Putting the Mass in Christmas

table-of-oblation3During the past 25 years or so, I have written more than my share of mainstream news stories and columns about religious seasons.

It’s hard work, to tell you the truth, unless you want to write the same story over and over. I only write the same story over and over unless I am really convinced that the topic is valid and newsworthy. But more on that tomorrow.

I’ve always been interested in why some churches make a big deal out of worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and others do not. I once attended a Baptist “service of lessons and carols” on Christmas Eve — early in the evening — that ended with the Lord’s Supper. It was clear that the clergy were trying to offer their people something that felt like a Midnight Mass.

Meanwhile, the Catholic traditions of Christmas Eve are strong and vital. But what if people find it hard to honor the ways of the past? A Denver priest once told me that he knew times were changing when people started calling the parish office and asking this question: “What time is your Midnight Mass?”

Evangelical Protestants have tended to focus on spectacular musical offerings, in concerts, dramas and pageants. The problem, of course, is that these events require the efforts of many, many people and these people have to be in the same place at the same time. How do you do that these days during the craziness of “The Holidays”? Thus, these events began to creep further and further into the early days of December, further from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

All of this leads us to a very sad and mysterious essay in Time by Amy Sullivan, the professional progressive evangelical who is a popular commentator and political consultant. The blunt headline: “Going to Church on Christmas: A Vanishing Tradition.”

Sullivan’s angle? What about Christmas Day itself? She begins:

Millions of Americans go to church on Christmas Eve. They crowd shoulder-to-shoulder in pews to sing “Silent Night” and light candles and listen to soloists belt out “O Holy Night.” More than a few watch nativity plays that recreate the birth of Jesus with a cast of 10-year-olds in bathrobes. When the service is over, they exchange hearty “Merry Christmas!” wishes before getting in their cars and heading home.

And they stay home the next day. Or they drive to Grandma’s, or go to the movies. But however they spend Christmas Day — “the feast of Christmas” on the Christian liturgical calendar — one way most Americans don’t celebrate it is by going to church. While demand for Christmas Eve celebrations is so high that some churches hold as many as five or six different services on the 24th of December, most Protestant churches are closed on the actual religious holiday. For most Christians, Christmas is a day for family, not faith.

The key to all of this, of course, is that the Midnight Catholic Mass and the similar traditions in Anglicanism, Orthodox Christianity and some other churches offers worship on Christmas Eve and in the early hours of Christmas Day.

Sullivan mentions this:

Some traditions, including Catholics and Anglicans, hold midnight masses on the Saturday before Easter to usher in that holiday. But everyone still shows up the next morning for the traditional Easter celebration, just as Christmas Day remains a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics, who are likely to be found in church the day after attending a Midnight Mass. By contrast, the Christmas service everyone thinks of as “traditional” is the Service of Lessons and Carols that many Protestant congregations use on Christmas Eve.

This gets complicated and, yes, schedules and marketing figure into all of this.

However, it seems to me that what we are watching is two different trends, one among liturgical churches and one among Protestants, especially evangelicals. But this is a very important story, if you care about ancient traditions, the liturgical calendar, trends in worship and other matters of doctrine.

So let me ask our readers who are Christians: When did you go to church? When was the real Christmas service, for you?

At my own Orthodox parish, Holy Cross in Linthicum, Md., the Matins service started about 10 p.m. and the Divine Liturgy began just before midnight. Throw in a happy mini-feast to break the Nativity Lent fast and we arrived back home around 2:30 a.m. That’s Christmas Day, isn’t it?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michele Hagerman

    I’m Orthodox myself – OCA. We had the Nativity Vigil (Compline and Matins combined) at 7 pm on Christmas Eve. Lasted about two hours. I attended a Slavic Holy Supper (traditional Christmas Eve meal with specific foods) before the Nativity Vigil (at a friend’s home). We had the Festal Divine Liturgy this morning (Christmas) at 10 am.

    I was in church for both – but I’m also a choir member.

    I’m not sure how the Greeks do it, but the Russian tradition seems to be the split services (Vigil on the eve, Liturgy in the morning). I used to attend an Antiochian parish and Christmas services were scheduled as they are at Holy Cross.

  • http://quietedwaters.blogspot.com/ Joshua Lake

    I’m from a Baptist background, and returning home, my family’s church holds a Christmas Eve service at 6pm. There were a couple Christmas songs, a very short message by the pastor, and the serving of communion.

