From the Pastor: Family but No Christ at Christmas?
When I set out to write a Christmas column for today’s bulletin, I did a search to see how often Christmas falls on Sunday. Numerous results on the search page caught my Catholic eye. The calendar stuff I was looking for (Christmas last fell on Sunday in 2011 and the next time will be 2022, then not again until 2033) was interesting but not particularly eye catching. Curiously, up popped articles indicating that many Protestant ministers, whose “churches” have no theological reasons for Sunday “worship services”, are having a conundrum about what to do this year because Christmas is a day when their audiences stay home! Stop and think this through and you will see why we need to work so much harder to bring Protestants, not just non-believers, into the fullness of the Faith. Rather than delving into their mistaken notions of what “worship” is and/or why Sunday may or may not be a necessary day to “do” worship under their theology, let me just say that these ministers know that their “worship service” has less value than a day spent at home with the family opening presents. Compare that to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which has infinitely more value than even the best family gathering!
I do acknowledge that Catholics may think and act in exactly the same way as Protestants do about church attendance on Christmas Sunday, but those Catholics do so against the very teachings of the Church, which obliges them to attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days (including Christmas) because it is essential for salvation and is the primary means of sanctifying the entire day, which God Almighty commands. At a Protestant website questioning ministers about what their plans were for dealing with Christmas falling on a Sunday, the responses were shocking: “We plan to have five Christmas Eve worship services on December 24,” and nothing on Sunday the 25th. Another pastor who also would have no Sunday services this year said, “We are doing Christmas Eve services and all of our marketing will point toward it...” Sigh. He is ”marketing” the fact that he has nothing to offer anyone on Christmas. Yet he, like the others, is not ashamed of it. Still another said, “We’ll do a production of sorts on Friday and Saturday.” That’s sad on multiple levels. Furthermore, the people asking the questions stated, “Most churches we talked to are putting their focus on Friday and Saturday nights, while taking Sunday off.” Wow! Christ takes second place to Christmas presents on Christmas in Christian “churches”. A different Protestant website showing up on the search page quoted a minister who said that on Christmas he “will offer about 45 minutes of Christmas music accompanied by acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin. I’ll do a brief sermon, and then we’re going home.” Also highlighted were novelties, like the “15 minute communion service” for those with better things to do on Christmas than “worship” but want to have the “eucharist”, and the “bathrobe and pajamas” service, and those who are also taking off New Year’s Day since it, too, falls on a Sunday. But enough. You get the picture.
Following the Traditional Latin Mass Calendar helps to combat such nonsense. You see, once the Novus Ordo calendar introduced the odd notion that Saturday afternoon/evening Masses fulfilled the Sunday obligation, many Catholic Church members have been behaving more and more like the Protestants unhappily noted above. Saturday night (in this case, Christmas Eve) becomes a substitute for setting aside a full day as a Holy Day dedicated to Our Lord, and the Sunday or Holy Day loses its essential meaning. In many Catholic parishes, Christmas Eve Masses are packed and, Sunday or not, Christmas Day Masses are nearly empty. Even what used to be the biggest Mass, Midnight Mass, has, in most parishes, been held the day before, (Christmas Eve, at 8, 9 or 10 pm) rather than as the first Mass of Christmas Day. It is just another Vigil Mass and is only called “Midnight” Mass as if to placate the “old-timers” who wanted a real one.
We are called to celebrate the Day of Christ’s Birth, not “Open Presents Day”. We “accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior” by participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not a “Worship Service” or “a production of sorts”. Midnight Mass is the largest Mass, not because it is at a convenient time, but because Tradition tells us that the Birth took place at this hour and those able to stay awake (and drive!) want to be among the first to worship and adore the Newborn King. How sad that so many Catholics and Protestants are so far removed from the true meaning of both Christmas and the Mass that they want to shortchange Jesus and just do what is easy, quick and convenient, or novel. This Christmas, please pray for conversions all around. The Holy Infant, Whose birth we celebrate, is the Savior Who gave us the Mass as certainly as He gave us His Life.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka