A Guide for the Christmas Masses

A Guide for the Christmas Masses December 19, 2023

Depending on size, Catholic churches offer multiple opportunities for people to attend Christmas Masses. What is the difference between them?

Catholics Have an Unusual Schedule This Year

In 2023 and in other years when Christmas is on a Monday, Christmas Eve is the same day as the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Day itself is the following day.

If a family usually prefers to attend Mass on Christmas Eve, they may attend Mass twice on Sunday. If people think ahead, they might attend the vigil for the Sunday Mass on Saturday evening.

Early Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve

Some parishes designate this Mass, which usually occurs in the early evening, as a family or children’s Mass. This option allows families an opportunity to attend a Christmas Mass when their family traditions take place throughout Christmas morning.

Often, at these Masses, children present a re-enactment of the story of Jesus and Mary in the stable with some darling sheep or cattle.  Wise men and angels may also appear. The homily may be geared towards the children as well.

The readings for the Vigil Mass highlight God’s goodness to the people of Israel, culminating in the gift of his son.

Midnight Mass or the Mass During the Night

I think of this as a Christmas Eve Mass, but it begins on the first minute of Christmas Day. Some parishes offer the opportunity to sing carols beforehand.

Many families have attended Midnight Mass year after year. I know that this Mass was so popular that my home parish in Maryland used to have two separate Masses at Midnight, one in the church and the other in the parish hall.

At Midnight Mass, in the darkness, the readings and prayers focus on Jesus Christ as light and glory in a world of darkness.

I have noticed that some parishes have held a Mass at a more reasonable hour, such as 10:00 PM instead of at Midnight. I do not know whether they use Midnight Mass prayers and readings or those from the Vigil. This may vary according to diocese/archdiocese.

The wise men arrive.
The straw was likely dirty. Jesus comes to us no matter how bleak the circumstances. By Burkay Canatar, Pexels.com

The Christmas Mass at Dawn

The prayers and readings on this early morning Mass highlight Christ’s divinity. The Gospel reading is the beautiful beginning of John’s Gospel.

The Christmas Day Mass

The first two readings differ from the Mass at Dawn, but this Mass shares the beginning of John’s Gospel with the Mass at Dawn.


Many churches have a large creche scene somewhere in the main body of the Church. Young children often associate Christmas with Santa. Visiting the creche scene and having a reminder that the Savior came as a helpless baby is an important way that they can connect with the Christmas story.


Keep in Mind

The number and importance of the Christmas Masses can be exhausting for many priests, especially those who are older. One of the priests at my parish is 85, for example. My parish may be an exception, but there are two priests on staff, the second one in his fifties or sixties.

I would suggest warmly thanking the priests who are possibly overextended during the Christmas Masses, especially with the Fourth Sunday of Advent Masses before Christmas. In addition, many who sing in the Christmas choir also attend all of the Masses.

Although Advent can be a contemplative time, it can also be hectic with people wanting to put on a special day for loved ones. I appreciate that the Christmas season extends beyond December 25th because others, in addition to the priests, may feel tired on the day itself.

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