    The church didn’t hold any services today (Christmas).

  • Geoff

    It sounds as if Ms. Sullivan is not aware that attendance at the Midnight Mass, or even the Vigil Mass, satisfies the Mass obligation for Catholics for Christmas. I am not at all sure that she is correct to say that “Roman Catholics … are likely to be found in church the day after attending a Midnight Mass.” In fact, I rather think she isn’t.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Thank you for your input.

    That is precisely what I thought, too, but I wanted to hear from Roman Catholics on both points. That’s why I was hinting, so strongly, in my last reference that 2:30 a.m. is on Christmas Day.

  • http://buddhagadrafts.blogspot.com James

    The Greek tradition as I’ve experienced is to have the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil at eight PM or so, followed by a Lenten meal (all kinds of traditional Christmas-but-still-fasting foods). Then on Christmas morning is the Nativity Liturgy, followed by much meat-feasting.

    This synchs pretty much with what Sullivan writes.

  • jj

    “For most Christians, Christmas is a day for family, not faith.”

    I think this is a false dichotomy. Christ spent his first Christmas, not in a church or temple, but with his family. When did Christianity equal church?

    (This from a high-church Anglican.)

  • Jill C.

    When I was a young teen, growing up in a Roman Catholic family, we went to Midnight Mass AND the 9:30 or 11:00 AM Mass the next day. (Before that we just went Christmas morning.) The main reason we did both was because one or more of us (my parents had five daughters) was singing in the choir or I was on the organ bench. I don’t remember what time Midnight Mass actually began but I think it was after midnight before we actually received communion.

    Last night in our Anglican parish, music started at 10:20 PM and we were through well before midnight, so it wasn’t really a Midnight Mass. This morning the same church had a 10:30 AM, Rite 1, no music service and I’d be surprised to find out there were more than twenty in attendance.

  • http://ironiccatholic.blogspot.com Ironic Catholic

    I’m Catholic and went to mass today, Christmas Day, at 10:30am. (gasp)

    …Would have preferred last night because the Midnight liturgy is beautiful. But a bit late for the little kids.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    I am part of a nondenominational church affiliated with the North American Christian Convention. Our “Christmas” service has been on Christmas Eve for as long as I’ve been attending, and three services are offered – the first at 3:30 which is a “family” service designed for families with small children, an evening service at 6:30, and then an 11:30 service that ends at midnight. No services are held on Christmas Day, except when Christmas falls on Sunday.

  • http://leitourgeia.wordpress.com Richard Barrett

    I’m Orthodox, and my Antiochian parish served the Royal Hours (First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours) yesterday morning at 9am, followed by Typika and then the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil for Christmas Eve. I think we were done at around 12:15pm. Then it was back to church for Nativity Matins at 9pm followed by the Divine Liturgy for Christmas Day. Services had concluded by approximately 11:45pm, I think. Nothing today.

    Christ is born! Glorify Him!


  • RW

    I am part of the Orthodox Church in America (Canada) we had Christmas eve vigil at 6pm on the 24th and Christmas Day liturgy on the 25th. It is expected you will attend both. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I would prefer a midnight mass type of solution – more like Pascha.

  • Darren

    I am a member of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Our parish held a Christmas Eve service at 6:00 last night, for about an hour and a half, with carols and Eucharist. Nothing today.

    In past years, I’ve often attended the Midnight Mass at the local Catholic parish, which is always beautiful, but not very kid-friendly.

  • Kirk

    Although I have been inquiring into the Orthodox Church for several years now, I still find myself entrenched in the church of my raising: the(non-instrumental) Churches of Christ. This year our congregation moved the midweek Bible study and prayer service from the traditional Wednesday night to Tuesday night so that members could spend Christmas Eve with families. No services for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. (Even the office is closed.)

    As bad as all of this sounds, it is actually an improvement. In the past when Christmas Eve fell on a Wednesday, they would hold regular Wednesday night Bible study anyway, and would either ignore Christmas Eve entirely or teach against the celebration of Christmas as unscriptural. Nowadays, we are likely to hear a sermon about Jesus’ birth on the Sunday nearest to Christmas, with a few carols thrown in for good measure. Ironically, individual Church of Christ members are apt to participate in the populist sloganeering campaigns to “Keep Christ in Christmas” and remind us that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

    At the current pace, the Churches of Christ will be holding midnight services of “lesson and carols” by the end of this millennium. (Which way to the Bosporus?)

