I’ve remarked on social media my bemusement on the “obligation” that lies heavily on Catholics to come to two Masses this weekend. It’s not so much that my routine is five, and Christmas adds but three more and gives me an extra twenty hours to do it. Canon Law speaks of a Sunday obligation of which includes a bit more than going to Mass. I note less attention given to keeping that spirit of a Sunday, something that might naturally draw a soul to liturgy a second time on a holy weekend. Sunday evening or Monday morning, for example.
Elsewhere on social media, I’ve seen a few good commentaries on genealogies and John the Evangelist’s christological hymn. While appreciative, I confess I can’t get excited by these efforts either. The distinction between Mass at vigil, in the night, at dawn, and during the day are more a part of a mystifying tradition than a mystical one. It makes more sense to me to offer a genealogy on the fourth Advent Sunday and move Epiphany back to a weekday to make room for John 1:1-18 on the first Sunday of the New Year. Or make a forty-day season of Christmas and spread out all these delicious readings to five or six Sundays, culminating with the Presentation of the Lord. Maybe the first bishop of Mars can implement something like that, given that the Martian year has 96 weeks of days.
The Advent/Christmas mashup strikes me as a possible lost opportunity. I can appreciate that people have family, if not work commitments. If I were a bishop, I’d consider a list of alternatives for the people who really, truly, deeply do not want to attend Mass twice.
- Bring someone to Mass who would not have otherwise attended church. Count that as a two-for-one. Better yet, solicit a constructive conversation about what they heard in the Christmas message this year as it applies to their life.
- Take a few hours to volunteer somewhere Saturday or even Tuesday and bring some Nativity cheer to those burdened by homelessness, hunger, loneliness.
- Pray with the Sunday readings at home, with family and guests.
When the notion of obligation really sinks in, taking an extra hour or two to celebrate a second Mass and transport to and fro doesn’t seem that burdensome. Consider that a lot of folks are doing extra stuff these holidays: bringing people to church, serving in shelters and soup kitchens, praying with families.
Many of my liturgist colleagues long for a Christmas expanded from the Nativity of Luke 2. Additionally, I long for a time of communities of disciples making Christmas come alive not just in churches filled with occasional attendees. I long for a more activated Christianity where it becomes blessedly obvious to the world what Christians are about and why the Nativity of Jesus is so important. Or more important than commercialism.
Happy Christmas Eve, all.