Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Because You're Once, Twice... Six Times the Celebrant

Hopefully those of our clergy who needed it are just waking up from a well-merited post-Santa Notte respite.

In more places than many of us probably realize, it wasn't just bination or trination on IV Advent/Christmas Eve/Day -- it was "sexination."

No, that's not a Boratism -- it's a real term, shorthand for celebrating six Masses in one day.

As many of you know, the law of the church as a general rule allows priests to celebrate the Eucharist just once a day on weekdays and twice ("bination") on Sundays and holy days, with three celebrations universally permitted on All Souls Day and Christmas. The local bishop may permit bination on weekdays and trination on Sundays and holy days on his own authority, and at least one US diocese has an indult from the Holy See permitting daily trination and Sunday quatrination -- if you're lost amidst the nations, that's four turns at the presider's chair.

Well, with Advent's last Sunday and Christmas back-to-back, the celebration rules got maxed out like many of our credit cards this year, even though the two are technically separate liturgical days with distinct obligations for attendance. One East Coast friend, alone in his parish and with no help 'til Monday morning, had to do his place's three Sunday morning liturgies and the three on Christmas Eve -- including what now seems to be universally known as the "Zoo Mass," i.e. the first vigil liturgy which, in the current practice, is dominated by hordes of families.

As he told me on Saturday night, in the final lap of the frenzied preps, "All I want for Christmas is the 26th."

Even the LATimes picked up on the story:
By the time Monday afternoon rolled around, the San Gabriel Mission had offered 18 Masses and services in two days in English, Spanish and Vietnamese between its two adjacent sanctuaries....

That it all got taken care of was "kind of a miracle," said Berg, 71, who has been pastor at the mission for the last five years. He heads a staff of six fellow Claretian missionaries, half of whom are too old or ill to work full time, and a small cadre of lay volunteers.

"We just try to make this a good experience," said Chuck Lyons, public relations director at the parish, which serves more than 3,500 households.

And then there was music. Organist and pianist Paul Puccinelli played seven Masses in two days at San Gabriel. He got home from the midnight Mass at 2:30 a.m. and was up at 6 a.m. Monday for the round of morning services. He played a lot of "Away in a Manger" and "Joy to the World" and held quick consultations with soloist singers.

He was so tired that at one point, he joked about grabbing a catnap on the keyboard. But he finished his last service with a melodious "Silent Night" and was about to head off to a final assignment at a Pasadena church before joining his family.

"It's exhausting; it's hard. But I love it. I wouldn't have it any other way," Puccinelli said. "As tired as I am, it's all worthwhile."

Roman Catholics were obliged to attend both regular Sunday Mass and a service for the holiday, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The exception is when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday.

But the crunched timing had a downside: It cut attendance somewhat Monday, parish leaders said. Some people asked the priests if they could meet the requirements by coming just to, for example, the vigil Mass at 5 p.m. Sunday. The answer was no, although that advice was not always followed.

Anticipating that some people were reluctant to attend church twice in two days, some other churches, particularly Protestant ones, reduced their Sunday morning schedules. And some Christian denominations hold Christmas Eve worship but traditionally don't conduct Christmas Day services as long as it is not a Sunday.
...while in the Windy City, the Trib got wind of fluctuating Midnight Mass times:
Christmas preparations under way, Rev. Mark Bartosic struggled with an increasingly common holiday problem: how to get more people to attend midnight mass.

Bartosic discussed the matter with his parishioners at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Cicero, then decided to make a radical change. He moved midnight mass to 10 p.m.

"People just weren't coming at midnight," said Bartosic. "So, we started talking and thought an earlier mass would be better suited for people who want to pray first and then party and celebrate with their families after church."

It is a change being made by many Catholic churches, and it has spawned one of the season's great mysteries....

At St. Procopius Catholic Church in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, Rev. Timothy Howe said the service was switched from midnight to 9 p.m. in the early 1990s, a response to concerns about crime and people walking outside late at night.