  • http://www.southern-orthodoxy.blogspot.com Fr Joseph Huneycutt

    jj — Honestly, if I fell, backwards, into a black worm hole in outer space, where the celebration of Christmas is not dictated by the rotations of the earth, but by the beta carotene on the skin of one’s teeth, I could not possibly begin to answer your query (given the manner in which it is fashioned).

    I realize that I, too, am going off topic here [GR editors, feel free to delete my comment]; but, a man gotta ‘preciate such a pregnant enigma.

    All of us are born in the presence of our mother.

    Yet, for Christians, the Church is our Mother; we are (re)born through Her font and therein begins our salvation with our “new family”. “Christianity” is not mentioned at all in the New Testament; “Church” is mentioned 117 times.

    “Christmas” is not synonymous with “Birthday” …

    I could go on, but prudence hinders; I beg your forgiveness.

    That said, I, too, understand the evening Liturgy/Mass to “satisfy” the “Christmas obligation”.

  • henry

    I am Lutheran ( LC-MS ), we Christmas Eve service of Lessons and Carols and Christmas day, we had a Divine Service with Communion.

  • http://www.valdyas.org/foundobjects/index.cgi Irina

    I’m Orthodox, Exarchate for Western Europe of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and we had Royal Hours and Typika on Christmas Eve morning, then Great Compline and Matins in the evening, and Liturgy on Christmas Day morning. I’m in the choir, but if I hadn’t been I’d probably have gone to all services too; my husband and daughters did (the eldest, almost 15, is in the choir too but wasn’t at the Hours). Short writeups on my blog.

    It’s a pity that in the West, Christmas is practically over now, because I love Western carols and would like to attend a carol service but they were all held before what I think of as Christmas.

  • Elanor

    Eastern Orthodox (OCA, currently in Canada) here.

    I attended church last night (24th) and this morning (25th). Last night we had Royal Hours followed by Vigil (Vespers+Matins); the service was supposed to start at 6 but was an hour late due to snow conditions. This morning we had the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom starting at 9:00.

  • http://www.buhlaland.blogspot.com Linda Sue

    Evangelical non denominational church and we had 3 separate identical services on Christmas Eve (barely – first one started at 4pm). Nothing on Christmas Day – if we are celebrating the incarnation of Christ – the evening/night we choose to celebrate is the religious part – the family part should be considered worship in a different venue. We (our faith and family) believe all of life is supposed to be in relationship with Christ so our family day is as much worshipping as sitting in a formal church building. I attended a liturgical church for 20 years so an not ignorant of the discussion – I think the article you referenced is more than a little narrow in how she chose to define worship but that is simply how I believe not from a rule book.

  • Roberto

    …Would have preferred last night because the Midnight liturgy is beautiful. But a bit late for the little kids.

    It’s also late for this middle-aged Catholic. I attended my parish’s Tridentine Mass at 12:30 Christmas Day.

  • Roberto

    All of this leads us to a very sad and mysterious essay in Time by Amy Sullivan, the professional progressive evangelical

    Terry, I can’t help myself: does this make a lot of our friends “professional conservative evangelicals?”

  • MichaelV

    What a great topic. I had no idea that some Protestant churches were closed on Christmas day. It was only after college that I began attending midnight mass (I’m not even sure I was aware of it when I was younger). I’m not sure how many Catholics who go to midnight mass also attend the next day, but the obligation is fulfilled. I believe the liturgical calendar uses sundown as the point marking the transition from one day to another, though I don’t know much about that. (What’s it mean for Alaskans? What’s the significance of Midnight mass?)

  • Bob Hunt

    We are Roman Catholic. We usually celebrate Christmas Eve with family prayer, taking our Jesse tree down and putting our Christmas tree up. Our practice over the years has been to go to the 10am morning Mass on Christmas Day, after family prayers at home and opening of presents.

    Our parish has for years offered several opportunities to worship on Christmas Eve, including a “family Mass” at 6pm, another Mass at 9pm and the traditional Midnight Mass. I would love to go to Midnight Mass, but my wife’s preference is to sleep, knowing we’ll be getting up early enough on Christmas Day (our children are still pretty young, though we’re in our mid to late forties).

