When I first started working as the music director at my parish, we celebrated Christmas Midnight Mass at 10:30 pm. Several years before, a previous pastor overslept and in following years, moved the service to the earlier time. (I still hear stories about it: “It was 20 past midnight and still no priest! We just kept singing carols.”) Four years ago, our current pastor moved it back to midnight.
I’m with the Pope on this one. I am a lark, and my body goes to sleep by 10 to begin with. I am not able to sing in the middle of the night – it’s my peak time of congestion. I have never been to a Midnight Mass (when I was a child, children were barred) and have zero interest in doing so. The Mass of Christmas Day is my favorite.
10 p.m.? I would have thought you harbored a Proustian romanticism. From my childhood home in Kansas I often watched the televised Christmas midnight mass from St. Patrick’s in NY. Since then I’ve always felt something magical about observing the first moments of Christmas. This only applies to Christmas, however. I’m useless musically at late hours and when having to play or sing at early masses the next morning the condition becomes even worse.
Interestingly, the liturgical books say “Missa in Nocte.” It doesn’t specify a time when it should be. In years that immediately pre-dated Vatican II, Midnight was considered to be the earliest time possible, but this doesn’t make sense, given the time that First Vespers would take place. So it’s no big deal to me.
In my house, St Nicholas brought the Christmas tree and creche.
Which meant that all children still believing this were in bed early on Christmas eve, while older children helped my parents get to work on putting up the tree and the creche. Then the older children would be sent to bed while my parents did final gift setup. My parents got to nap around 4AM.
In the 1980s, I was in and then out of law school, and my younger brother was in high school and college, my father went to bed and my mother, brother and I stayed up to see Christmas in at midnight, with St Pete’s and St Pat’s alternating in that role, but we went to bed soon after midnight.
Those are my Proustian memories.
And, because Tridentine regulations of Mass largely forbade Mass between noon and midnight – and because Christmas Eve was a fast day – midnight was popular because you could break the fast for your main meal (no meat at this point) before midnight, go to Mass and receive communion (since the Eucharistic fast started at midnight) and then continue the feast (with meat this time). But the penitential character of Xmas Eve was fading before the Council, and boomin suburbia made the dynamic of gathering for a feast less opportune.
My parish celebrates a 4PM which spills over into the school hall. (the parking situation is ridiculous!) Midnight Mass is my pastor’s favorite and it does begin at midnight. Like Liam, I prefer Christmas morning mass.
As a very young child I was not allowed to stay up for midnight but after Confirmation (I was 11) my parents would bring me. As a young adult I remember going alone when no one else wished to go. I would walk the 2 short blocks and felt very safe in those days. There were many church folks out and about and walking at that hour. Who would feel safe now?
My former parish had a 10PM “midnight” mass when I was a member. They now celebrate mass in the extraordinary form at midnight.
“In years that immediately pre-dated Vatican II, Midnight was considered to be the earliest time possible, but this doesn’t make sense, given the time that First Vespers would take place.”
Remember that prior to Vatican II, there was some looseness outside of monasteries as to when the Hours would be celebrated. Did Midnight mean that one’s Eucharistic fast was more minimal than it is today?
Before Pius XII, a Mass celebrated at Midnight or soon thereafter meant that one had a nominal Eucharistic fast, like today. But, other than at Christmas, this was something the laity rarely witnessed. Conventual Masses were typically celebrated right after the office of Prime and then followed by communal breakfast, if my reading on this is correct.
Pius XII reformed this to a 3-hr fast, regardless of time of celebration (and it was his pontificate that saw the preliminary approval for Masses celebrated in the period between noon and midnight).