21 December 2010

Presents: Before or after Mass?

The Liturgical Pimpernel raises a few interesting and good questions regarding the Vigil Masses for Christmas, questions that I've often pondered, too.

Here's a brief excerpt from his post:

Attending the Christmas "Family Mass" has the added benefit of having 'done Christmas Mass' nice and early too. The family, or anyone else who pops along on Christmas eve, can have a relaxed evening afterwards and a Christmas day without the burden of having to get to Mass on Christmas day, especially with the family.

What have we done to Christmas day? Kiddy-antics aside, even a solemn Latin Mass on Christmas eve is a bit of a problem. It doesn't break any rules, but the Pimpernel believes that allowing a vigil Mass of Christmas is one real mistake of the new missal. It has more or less destroyed what was liturgically special about Christmas day itself: midnight Mass.

Staying up that late can be a real treat for children, and teach them a lot, without any need to get up to childish antics. "Mom, why are we going to Mass so late?" "Because this is the night on which our Saviour was born, my dear." Not bad that. Or on the morning of Christmas, the sacrifice of going to a Mass as a family, of waiting until afterwards for all the family rituals, presents, etc. to begin, says very clearly that Christ himself is put first at Christmas. "Dad, do we have to wait 'till after Mass?" "Yes, son, first we must thank Jesus and celebrate his birth, and worthily receive him in Holy Communion, because he is the reason why we give presents and celebrate today." That sounds like a true family Mass, and a true family Christmas, to me [emphasis mine].

The sad fact is that many families do now attend a vigil Mass for Christmas so they can open gifts early on Christmas morning and do not go to Mass on Christmas Day itself.

Growing up, my family went to the 10:15 a.m. Mass (or it was 10:30 a.m.; I don't remember). We were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve and the rest when we returned home from Mass. It didn't do us any harm and helped keep a proper perspective.

When asking why people do not attend Midnight Mass as they did in days gone by, I am often told, "People can't stay up that late, Father." I simply do not accept this answer; they stay up just as late on New Year's Eve, though often for very different reasons.


  1. You would be hard-pressed in this very Catholic area to find a church that has midnight Mass. The Cathedral does, but I don't know of any others. It was pretty much standard when we were growing up, but back then parishes had multiple priests.

    That being said, at the Christmas Eve evening Mass, even the angels and saints will need to get there early to find a place. ;-) I will happily skip that madness this year and we will attend on Christmas morning. Though some presents are likely to be opened before Mass, your post gives another perspective worth considering.

  2. And while I realize we are NOT the normal people to which you are referring I would like to let you know that we have often went to Midnight Mass. The year I was pregnant Joshua (born on Jan 3rd) I don't think we made it and we didn't make it last year because I was pregnant with Levi. But most other years we either made it to Midnight Mass or went to Mass Christmas morning.

    We are going to the 7:00pm Vigil mass this year as a family, for two big reasons. I am singing at Midnight Mass and it would be more than difficult for Jon to control 4 children 4-5 hours after their bedtime at Mass by himself, and we are leaving on Christmas day (late morning or very early afternoon) to drive to Kansas City, KS to be with his family.