    I like the way we’ve come to celebrate Advent and Christmas over the years. Our children have grown up knowing the we keep both Christ and Mass in Christmas, and that the real gift of Christmas is our Lord Jesus.

    I enjoy reading your column, Mr. Mattingly. God bless and keep you.

    Bob Hunt
    Knoxville, TN

  • Bill

    My family is Roman Catholic. We went to Mass at 9:00am on Christmas morning. We would have liked to go to Midnight Mass instead, but it’s just too late for the children.

  • FW Ken

    In my youth, Midnight Mass seemed a charming excitement, that became part of my movement toward liturgical worship. In my dotage, it seems far too much hoopla too late at night, and it’s only been choir that kept me at it these past few years. Now that I’m out of choir and had to drive to Austin for family on Christmas morning, the earlier “Family Mass” seemed a good option. Unfortunately, it was in Spanish, so what to do? As it turns out, St. Louis parish in north Austin, near the family, had a 9:30am Christmas Day Mass, so I got up, drove down early, missed the traffic, and fulfilled my “obligation”.

    Worshiping at St. Louis brought a wry smile; as the congregation brought to mind Fr. Phillip’s recent comment (on another thread) about the segregation of churches. The largest single ethnicity at St. Louis was white, but in Austin that can mean persons of English, German, Czech, Polish, or even Wendish decent. All of those groups (and others) have intact cultural enclaves in central Texas. However, there were quite a few African-American folks around me, an Asian family was on the next pew up, and, of course, a few hispanics (the next Mass was in Spanish, hence fewer hispanics than usual in Texas parishes). The priest was from India.

    By the way, in my limited experience of Orthodoxy, Pascha is done on Easter even, lasting until about 5am (including the post liturgy party), and there’s no Sunday morning liturgy. Is that that the common practice? Catholic parishes of my acquaintance have a 2-3 hour liturgy beginning at 8m or 9pm Saturday evening, but still do a blow-out Mass on Sunday morning.

  • Andrea

    For Catholics canon law prevails:

    Can. 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.

    In the US, the bishops have defined “evening” as any time after 4pm. So a Christmas eve Mass or midnight Mass completely satisfies the obligation.

    Christmas is one of the days that has different readings for different times of day. There are actually four different readings. The vigil gives the genealogy of Jesus, midnight gives the birth of Jesus, the Mass at dawn has shepherds, and the Mass during the day gives the beginning of John (“In the beginning was the Word…”).

  • Julia

    Some traditions, including Catholics and Anglicans, hold midnight masses on the Saturday before Easter to usher in that holiday. But everyone still shows up the next morning for the traditional Easter celebration, just as Christmas Day remains a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics, who are likely to be found in church the day after attending a Midnight Mass

    Actually, the Catholic “midnight masses” on the Saturday before Easter do not just “usher in” the Easter “holiday”. It is a very different rite from the ones the rest of Easter Day and it lasts about 3 hours in my parish church. The church is dark and light is brought in by all the parishioners in processions holding candles that have been lit at a bonfire outside – to symbolize Christ’s resurrection bringing light back into the world. There are many, many special readings (sung in our parish by a cantor). It is Holy Saturday during the day and midnight is symbolically when Jesus rose from the dead. The readings during the Easter daytime Masses are fewer and often not the same as the Easter Vigil Mass – and there’s no ritual lighting of the Easter candle, reception of converts, etc.

    Similarly, Midnight Mass for Christmas is symbolically when Jesus is born. The old Missals had 4 different Mass liturgies beginning Midnight and continuing at different times throughout the morning – with different Gospels and things like Introit, etc. As a child in the 50s, I dressed with the other girls as an angel and sang for half an hour in the dark (only a few candles) and then the men & boys’ choirs started Mass at Midnight with the priest walking in to a glorious Hodie. It was difficult to find a seat. The adult women, of course, were mainly with the little kids and cooking for holidays and didn’t have time to join choirs back then.

    This year my parish returned to the real Christmas Midnight Mass of yore, instead of 10:30 PM. Just like when I was a kid, I took a nap and woke around 10 PM to get ready. We were shocked to find that we had more people at this revived Midnight Mass than we previously had at the 10:30 PM ones. We started with a small group singing a capella the ancient “Hodie” Introit as found in Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. The entire Mass was sung (even the consecration) and the cantor chanted the famous announcement of Christ’s birth (including e.g.who was Emperor and the number of the Olympiad at the time) It was just glorious and the attendees lingered for quite while after Mass in spite of the late hour – almost 2 AM.

