25 December 2007

Luke's Christmas and John's Christmas

We had a guest last night who had attended our Christmas Eve Service and wondered whether we were doing the same service the next day. How does one explain the difference between Christmas Eve and the Christmas Day services? I call them St. Luke's Christmas and St. John's - due to the tenor of the Gospels prescribed for either day. The St. Luke's Christmas is the one that everyone loves the best, I suspect. The gathering together at the late hour to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, light our candles, and sing with the angels and adore with the shepherds. St. John's Christmas has a totally different atmosphere - gone the contemplative hymns of the night before, and over and over again the triumph of the Word Made Flesh trumpets forth. Christmas Midnight is the service of "O Little Town" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "All My Heart This Night Rejoices" and "Silent Night." Christmas Day is the service of "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Of the Father's Love" and "Joy to the World" and "Now Sing We Now Rejoice." Christmas Eve is quiet contemplation and Christmas Day is overflowing jubilation. I think the Church is wise to include both (and also the halfway service at Christmas Dawn that is largely, sadly unobserved among us). Christmas celebrations need both Luke and John. I can't fathom choosing between them. I'm glad so many in our parish are there for both Divine Services.


Past Elder said...

Growing up, a couple of times we had to miss Midnight Mass and went to either the Mass at Dawn or the Mass during the day. I'll have to say, to me it felt like something was missing to jump in with the shepherds, let alone the Trinity, without the nativity. But take them in order and the "Three Masses of Christmas" make a unity -- the historical birth, the birth in faith, the eternal birth within God.

I'd welcome your thoughts on my post on this on my blog. Time for showers and bed. It may be the feast of Stephen to-morrow (extra credit for anybody knowing why the church put his feast the day after Christmas!) but when I look out to-morrow it's time to go to work!!

William Weedon said...


I'll look forward to checking that out. In the meantime, a blessed Nativity feast to you and the boys!

Past Elder said...

Vielen Dank -- and I can see you had one indeed!

Somethng I did not take up on that post, but you might find interesting as a pastor, is that for a priest the three masses is a special case.

Rome comes with all sorts of rules and regulations, and while a priest, oddly enough, is not obligated to offer Mass just by being a priest, if he does he may only offer one a day. However, a bishop may allow, to satisy the needs of making Mass available, a priest to celebrate two Masses on a week day and three on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation. This is called bination and trination, respectively.

But on Christmas, because it has three distinct masses for the same feast, a priest may therefore celebrate three masses because technically it is one Mass said once of each. This is so old nobody knows exactly who started it.

The only other time this happens isn't quite the same thing but really a case of offering Mass, the same one, more than once without the bishop's permission. That is on All Souls Day, and it comes from the last Pope Benedict, XV, because of the offering of Masses for the souls in Purgatory. Yeah, I know, all the post conciliar types will chime in saying No No the Mass isn't a work, you can come home now, but there you have it.

Probably even most Catholics aren'y aware of this, because in actual practice most parish priests celebrate more than one Mass on Sunday, but it does depend upon the bishop's authority to do so. And in more recent times, with the priest shortage attendant upon the magnificent "renewal" upon which the Roman church has embarked, even three isn't covering it, including right in the diocese to which I should belong once I knock off all the Lutheran stuff. A bishop cannot of himself give permission for a priest to quadrinate (say four Masses in one day) but himself must be given permission by the Pope to give that permission.

If memory serves, and I'm too tired to look it up, since everyone fell asleep so Christmas is ending with Midnight Showers this year, a lay Catholic does not take Communion but once a day, however on Christmas with its unique three Masses was allowed to take Communion at each one.

You might also enjoy my preceding post on Advent and the Divine Office -- which, btw and unlike Mass, a priest is required to do every day.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Here is the way I like to compare the two (and in fact did for Christmas morning) -- Luke's Gospel is the one that tells you what happened - gives the details. John's in the one that seeks to answer the question "What does this mean?"

What does this mean? It means that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, that the Light that darkness could not overcome was coming, it means that the very Word Himself, by Whom all things were made, is now made Man. That's what that baby in a manger means.

FW said...

wow. I hope you all realize how blest you are to have such riches. Here in Brasil the LC-MS affiliated churches offer a powerpoint presentation on the meaning of christmas with a praise band leading the traditional christmas carols.

Please pray for us!

And motivate the seminaries to do more with the student exchange program. Pay attention to what effect that program is having on the rest of the church outside of the LCMS> The pastor we have here spent a year in student exchange at the St Louis seminary and thinks that as long as the basic form of the liturgy is maintained, that everything (that is EVERYTHING) is up for his ...um... creative flair.

William Weedon said...

Dear FW,

How utterly unfortunate! We do indeed pray for all the Churches of the Augsburg Confession throughout the world - may there be a true renewal in them all of AC XXIV: "We do not abolish the mass!"

Pax Christi!