Midnight Mass is heart of Nativity celebration

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On the evening of Dec. 24, Catholics in Alaska and around the world will gather in their local parishes to celebrate the traditional Christmas Midnight Mass. At Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz will celebrate the Midnight Mass beginning at midnight, and it will be broadcast live on KTUU Channel 2.

In parishes across Alaska the faithful will enter churches, vibrant with candlelight and replete with symbols, evergreens branches, flowers and a crèche scene whose miniature manger will be filled with a figurine of the Baby Jesus.

The annual Midnight Mass is a unique liturgy honoring the birth of Jesus. The custom of gathering in the first dark hours of the day can be traced to an ancient practice of Christians in the land where Christ was born.

On Jan. 6, early Christians gathered for a midnight vigil at Bethlehem, and then processed by torchlight to Jerusalem where at dawn they arrived at the Church of the Resurrection. By the late 300s, the Christmas feast was held across the universal church on December 25 — and according to ancient texts for church liturgies, three Masses were designated to mark the occasion — at midnight, dawn and day — mirroring the custom in the Holy Land.

In Rome, the Midnight Mass took place at St. Mary Major, whose grotto-like oratory evoked the Bethlehem stable in which Jesus was born (relics of his manger crib are still enshrined at the church).

According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Midnight Mass marks the moment when God the Son is “begotten” by God the Father. The second Mass marks Jesus’ “nativity in time, and the spiritual birth, whereby Christ rises ‘as the day-star in our hearts,’” he notes. And the third Mass honors Christ’s “temporal and bodily birth.”

Attending any of the Christmas Masses — vigil, midnight, dawn or day — will fulfill the Christmas Mass obligation. For Mass times, contact local parishes.

'Midnight Mass is heart of Nativity celebration'
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