    Christians borrowed the Jewish and ancient way of dividing one day from the next – nightfall. So – as stated by others, the liturgical calendar day starts with the Eve. It is just more noticeabe at Christmas and Easter. Recall, also that Hallowe’en is the Eve of “All Hallows”, known in the US as All Saints Day.

    Catholics are not required to attend Mass again after Christmas or Easter Mass in the middle of the night – but, if they do, they can’t go to Communion a second time.

  • Andrea

    Catholics are not required to attend Mass again after Christmas or Easter Mass in the middle of the night – but, if they do, they can’t go to Communion a second time.

    Yes they can:

    Can. 917 A person who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist can receive it a second time on the same day only within the eucharistic celebration in which the person participates, without prejudice to the prescript of ? can. 921, §2.

    (Can 921 deals with Viaticum which means that a person in danger of death can receive communion a third time.)

  • Mary

    I’m Orthodox (OCA). Beginning at 8am on Christmas Eve, we had the Royal Hours, Typica, then a Vesperal Liturgy (St. Basil’s). Holy Supper at 5pm, followed by Nativity Vigil (Great Compline & Matins) – which I could not attend, because of my Baptist family tradition of gathering on Christmas Eve, which is pretty much mandatory for me). Then we had Divine Liturgy Christmas morning at 9:30. There was food afterwards for those who wanted to stay.

    Being the lone Orthodox in my family makes it hard at Christmas. Pascha doesn’t present the same problems, because there are no family gatherings at Easter/Pascha.

  • http://www.samueljhoward.us Samuel J. Howard

    The old Missals had 4 different Mass liturgies beginning Midnight and continuing at different times throughout the morning – with different Gospels and things like Intriot

    There are only three Christmas Masses in the 1962 Missal (Midnight, Dawn, Day). It’s actually the new Missal that adds a fourth, the vigil. There’s a vigil Mass in the old Missal as well, but it’s different, it’s penitential and celebrated on Christmas Eve morning in purple vestments and is not a Mass of Christmas like the current Vigil Mass. The new Missal also has different readings and other propers for the different Masses, but the lectionary rules allow the same readings to be used at all the Masses (we didn’t do this at my parish though).

  • John M

    Being Presbyterian, I don’t believe in Christmas.

    “Festival days, vulgarly called holy-days, having no warrant in the World of God, are not to be continued.” (Directory for the Public Worship of God)

    Nonetheless, our church has a service on the evening of 24th at 7.00 p.m., which is not so much for the congregation as for non-churchgoers in the community. Nothing on the 25th.

  • Joe

    the professional progressive evangelical who is a popular commentator and political consultant

    What an odd way to describe her. Does this make Rod Dreher a “professional conservative Orthodox” who is a popular commentator? Is Mollie a “professional “libertarian.” conservative Lutheran” who is a popular commentator?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Here is what I was trying to describe.

    She remains a working journalist, for TIME. Yet, here in DC, she is very, very high profile as a consultant-advisor type person for the Democrats. It’s almost like she is a one-woman think tank, yet she remains a journalist. It’s strange.

    Dreher does not fill this kind of role, other than in his commentary. Also, he is an EDITORIAL writer. Not a “national editor.”

    These days, Jim Wallis would fit into the same cagegory — EXCEPT that he leads his own non-profit. He is not, first and foremost, a journalist. I am not sure that I know anyone in Sullivan’s position, right now.

  • Don

    I’m orthodox too – with membership in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. ;-) For the last 50 years I can’t remember anytime or any congregation in which we didn’t have both Christmas Eve services (usually two – one at 7ish and one at 11) and Christmas Day. And both have always been well attended – with the exception of a mission congregation I belonged to for a few years in which the population was too small to make so many services work. Therefore Christmas Day tended to be pretty lightly attended.

    What’s with Matins being celebrated at 7pm and 9pm in comments above??? I thought Matins was the FIRST of the canonical hours, and therefore an early morning service?

  • http://lowly.blogspot.com/ Undergroundpewster

    Liberal Episcopal Parish ours is. (Yoda)
    We still kept the place open,

    Midnight Choral Eucharist started at 10:30 pm Dec. 24
    Holy Eucharist 11:00 am Thursday, Dec. 25
    Holy Eucharist 11:00 am Friday, Dec. 26 (St. Stephen)
    Holy Eucharist 11:00 am Saturday, Dec. 27 (St. John the Evangelist)

  • http://lowly.blogspot.com/ Undergroundpewster

    Never mind the fact that we omitted the confession of sins on Christmas Eve.

