The first Christmas Eve Mass I attended was memorable for several, distinct reasons. I had been attending the daily masses pretty regularly since March and the regular pastor had returned in May from his sabbatical and the very first mass I attended with him presiding was one that I had intentions said for my friend’s death one year prior. His homily resonated with me in so many ways that from that moment on, he was my pastor, whether he knew it or not. This Christmas Eve, I was continuing to attend mass and yet had no intention of conversion. My attendance was in complement to my Jewish traditions. It was important to me. I didn’t kneel or cross myself, but the readings and the homilies spoke to me in a way that I was needing at that time.
Not knowing how holiday masses worked, I didn’t realize the amount of people who would be attending, especially the early mass when the kids were in abundance. The kids weren’t any problem, but the seating was at a premium as was the parking. I arrived at what I thought was on time, but which was late if I wanted a parking space conducive to my wobbly knee and a seat. I arrived and Father Jerry greeted me. He was happy to see me, and I him. He looked around to see if there was a seat (there wasn’t) and I said that I was fine to stand. He knew that this was not true as we had spoken about my knee in previous months. He asked a family in the last row if they could squeeze me in, and the grandfather mind you, stood so I could sit with his family, and he stood behind the pew.
This was not my first experience of the hospitality of my parish to be.
This wasn’t the first time that I knew I belonged here, whether I converted or not. Again, I wasn’t in the market for a new church or religion, but we often will get what we need when we need it rather than what we want or are looking for. This season was definitely one of those times. My conversion came before my baptism by more than a year. In my mind, while receiving the sacraments are an important part of the faith journey, for me it was something of a formality. In my heart, I was already Catholic. However, on this Christmas Eve, I wasn’t there yet.
All families have holiday traditions, whether they be in their nuclear family, their extended, their chosen family, traveling for the holiday, or staying home. One of ours from my husband’s side was Christmas Eve Chinese take out for dinner as well as a newer tradition of the Doctor Who Christmas special. My family was delayed for both by my choice to attend Christmas Eve Mass. I had already decided not to attend the Christmas Day Mass, not knowing that attending the Vigil Mass was the same in regard to the “obligation” to attend the next day’s mass. Of course, I was not under any obligation, but it still made a difference to me in knowing the distinction.
Tonight’s Christmas Eve Mass will be different from previous years. I won’t know how until I get there. We belong to a family of three parishes, and so in my church there will be only one Eve mass. We have a new pastor who I like very much but he is different, and that’s okay. The anticipation is both exciting and anxiety inducing. Instead of the last row, I’ll sit in one of the first rows with my friend in her usual seat. My family will pick up the Chinese food and I’ll meet them at home after. We have Napoleons for dessert as well as some leftover cookies once we make them for Santa. Our youngest is sixteen, almost seventeen (two more weeks), but Santa still expects his cookies. There is eggnog chilling in the fridge. Tomorrow’s dinner is planned as is the next day’s lunch with my oldest son who is working today.
Christmas Eve is preparatory, getting the church ready, getting the tree ready, getting the food ready, but also reliving a child’s birth in a manger in a cave halfway around the world, which resonates around the world. It is also preparing for the birth of a new year, looking ahead while also glancing behind, bringing forward the good, leaving the not so good. While some churches have already decorated, the inside of ours won’t be ready until we arrive tonight with wreaths and trees, wound with white lights, dim lighting makes way for brighter tomorrow, tonight the skylights are dark with the night sky. Garland and plants and flowers and of course, the empty manger that will be filled before the end of the night.
Happy Christmas Eve. May your night be peaceful and your tomorrow glorious.