A few changes for the pope’s midnight Mass

VATICAN CITY — Like anyone preparing a traditional Christmas celebration, the pope’s master of liturgical ceremonies said he wants the venerable, tried and true elements to speak to people’s hearts as if they were brand new.

On Monday Msgr. Guido Marini, the papal Mass organizer, gave the Vatican newspaper a listing of rites and furnishings that have been added or moved for the pope’s Yuletide celebrations this year.

First, a prayer vigil will precede the pope’s Christmas Mass at midnight with “an alternation of readings, prayers and music to help the souls of everyone present enter a climate of prayer,” Msgr. Marini said. The vigil will end with the singing of the “kalenda,” an official proclamation of Christmas that had been part of the papal entrance procession for more than 20 years.


Pope Benedict XVI blessed the children who brought flowers to the Baby Jesus during his midnight Christmas Mass in 2007. (CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Then, he said, the bells of St. Peter’s will ring during the singing of the “Gloria” to join the angels in announcing Christ’s birth with joy.

In the past, children from around the world, dressed in their native costumes, would bring flowers to the statue of the Baby Jesus and receive a blessing from the pope during the “Gloria.”  This year, Msgr. Marini said, the children will bring their flowers to the basilica’s Nativity scene at the end of Mass when the pope goes over to lay the Baby Jesus in it.

Another change involves the Vatican’s wooden statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus on her lap — a statue usually placed by the altar on the Jan. 1 feast of Mary, Mother of God. This year, Msgr. Marini said, the statue will be near the altar from Christmas Eve onward in order to “underline how Christmastime is also a Marian time. The Holy Virgin does not take anything away from the mystery of the Son of God made man, but helps us understand its real meaning.”


Pope Benedict XVI at the main altar in the Sistine Chapel Jan. 13, 2008. (CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti, Reuters)

He also said that on the Jan. 11 feast of the Baptism of the Lord, when the pope will baptize 13 newborn children of Vatican employees in the Sistine Chapel, he would celebrate Mass at the chapel’s fixed altar, as he did a year ago. Under Michelangelo’s fresco, “The Last Judgment,” the altar is against the wall, requiring the pope to celebrate part of the Mass with his back to the congregation.

“Merry Christmas” in Chinese


VATICAN CITY — Every year, Vatican Radio offers Chinese Catholics around the world two special broadcasts of midnight Mass on Christmas Day.

First it will air live over shortwave and the Internet Mass from the radio’s chapel at 7 p.m. Rome time, which will be midnight in Beijing. Then at midnight Rome time, it will broadcast Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Mass live from St. Peter’s Basilica and provide commentary in Chinese.

Vatican Radio’s Jesuit Father Emanuel Lim told me today that a lot of people in China tune into the Christmas broadcasts. He said churches in China get so packed with people that many decide to stay home and follow the celebrations from the Vatican.  

He said a lot of non-Catholics are drawn to the midnight service “because they want to listen to the carols.”

Need last-minute ideas for Christmas gifts?

Here’s one: How about the gift of service?

Even when people do not have “the economic means” to give to others, “every one of us has the ability to pray and find a way to be of service,” said Detroit Cardinal Adam J. Maida in a pastoral letter on the economy, “Christ Our Hope,” issued in early December.

In the letter he offered hope and encouragement to those suffering hardships, and urged Catholics to show charity and solidarity to others in this time of difficulty.

Serving others at any time of year but particularly during this Christmas season might be the best present we can give to others — and to ourselves as it turns out.

In a Dec. 16 story in The Washington Post, Mark Snyder, director of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota said what those who volunteer regularly already probably know — volunteering improves people’s own self-esteem and gives them a deeper understanding of themselves and others.

In 2007 a study conducted by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service concluded that volunteering also helps people out physically, lowering rates of depression and reducing chronic pain. So if by now you haven’t finished that shopping list, a gift of time might be just the right item.

Or you can make a donation in a family member’s name to an agency that serves people or buy a gift card for a family member that he or she can redeem for a favorite charity.

One Web site that promotes this is JustGive, a San Francisco-based organization. It lists about a thousand legitimate charities in 19 categories, including many diocesan Catholic Charities agencies and national Catholic organizations such as Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. and Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities. The site is part of a movement to redefine Christmas gift-giving and promote more charity and less materialism.