  • FW Ken


    Matins (2am in The Rule of St. Benedict), sometimes gets anticipated the evening before. I knew a monastery that did that on weekdays. Personally, I thought it made the day seem upside down, but I only visited there a couple of times.

  • Larry the Grump Rasczak

    I made a point to surf over here for this story because it is a great example of how the OLD TIME was better than the shoddy work that passes for journalisim today.

    As Geoff and others pointed out, our very, very high profile consultant-advisor type person for the Democrats simply doesn’t have her facts straight. Christmas Eve Mass does NOT “usher in the holiday” and (unless you are lectoring or on the organ or such,… Jill C and I seem to have similar Christmas experiences) you don’t go back on Christmas Day. In fact, if I recall my Church History classes from High School correctly, the whole reason there IS a “Midnight Mass” dates back to the pre-Vatican 2 days when you fasted not just for an hour before Communion but from midnight till you went to Communion…(hence the word “Break fast”, and the Catholic tradition of going to church VERY early in the morning…like my Dad’s going to 6AM Mass). Thusly you had Mass at Midnight so that the obligation of going to Mass on Christmas Day was satisfied and you could tuck in to the big Christmas Feast with no problem. Nothing to do with American embrace of civil religion in the middle of the 20th Century at all…..

    So it is kind of obvious to anyone who knows anything about Midnight Mass and/or Church History (or even the simple fact that Catholic’s Saturday Night Mass satisfies the Sunday Obligation) that going on Christmas Eve IS going on Christmas Day… at least from the point of view of the Church.

    Now perhaps I am being unfair…. the story isn’t just about Catholics and perhaps our very, very high profile consultant-advisor type person for the Democrats is pointing out that Churches are closed on Christmas Day… well she does have a point there. I was sort of suprised to see that Fellowship of the Woodlands near where I live had 16 services starting several days before, but was closed on Christmas. I personally have had a very hard time finding a Church service I could go to on THANKSGIVING….you know so I could actually give thanks to God and all that….

    Still, 50 years ago something like this would have been run past a fact checker and the error would have been spotted. In the world where I work (law and prior to that the military) such errors can be important. Same is true for medicine and science and engineering. (Do a Google on “Mars Climate Orbiter” for why PROFESSIONS have such high standards.)

    Which gets back to the 1950s TIME vrs the TIGER BEAT version of Time (should that be “Obama Beat?”) that we have today.

    Journalists check their facts. Analysts know more about the subject they are writing on than what goes into the article. PROFESSIONALS “get it right”. Very, very high profile consultant-advisor type persons for the Democrats” rely on their friends and political connections to get them jobs.

    Lastly professionals don’t make ridiculious generalizations up out of thin air and then accept same as A) truth and B) supports for their premise.

    My eye was particularly attracted to this gem “By the middle of the 20th century, Americans had embraced a civil religion that among other things elevated the ideal of family to a sacrosanct level.” Aside from some Brady Bunch re-runs I have no idea where she gets THAT from!

    However, I could be wrong. Perhaps this American embrace of the family explains the stunning drop in the divorce rate we have seen since the middle of the 20th Century, and the massive upswing in births which has lead to 4 or even 5 children being the national norm, and the increased emphasis on quality family and children’s programing we see in the media today.

  • Jimmy Mac

    For the first time in more years that I can remember I did not attend Midnight Mass at my parish. A lessons and carols service started at 9:00 and the mass at 10:00. It would end at midnight and then there was the parish social. We are a small parish, and the social is something we all look forward to. I couldn’t make it this year, and went to the 10 AM mass instead. It was sparsely attended and the music wasn’t every verse of every hymn that the music director could remember. I enjoyed the rather low-keyed approach and am considering NOT going to MM next year!

  • Michele Hagerman

    By the way, in my limited experience of Orthodoxy, Pascha is done on Easter even, lasting until about 5am (including the post liturgy party), and there’s no Sunday morning liturgy. Is that that the common practice? Catholic parishes of my acquaintance have a 2-3 hour liturgy beginning at 8m or 9pm Saturday evening, but still do a blow-out Mass on Sunday morning.

