day. Then Christmas day was for visiting house to house. My father always had fond memories of going around to all the homes in the mining patch on Christmas Day singing carols and sampling the various ethnic foods .

    1. In our heavily Italian parish there is a definite redolence of garlic that wafts in with the people at midnight Mass. There is a custom of a meal with seven fish dishes, left over from the days when Christmas Eve was a day of abstinence, I’m told. But we’ve eliminated our 7PM Mass and added a 4PM. People either want to come before dinner or after dinner.

      1. In our heavily Italian parish there is a definite redolence of garlic that wafts in with the people at midnight Mass.

        In my experience, it’s booze. I’d like to have a dollar for every time someone’s stumbled in and requested directions to the bathroom.

  8. I am among those who somehow think that 4 PM is too early, but if you have to get a couple of them in on the 24th and have any hope of a nap before Midnight Mass, I guess you’re stuck.

    Mixed feelings on the kiddie Mass. I think I’ve been to exactly one in my life, a long time ago. Still, if one is trying to corral multiple small ones, doing it early is a kindness to all involved, but then the question becomes why not go on Christmas morning. I much prefer midnight, even if it starts at 11. Being in the choir and singing at that hour, I haven’t attended on Christmas Day in quite a few years.

  9. When doing the 4 pm Masses, does anyone do the Vigil readings, including the genealogy from Matthew? I suppose the confusion that would exist would preclude that, as well as the need to learn all the names. I think there rubrics actually allow for some switching of the readings. if I am not mistaken.

    1. You know, they do, but we were so hard core, we did the genealogy if the priest was willing. You raise an interesting question Jeffery, because of the Mass on Christmas day as well. I love the prologue of John’s gospel on Christmas day, but have met with much resistence among clergy, who just don’t think it’s pastoral to read it “since it’s somebody’s only mass of Christmas.” As if it only “works” to hear John if you’ve been to the other Masses of Christmas.

      Is it really so difficult to preach on John? Maybe Cody or some other PrayTell Chrysostom will post a model homily for Christmas day to help the homilists who struggle with this text. (I’m presuming the lectionary for the Episcopal Church has the same reading as the RC for Christmas day. Is this correct?)

      1. Hey, here’s an idea: Maybe those of us who DON’T preach should post “Homilies I’d like to hear.” 🙂

  10. “Hey, here’s an idea: Maybe those of us who DON’T preach should post “Homilies I’d like to hear.” :)”

    I like Rita’s idea!

    I actually tackled John 1 earlier this fall, though admittedly not for a Christmas homily.

    Though preachers struggling with the text in the context of Christmas might try a browse through “Feasting on the Word” a series which offers four perspectives on each RCL Sunday reading for each cycle: homiletical, exegetical, pastoral, theological. It’s a great resource for lectors and cantors who want a deeper engagement with what they are proclaiming, too.

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