Keeping watch for Christmas

Michael H. Marchal

This article suggests how to use Lessons and Carols as a Christmas Vigil before Midnight Mass. Michael H. Marchal is a member of Bellarmine Chapel at Xavier University, Cincinatti, Ohio.

Saint Augustine said that Easter Vigil is the ‘mother of all holy vigils,’ but for contemporary Roman Catholics it seems to be the only one. On Christmas night, though, very few celebrations of Midnight Mass seem to start without some sort of preliminary. Perhaps the folks are getting there early to get a seat, but people clearly want to spend some time in church for this celebration. (In the 1980s I knew a group of four women in the parish who used to go to the candlelight carol service at the Presbyterian church before coming to Midnight Mass).

The Byzantines have a long series of readings and psalms as part of the first Mass of Christmas celebrated the evening before. The Ambrosian Rite of Milan has a series of four readings, psalm responsorials, and collects which may be celebrated as part of the first Mass of Christmas – a structure which parallels what we are familiar with at Easter Vigil. For years, though, in the post-conciliar Roman Rite the only suggestion for how to keep a richer watch for Christmas was to combine the Office of Readings with Midnight Mass.

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