We arrived early for the vigil 4:30 PM Christmas Mass, but still ended up in the back of the church. From there, though, I could see everything — not only the beautifully decorated altar, but all the people gathering for worship.
An excitement surrounded. Peace, joy, gratitude.
Just a few days earlier, I’d been in the same sacred space for a wedding of the son of longtime friends. The tree was there, but no blinking lights. No poinsettia plants. No festive cloths hanging from the ambo or other spaces like on Christmas. It is at Christmas, and not a moment before, that the Catholic church springs to life in all its Christmas glory and sparkles. Until then, we had been awaiting Christ’s coming in the reflective state of Advent.
Even on Christmas itself, though, the cross looms large. We are ever reminded, and rightly so, that the crib and cross go together. As writer Caryll Houselander once wrote, “If only those who suffer would be patient…and realise that Advent is not only a time of growth but also of darkness and hiding and waiting, they would trust, and trust rightly, that Christ is growing in their sorrow, and in due season all the fret and strain and tension of it will give place to a splendour of peace.”
At Christmas — note this word made of two, “Christ” and “Mass” — we are offered a glimmer of this peace, this hope. This time of year evokes emotions so deep. Sometimes that is very hard, but it should, most of all, bring hope that leads to joy, for the news that was foretold, and is manifest now, is good news indeed. We are not alone. A loving savior journeys with us at every moment. And he has come to save us! To save us from sin and darkness and death. To save us from the trappings of the world, and all the surrounding despair.
We do not have to end with the darkness, even though it will at times threaten. There is always light, beckoning, always.
I understand that Christmas is not just for Catholics. And of course, one can feel this peace, this joy, in many different places. But there is something incredible about experiencing Christmas in a Catholic Church at an actual “Christ’s Mass.” I love it all. The bells, the incense, the choral refrains, and at midnight Mass, often, the sounds of brass resounding from the loft.
One leaves feeling a lightness of step and good will.
I have experienced Christmas services in other spaces and appreciated them very much. But there is something extraordinary about the Catholic Christmas that, perhaps, can be summed up in this Tweet:
At Christmas Mass, everything about our faith comes together in the breaking of the bread, and partaking in the body and blood of our Lord — the treasured gift he offered at his parting.
When I am deprived of this element, it is not as complete, deep and full. If Christ’s Mass were denied me, I know that I would suffer that loss. So far, I am blessed in that I cannot recall, at least, a year in which I have had to miss Christ’s Mass on Dec. 24 or 25. Every year, I return, these days with more gratitude than ever. And that is why, despite all of our failings as a family, I continue to come, happily, to the table of our Lord, which is, to me, most resplendent in this universal faith that we believe connects us to the very first Christmas, in a stable, in a manger, in the House of Bread, Bethlehem.
Thank you, Lord, for this priceless gift. Thank you for faith. Thank you for Christ’s Mass which brings such hope!
Q4U: What is your favorite Christmas memory?