In recent years, even as crime has dropped in Pilsen, the church kept bumping the service earlier. Last year, the Christmas Eve mass at St. Procopius was held at 7 p.m.

This year, with Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday, Howe said the church will celebrate at the hour when Sunday evening mass is normally held. That means the midnight mass will be said at 5 p.m.

"Initially, it started as a safety thing. People just didn't want to be out on the streets that late," Howe said. "But once that midnight thing was broken, we started asking what was the most convenient time for families to come to church."...

In addition to safety concerns, reasons for the change include aging of church populations, efforts to attract young children to mass and family obligations.

"Most churches have done it so people can go home after church and spend midnight with their families," said Marilu Gonzalez, a graduate student at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
For the record, I'm a die-hard Midnight guy -- when it's actually, you know, at Midnight. This is not to critique those places which move it up; whatever it takes to reach the people. (For all we know, the Virgin Birth took place at 3.06am and 23 seconds, or 9.14pm and 38 seconds. Whatever.) For my own snotty gustibus, however, there's just a particular magic to the literal dead of night; and, by and large, the people who're there want to be there, moreso than at the "Zoo Mass" or any other of the Christmas liturgies.

This year, after three Christmases roasting under TV lights from the first stall of the cathedral-basilica here (one of my mentor's many good gifts), then a couple years of wipporwilling it and, finally, the memorable-as-a-train-wreck debacle that was Christmas 2K5 in Jersey, I returned to the closest thing I've ever had to a home parish: the little Italian church with a heart bigger than Bernini's Colonnade.

Per usual, it was, in a word, divine. Sure, the choir had a bit of a rough ride with the Alleluia from Mozart's Exultate, and the Kyrie and Gloria were choral, but like the best of old sweaters that've worn well with time, it had a comfortable dignity to it.

And, guess what, it's all good -- I've seen enough to realize that, when the sincerity of worship is trumped by the golden calf of an anal-retentive precision, we'd do better to just stay home and let it all burn, because in the walk of faith, the greater glory lies in the effort as opposed to the achievement.

Seems no less than the Ratzi Bear agrees. In his Midnight homily, the Pope spoke to the excessive tendency as proof that, even after the Coming, some things in religion remain the same:
[S]o we come to the second meaning that the Fathers saw in the phrase: "God made his Word short". The Word which God speaks to us in Sacred Scripture had become long in the course of the centuries. It became long and complex, not just for the simple and unlettered, but even more so for those versed in Sacred Scripture, for the experts who evidently became entangled in details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall perspective. Jesus "abbreviated" the Word – he showed us once more its deeper simplicity and unity. Everything taught by the Law and the Prophets is summed up – he says – in the command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mt 22:37-40). This is everything – the whole faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity.
Back to my place, it didn't go unnoticed that, at long last, they've started incensing the people at the Presentation of the Gifts. That was a quantum leap.

I couldn't help but notice, however, the aggregate disappearance of the Old Guard. Not all that long ago, it was the case that you couldn't get a seat if you showed up a second after 11.08 or thereabout. With that in mind, I got there at 11.45, fully expecting to stand, but finding the back half of the place (which comfortably seats about 550)... empty. It eventually filled in, and there were a couple of standers, but nothing like the out-the-door-and-down-the-steps crowd that was there in, say, '98 and '99.

Highlight: "Tu Scendi," of course. All of six or seven congregants knew the words, and the other five or six were old ladies in black mantillas. Go figure.

But between this, and the ramping-up of the time in many places, can it be said that we're witnessing the long, slow death of Midnight Mass?

I haven't seen enough to know, but good God I hope not. Consubstantial night owl that I am, I'm more awake for it than any liturgy all year.

Whatever the case, to the troopers who endured the weekend crush, yours is the thanks of a grateful church. Good work feeding the masses, and hopefully you all got to enjoy a bit of down-time.

And now, back to work.