December 25th is the holiest day of the year, and we are all invited to attend the three Christmas Masses customarily celebrated on this date. Starting at midnight, each Christmas Mass highlights a different aspect of the Christmas story. Let’s explore the symbolic meaning of the three Christmas Masses.
Midnight Christmas Mass
Western Catholic Churches celebrate the first Christmas Mass at midnight. According to tradition, in fact, Jesus was born in Bethlehem at midnight. The night ceremony marks a foundational moment: it celebrates the very hour the promised Messiah came into the world bringing light into the spiritual darkness of human condition.
Until the XII century, the Pope was the only one allowed to celebrate Christmas Masses. Yet, when all priests had been granted the faculty of celebrating the Holy Mass on Christmas Day, the practice of Midnight Christmas Mass became more and more popular throughout the world.
Midnight Mass is traditionally referred to as “Mass of the Angels”. The Responsorial Psalm proclaims, in fact, the joyful words with which the Angel announced Jesus’ birth:
“Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.”
While the Gospel reading (from the Gospel of Luke) tells the very first part of the Christmas story when the Angels herald the Good News to the shepherds.
Christmas Mass at dawn
The second Christmas Mass is celebrated at dawn, and is traditionally referred to as the “Mass of the Shepherds”. Again, the celebration highlights the parallel between Jesus and the sunlight. As the sun rises, Jesus’ birth brings the hope of salvation to the world.
The Gospel reading for this Mass continues the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. After having listened to the good news, the shepherds hasten to Joseph and Mary to worship the Christ Child. Then, the shepherds joyfully proclaimed the Good News to the others.
“The Adoration of Shepherds” - Andrea Mantegna
Christmas Day Holy Mass
The third and last Christmas Mass is celebrated in full daylight. At this point, the Messiah’s birth has been revealed to the whole world. Christmas Day Mass is traditionally referred to as “The King’s Mass”. The Gospel reading is, in fact, the call for all people and nations to worship the newborn King of Kings.
Christmas Mass at the Vatican
People who are planning to visit Rome during Christmas time will have the unique chance of attending the Midnight Mass at the Vatican celebrated by the Pope in person in marvelous St. Peter’s Basilica. Tickets are completely free and obviously in high demand. People who mean to attend the celebration must apply for tickets well in advance.
How to reserve tickets for Christmas Midnight Mass
Applications must be faxed to the Vatican’s Prefecture of the Papal Household (you can download the application form here). The Vatican advises that the smaller the number of tickets you are applying for, the more likely your application is to be successful.
Urbi et Orbi Blessing on Christmas Day
In case we couldn’t join the Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, we definitely have to attend to the Papal Urbi et Orbi Blessing at St. Peter’s Square on December 25th at 12:00 pm. No tickets required.