    FW Ken, unlike Catholic priests who are allowed to say multiple Masses a day, Orthodox priests can only serve one Divine Liturgy per day. That extends to one per altar/antimins (special cloth the bread and wine are consecrated one – Divine Liturgy cannot be served without it, as it’s signed by the bishop, authorizing the Liturgy to be served in that parish). Orthodox begin the liturgical day at sunset, so after the midnight Pascal Divine Liturgy, another can’t be served at the “regular time” (usually 9-10 am).

    By the way, if parishes have multiple Divine Liturgies, as some cathedrals or very large parishes might, you get into having multiple altars (perhaps a main altar and a side one) or even a small table placed in front of the main altar – using a totally different antimins.

    Also, about the time for Matins: during Holy Week, the services are reversed – Vespers in the morning and Matins in the evening. Since Orthodox Christmas services are patterned after that of Pascha (Easter), even with special services the week before, it’s not surprising that Matins (in the Slavic tradition) are served at night.

    For the Orthodox fellow who wants a “Midnight Mass” type solution: you need to find an Antiochian parish. The late (beginning at 10 or 11 pm) Christmas Matins followed by Divine Liturgy appears to be quite common among the Antiochians. The Slavic custom (as the OCA has Russian roots) is to do the Vigil in the evening and Liturgy the next day.

  • http://leitourgeia.wordpress.com Richard Barrett

    The late (beginning at 10 or 11 pm) Christmas Matins followed by Divine Liturgy appears to be quite common among the Antiochians.

    The Antiochian parish I’ve attended for the last five years point blank makes the assumption that all festal liturgies which do not fall on a Sunday will be accessible to the largest number of people if celebrated the night before. In the case of Christmas, even if it does fall on a Sunday, there’s an assumption that people will probably stay home that day and that we might as well have services Saturday evening. Even Saturday morning isn’t considered reasonable enough for most people to be able to make it. (Not that there wind up being appreciably large crowds at most evening Liturgies Divine, but there you have it.) Holy Week winds up being the only exception to this rule.


  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Mollie the professional libertarian and conservative Lutheran here.

    My parish celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ on Christmas Eve, with Solemn Vespers at 7:30 p.m. This service featured the singing of carols from all ages, a series of meditations on the classic hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” and concluded with prayers and singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. We had special music by parish instrumentalists. We even sang a verse of Silent Night in German.

    On Christmas Day we celebrated the Festival Divine Service. On this Holy Day, we gathered at the call of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” heard the majestic beginning of St. John’s Gospel, sang the Nicene Creed in unison, received the Christ Mass (Holy Communion), and departed with joy singing “Joy to the World!”

    Both services were awesome. While both were well attended, we definitely had more visitors on Christmas Eve.

  • Steve

    I agree with Michael Hagerman, above, but would add the following: The displacement of Matins to the preceding evening during Holy Week is done for a reason.

    Where practical considerations do not apply (as in monasteries) Matins should normally begin in the pre-dawn darkness and continue for some time into dawn and sunrise. Its theme is the coming of light (“Glory to thee, who hast shown us the light!”). Thus it is usually moved to a somewhat later time, in the light of early morning, when served in a parish setting. But in Holy Week the thematics emphasize the darkness of a world which rejects and crucifies its Savior. So instead of beginning at, say, four in the morning or being moved to eight or nine, it is moved to the darkness of the preceding evening.

    The case of Matins served as part of the All Night Vigil is different and not relevant here.

  • Jeff

    In my very modern Greek parish, we unfortunately only had a 6:30 p.m. Liturgy on Christmas Eve. Nothing was offered on Christmas day. Even the more conservative one a bit further away did not have a Christmas day Liturgy.

  • Mary

    To add to my earlier post – all of our services were very well attended – especially the Christmas morning Divine Liturgy.

  • Clinton

    It’s been very interesting reading all these responses from various Christian traditions! As a practising Roman Catholic in the Traditional Latin Rite, I am always interested at how Christmas is celebrated in other Churches. It is a bit of an eye-opener to discover that other Christian traditions don’t have services on Christmas day! The Catholic Contributors earlier are correct in saying that Mass on the night before (the Vigil) fulfils the holy-day obligation as the Catholic tradition follows the liturgical practice of the day beginning at sundown.