Other sites touting holiday philanthropy include Network for Good, which also includes in its database a number of local and national Catholic organizations.

Word to Life: Christ’s coming calls us to hope

More Word to Life columns.

(Dec. 21, Fourth Sunday of Advent)

Cycle B Readings:

1) 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16

Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29

2) Romans 16:25-27

Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

 – – –


"The Lord ... will establish a house for you" (2 Samuel 7:11)

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

For the second time, we’re getting ready to put a house on the market, which usually means going over it with a fine-toothed comb and looking for potential deal breakers. Then comes the inevitable question: Given our budget, what absolutely has to be repaired, remodeled or replaced, and what can we let go?

Watching TV shows on home remodeling and “house-flipping” doesn’t help. They prompt comparisons between our home and the showcases, inspiring more fix-up projects that require even more time and money. For us, it usually comes down to praying for guidance, making tough choices and hoping we get it right in a real estate market we don’t know.

In the first reading of this fourth Sunday of Advent, King David saw a problem and envisioned a building project that sounded good at the time — erecting a dwelling for the Ark of the Covenant — so that the house of the Lord of Israel would measure up to those of his neighbors’ gods.

But neither David nor the prophet Nathan “got it right.” In a play on words, God made it clear that the dwelling was not David’s to build; rather, the Lord would raise up from David’s descendants a royal “house” that would have a significance far greater than anything he could imagine.

Luke’s Gospel picks up that theme and, not accidentally, mentions that Mary is betrothed to Joseph, a member of “the house of David.” But in a startling turn of events, the angel Gabriel makes it clear to Mary that the child whose coming he announces will fulfill the promise made to his ancestor David — not through the intervention of flesh and blood, but by the power of God — and in this way, “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Though the outcome was beyond Mary’s comprehension, she “got it right” by trusting in God’s promise and its incredible implications for future generations.

Every day we find ourselves in situations that cry out for answers and appeal for “quick fixes,” and too often we first look to our own insufficient resources for solutions. Christ’s coming, announced anew every Advent, breaks through our shortsightedness, carries us beyond our inadequacies and calls us to hope beyond our imagining.


In what present situation are you trying to rely on your own inadequate resources to “fix” a problem? How can you more fully rely on God’s power and find hope in God’s promises?

More on Texas hospitals and sterilizations

The controversy over sterilizations at a Catholic hospital system in the Diocese of  Tyler, Texas, continues.

As we reported in November, Bishop Alvaro Corrada of Tyler said an investigation in the diocese — following up on a inquiry started by Our Sunday Visitor newspaper — had found that Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler and Christus St. Michael’s Health System in Texarkana had been guilty of a “serious misinterpretation” of the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services” when they allowed sterilizations to be performed there. Christus St. Michael’s quickly announced that it would stop all direct sterilizations.

But Trinity Mother Frances, in a statement, recently announced that “medically necessary indirect sterilizations” would continue there, under its reading of the Catholic directives.

Bishop Corrada has issued a lengthy statement on “human dignity, conscience and health care” that addresses the matter. Stay tuned. This controversy seems unlikely to go away quietly.

A million ‘Know Your Rights’ cards

As the Minnesota bishops were announcing Immigration Sunday for Jan. 4 in the state, a group of church and immigrant-rights organizations in the Los Angeles area are distributing 1 million “Know Your Rights” cards this week to immigrants who live in fear of workplace raids and separation from their families.

Sized like a business card, the “Know Your Rights” cards come in seven languages — English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese — and describe basic rights and how to act on those rights when needed.

“We want our immigrant brothers and sisters to know that we continue to stand in solidarity with them and will continue to do what we can to help them during these difficult times on the road to true reform of our broken immigration system,” said Auxiliary Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Los Angeles. Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Los Angeles hosted the press conference announcing the action.

A history of helping find ‘a dignified home’

As the housing crunch continues, the efforts of Catholic charitable agencies to help those affected have been documented in this CNS story and this one. But the church is no Johnny-come-lately to the cause of finding “a dignified home” for everyone, as evidenced by this story in the Denver Catholic Register about the 40th anniversary of Archdiocesan Housing, which now operates 20 affordable-housing properties in the Denver area and in Wyoming.