Night, Midnight, Early Morning

Reuters image above from the pope’s 11PM “Midnight Mass” last year. The pope is moving back to midnight this year.

Zenit’s liturgy column addresses the question of many Catholics: When can you have a Midnight Mass?

In practice, the leeway given pastors to switch off readings makes midnight an option. In one parish, the “Mass in the Night” was observed at 9:30PM. Midnight at my last parish was never quite full, but we had the best music of the seven celebrations.

I’ve found that the earliest Christmas Eve Mass tends to be the best-attended in most parishes. Does it make sense to use the actual Vigil readings, especially for the usual numbers of children present? My new parish does use the Vigil readings, but colleagues and priests I know usually opt for Midnight readings.

What’s been your experience, your preferred custom, and your Mass of attendance this year?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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13 Responses to Night, Midnight, Early Morning

  1. 4, 6, Midnight, 7, 9 and 11…

    We use the Vigil readings for 4 and 6, “night” at Midnight, and the day readings on the day. No problems that I am aware of.

    The last couple of years, I preached on the Matthew genealogy, explaining how our Incarnate Lord includes us in his family tree. I may do that again, who knows?

    Also, at the Vigil Masses, we bless the chreche; at Midnight, someone (usually me) does the proclamation; in the bulletin, we tell people Midnight, 9 and 11 may have incense, and that 4 & 6 are crazy-crowded, so–this is not said explicitly–don’t complain ‘cuz you were warned.

  2. “In practice, the leeway given pastors to switch off readings makes midnight an option.”

    Question about this leeway:

    The Lectionary includes this note under December 24: At the Vigil Mass…

    “These readings are used at Mass celebrated on the evening of December 24, either before or after Evening Prayer I of Christmas. The texts that follow may also be used for Masses on Christmas Day, with the option of choosing from one or another of the three sets of readings according to the pastoral needs of each congregation.”

    Maybe I’m misreading this, but it seems that the instruction says that at the Vigil Mass, the assigned readings are used. And at all the other Masses (midnight, dawn day), the Vigil Mass readings or any combination of readings from the three Christmas Day sets may be used. But in any case, the Vigil readings are always used for the Vigil Mass.

    Am I reading this incorrectly?

  3. We have 4 and 10 pm on the 24th and 10:30 am on the 25th.

    I think we do the Midnight readings at 4 (I never go) and at 10 (which is our “Midnight” Mass). In years past, the Midnight readings were also used on Christmas morning, but this year, at my insistence, we are using the Mass During the Day readings, since I think it is a shame not to read the prologue to John’s Gospel.

    I am preaching at both 10 pm and 10:30 am and have prepared two separate homilies. I actually enjoyed preparing two, since it gave me a chance to reflect on two different sides of the Christmas mystery.

  4. Gavin says:

    Christ is born!

    I played for the orchestra at a local parish’s midnight EF Mass (Franck’s Mass in A Major). The church building didn’t fall down on account of the choral sanctus, so score a point for that side.

    At my last church, the vigil was the “big” Mass, a custom the pastor and I tried to change. We put most of the musical forces at the midnight Mass and then morning Mass. They’ve also introduced a dawn EF Low Mass since I’ve left. What I would prefer is a Vigil with children’s choir, orchestral midnight Mass with carols before, a Missa Cantata with just schola, hymns before and after, and organ, and Mass of the Day being mostly congregational with extra musical forces.

  5. Matthew Meloche says:

    Report from Ohio…

    Our 5PM Vigil Mass used the vigil readings except the Gospel, which was sadly a paraphrased version of the midnight Gospel for the chidlren. Music included our children’s choir, children’s handbell choir, and some instrumentalists from the local Catholic high school. No incense. The Church was uncomfortably full.

    Our 10PM Mass During the Night used the proper readings. Music was provided by a chamber orchestra, adult choir and adult handbell choir. Incense. The Church was comfortably full.

    Our 10AM Mass During the Day had the proper readings. Music by a cantor and handbell soloist. No incense. Attendance last year was really bad, but was up this year by at least 100-150. Still 200-300 less than the 10PM Mass, but would probably be worth putting together a small choir for next year if it continues to grow.

