’Tis the season for so many things: for carols and frenzy, for out-of-control to-do lists and calm lit-by-Christmas-lights rooms, for crazed children and too much.
And then there’s Christmas Mass.
We’ll have to get there really, really early, because we want a seat. And we’ll be squished and uncomfortable and the kids will be done well before we’re even close to done. And there won’t be the magic of Midnight Mass, one of my very favorite Catholic traditions, because we’ve shelved that for the time being. (Call us crazy: we’ve placed a higher value on our sleep than on the beauty of that particular Mass.)
But as I sit there, wearing heels and makeup and considering the transformation well-placed flowers and lights can make on a space, I won’t be able to stop myself from looking around.
There will be at least two-and-a-half times as many people in Mass as usual. Many of them will be people who don’t make Mass a regular habit in their lives. Many of them will be people who are uncomfortable less because of the crowdedness and more because it’s been a while since they’ve been at Mass.
It’s all too easy to complain about these C&E Catholics. In fact, working in the parish for a decade, I caught myself annoyed a time or two.
Over the years, though, I’ve softened. And this year, something in me snapped as I thought about the folding chairs and the fire hazards and the inconvenience of it all.
No matter how secular Christmas has gotten, how focused on stuff and stretched in the wrong direction and made into a caricature of what it should be, our churches are still packed on Christmas Eve.
Why is that?
No matter how “culture of death” our society has become in all the sly, slithering, sneaky ways of contraception and regulated family size, there’s still something about a baby. I’ve never been a baby person, and even I can’t help ooo-ing and ahh-ing over a new human being. There’s just something there (even if I don’t want to hold them or snuggle them just yet, thankyouverymuch), some inkling that points to something greater and brighter.
Christmas is about a baby. And somehow, however poor our catechesis, however bad our liturgy, however lukewarm our approach, many of us get that. And we show up on Christmas Eve, maybe out of habit or maybe out of compulsion. Maybe we’re there because Grandma won’t have it any other way.
In those filled pews, there is hope: hope for the world and hope for our Church, hope for humanity and hope for me.
Jesus comes to us at every Mass, but he’s all too easy to ignore. Once a year, he’s somehow more accessible. He’s a baby. And people just can’t stay away.
Let’s scoot a little closer and smile a little wider. Our Savior’s coming, and the world knows it, even if they pretend to be in denial!