    Here, in Brisbane, Australia, Christmas is a hot, summertime affair (up to 40 degrees C in some parts of Australia!). While there are Masses on Christmas eve (Vigil), and up to two or three Masses of choice on Christmas Day, Midnight Mass is still extremely popular. However, some local parishes are following similar customs in the US of the “Midnight Mass” being earlier eg 8pm, 10pm etc., to accommodate families and children. In my parish, following the traditional latin rite, a vigil Mass would have meant purple vestments and readings so the feast of Christmas began at Midnight to follow the customs of this rite. Still a Midnight Mass has a certain atmosphere to it and is certainly worth attending at that hour for once a year! There are no dawn Masses I know of in Australian parishes on Christmas day, nor are there usually any Masses on Christmas day afternoon/evening.

    There are some country and outback Catholic parishes in Australia, where because of the long distances and the availability of a priest, the bishop may give special dispensation for a Christmas Mass to be celebrated during the day on Christmas Eve – again in exceptional circumstances.

    As Canon Law stipulates, that a Vigil Mass can fulfil holy-day obligation, most Catholics in Australia only attend one Christmas Mass – unless they have a specific ministry eg acolyte, choir, lector etc.

    For Easter however, some Catholics attend the longer 2hour Easter Vigil with the bonfire, blessing of waters and several readings, along with attending the more ‘regular’ Mass on Easter Sunday. Though they fulfil the obligation when they attend one Easter Mass, its because the Vigil and Easter Day liturgies are so different in their format, that some Catholics in Australia attend both of them. Its also part of their experience of the wider Easter ‘Triduum’ or Holy Week liturgies.

    I apologise for the long contribution on what happens in Australia. Just back to the topic of Christmas, many towns in Australia have ‘Carols by Candlelight’ in the warm summer nights prior to Christams Day. It is not a liturgical service as such, for it often has secular elements like Santa, but are a popular way for people of various walks of life and traditions to come together to spread Christmas message and cheer. Driving around in the nights before Christmas to look at various houses/front yards decorated in Christmas lights is also another popular tradition in Australia.

    I guess the other reason why Christmas services are popularly attended in Australia at the Vigil or midnight, is not only for the cooler climate, but on Christmas Day, many Australians travel to the beach as a family. While some diehard families like my own have the traditional turkey, ham and plum pudding at home in the heat, other families will have cold seafood and icy cold watermelon while surfing under the hot, summer sun.

    Then again, in the end, I have to wonder does it really matter whether the Christmas service occurs in the EVE, at midnight or the morning? Some of the ‘scriptural liturgists’ could argue that according to scripture Jesus was born at night, after the long journey of Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem, the star appeared in the sky from the evening, the angels proclaimed the news to the Shepherds while they were keeping their flocks by night, while the Magi would not get there until about 12 days later at the Epiphany. And what did the Holy Family do after this long night on Christmas Day – they most likely rested and devoted this great day to the Eternal Father as a happy, devoted Family. Maybe we’re following the day liturgically afterall if we have the services/Masses in the evening and the day devoted to our families? Essentially, its what we’ve given to the Christchild – our love and service – that’s what is most important and what He wants from us!

    OK enough of my ramblings from Australia! With joy and peace to all this Christmas season.

  • http://www.freikirchen.at Wolf Paul

    Here in Austria, Evangelicals are as likely to have their Christmas service on the Sunday before Christmas as on Christmas Eve; unless Christmas Day is a Sunday, none will have a service on Christmas Day. They tend to “pick out the raisins” from the liturgical year, mostly because it is a good time to invite unchurched folks to church; thus they have somthing “Christmassy” and also something with an Easter connection — but they do not celebrate the feasts, and certainly not the seasons, essentially because they see no biblical warrant for it.

    For this reason I have been attending Catholic and Anglican services on Christmas and Easter; frequently the Midnight Candlelight Service at Christ Church Vienna for Christmas, and the pre-dawn mass at easter at the parish of a close friend of mine who is a Catholic permanent deacon. They consider that this fulfills their Easter Sunday obligation by the way; afterwards we head to their house for a long, leisurly breakfast; leaving early from which gives me enough time to get to my Evangelical Sunday morning service.

    This year, because my wife is visiting her recently widowed father in the UK and I had the kids at home, I didn’t make it to the Christ Church service; but the international Baptist Church I attend had a very nice Christmas Eve service in which the pastor preached — somewhat incongruously — about the Magi. But that’s as well, since we won’t observe Epiphany anyway.