  6. Jim McK says:

    I doubt that “midnight” as either the beginning of a day or as 12 o clock, is a proper liturgical marker. That use is too recent.

    So the reference to “Mass during the night” probably means anything after sunset, following the pattern of the day beginning at sunset. (you know, the pattern used during the Triduum, where Holy Thursday and Good Friday are the same day…)

    Balancing modern ideas of time with the tradition is just too tricky. (and why is the first sunday in ordinary time called “The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time”?)

  7. Todd says:

    “(W)hy is the first sunday in ordinary time called “The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time?”

    Because the Sunday after January 6th is observed in Rome as the Baptism of the Lord feast, and it bookends the beginning of Ordinary Time like Christ the King does for the end.

  8. Liam says:

    The first Sunday in Ordinary Time is the Sunday of the Second Week of the Year (or, if you prefer, Ordinally Counted Time). The First Week of Year begins after the second vespers of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the prior Sunday (or, sometimes, Monday in the USA).

    Night, in Roman terms, certainly doesn’t begin at sunset, but at the earliest after dusk, which is variably computed depending on the time of year but I rather like the immensely practical Islamic reckoning – the boundary at which a white and black thread cannot be distinguished in pure natural light outdoors. Otherwise, if using a Western reckoning, I like nautical twilight – technically, when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon, but practically where you cannot discern the horizon line (in natural light) but for the absence of stars….

    In any event, a vigil is held at night, too – the Easter Vigil (other than at the Holy Sepulchre, due to the Status Quo or presumably at the extreme polar region that by then has no pure night) cannot begin until dark after dusk .

  9. Liam says:

    And Merry Christmas!

    I should note that I never heard the Midnight Mass readings during Mass until I was an adult. I have never attended Midnight Mass, but when I was growing up we went to the Mass at Dawn. In high school, I chose to go to the Mass During the Day (my favorite readings bar none), and when my parents got older, the second Vigil Mass, where the Midnight readings sometimes finally crept in.

    I don’t think I was any the worse for wear as a child for not having heard the Midnight Mass readings, so I would encourage pastors not to assume that they are pastorally necessary at the other Masses of Christmas. Hardly.

  10. tony says:

    In my parish, our midnight mass starts at midnight. I’m going to suggest that we start at 10PM next year. I’m getting to old to stay up that late and then be up bright and early for the 8:30AM mass!

  11. Sarah says:

    This Christmas we had 3 Christmas Eve masses:
    4:30pm aimed at children, includes pageant, no incense, children’s choir
    7:30pm aimed at the general public, no incense, small adult choir with bells
    10:30pm aimed at the parish in general, incense, large adult choir with bells, potluck reception after (went until 2am)

    Christmas Day we had a 10:30am mass that I like to think of as “hangover” church. After a Christmas Eve like that, everyone’s a little bleary-eyed. :D

    This year, 7:30pm was the smallest of the 3 Eve services, I was surprised; 4:30 and 10:30 had parity.

  12. euandus2 says:

    It is interesting that no one has picked up on the pope’s citation of Origen in the homily–namely, Origen’s insistence that pagans such as Hindus can’t love or reason. I’m surprised India hasn’t objected to the insult.
    Source: http://deligentia.wordpress.com/2009/12/26/ratzinger-at-the-vatican-hindus-cant-love/

  13. Jim McK says:

    There is no reason to suppose that Hindus are pagans in the sense that Origen used it, or that BXVI intended to include Hindus among those whom he refers to as pagan. The poster, apparently taught literalist interpretations of theological terms, trips over the nuances.

    Similarly, he stumbles in the discussion of God’s image in the paragraph after. The Incarnation, wherein God unites himself to humanity, is the central mystery of Christmas, and understanding the difference between the Father and the Son, along with their unity, is the point of the Pope’s comments. He is expounding a paradox that St Paul expressed in Colossians, “He is the image of the unseen God”, to remind us of the contradictions, not to avoid them.

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