Pastor’s Desk ~ December 24, 2023

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

Except for God, everything is caused by something else, in life as in liturgy. Until the reforms of Vatican II, the earliest permissible Christmas Mass was Midnight Mass, which began at midnight. St. Vincent’s was the last parish I’m aware of that maintained the authentic Midnight Mass, decades longer than it was necessary. Beginning in 2009, even the Vatican moved from the traditional Midnight Mass to “Mass during the Night” at 10:00 p.m., and now even earlier in the evening. In our days of satellite communication, this change makes the Vatican Christmas Mass available during waking hours to a larger percentage of the world’s population.

“What time is Midnight Mass?” is the classic Catholic crank call, but it’s not entirely baseless. It’s the result of a change in liturgical terminology. Today, the proper term is “Mass During the Night,” with its own set of readings. We also have “Mass at Dawn,” and “Mass During the Day,” to include all Gospel accounts and sets of readings.

There are several Protestant denominations that celebrate some form of midnight liturgy, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and many others. This is altogether logical, if not pious. The seminal events relevant to Christmas happened at night, in dreams, and when the Star of Bethlehem shone its brightest and drew visitors from distant lands.

For the ancients, the night skies, untouched by today’s light pollution, were nearly as alive as daytime earth. To quote the great French-American novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, “If man is part and parcel of the universe, and is ruled by the same laws as govern the sky, it is not unreasonable to search the heavens for the patterns of our lives, and for those impersonal attractions which induce our success and our errors.” We moderns tend to see the “star” as a metaphorical, if not entirely fictional, manifestation. To the ancients, who wrote the Gospel accounts, these heavenly manifestations were real enough to direct real lives.

Finally, over the next few weeks, the one question we are most likely to ask or respond to is, “How was your Christmas?” or, “How were your holidays?” Each one of us will have the power to determine the answer to that question for ourselves as well as for others.

The Christmas holidays tend to take on the character of the year before them, for good or for ill, and that is only natural. The grace of Christmas – the Nativity – is that it is the birth of the new. “New” has at least two meanings, whether it’s new through rejuvenation within existing realities, or new as the revelation of salvation unknown and totally unforeseen. Let us be open to both.

We all know in our hearts what we can still to do make our Christmas a bit better for our loved ones and for ourselves. We know the gifts of ourselves we can give even after the shops are closed. It can be our attention, our forgiveness, our offering or acceptance of a last-minute invitation. Rather than make this Christmas a referendum on the year behind us, let us project forward the promise of the newness of this Christmas for the year to come.

With Christmas blessings,
Fr. Bill Donahue

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