Monday, December 31, 2012

Mary Christ Mass

Last year when Christmas fell on Sunday I loved going to church to celebrate the birth of Christ. It just seemed like the right place to be on Christmas. Yet because the LDS church has no paid clergy (all positions are volunteered by members) church services aren't usually held on Christmas Day, unless it happens to fall on Sunday.

Jon and I really wanted to take our kids to church on Christmas and the Catholic church by our house had Mass at 5 AM, 9 AM, and 11:30 AM on Christmas Day. We went to the 11:30 AM mass and, even though we felt awkward and out of place most of the time, it was really a beautiful experience for our family.

I had been to Mass once before when I was in college, but I didn't remember much about it (except the part where you shake the hands of the people sitting next to you). Asher had lots of questions about why the church looked so different (LDS church's generally don't have crucifixes), why the Priest and the altar boys wore robes, why everyone in the congregation stood up and talked so much,  and why we couldn't go take the sacrament when it was offered. It was a good teaching opportunity, though some of the things were hard to explain to a five-year-old!  He was especially  concerned about why we couldn't take the Sacrament, and I told him we couldn't because we didn't belong to the Catholic church, but we could go up and cross our arms and receive a blessing from the Priest if we wanted. He saw some of the other children do that and I could tell he was thinking about it, but finally decided that next time he might do it.

As Mass progressed I was touched by many things, but something the Priest said really resonated with me. First he implored his congregation not to say "Happy Holidays" but to use the words "Merry Christmas", because he said the name was a reminder of what we were really to focus our worship and celebration on. The "Merry" was a reminder of Mary, the mother of Christ, the "Christ" a reminder of whose birthday it was, and the "mas" a reminder of "mass", in which the the holy Eucharist (the sacrament) was administered.  He then beckoned around the half empty chapel and asked where everyone was. Why, on this day when the Son of God was born into the world, the churches were so empty. Where were those gathered together to rejoice? Where were the multitudes gathered to worship him and partake of  the emblems of His holy sacrament, in celebration of His life?

It was his use of the words "celebrate" and "worship" interchangeably that really stuck me. And as I sat in that beautiful church on Christmas Day, singing "Hark the Herald Angels" at the top of my lungs, I felt my heart fill with gratitude and love for a Savior who would condescend to come dwell among men.

In that moment I fully understood what the Priest meant by worship being a celebration and I laughed at all the effort I had gone to trying to make our Christmas more "Christ-centered". None of the traditions, meals, decorations, music, or gifts that I had so carefully constructed really came close to the celebration-- the worship-- I experienced during those few hours of Mass.  In my heart I was truly worshipping Christ and I was celebrating the day of His birth in a meaningful way.

It was the highlight of my Christmas.

Afterward Jon and I decided that we will try to make attending Mass a Christmas tradition for our family. Though, I did find myself wishing that  Christmas could be on Sunday every year so that I could worship on Christmas day with my own congregation. Yet, after a little reflection I decided that feeling out of place, confused, and awkward at Mass once a year might be really good for me. Being out of my "comfort zone" pushed me and made me re-evaluate my own beliefs and practices in a significant way.

I saw plainly that too often my own Sunday worship becomes mundane and routine. I have gone through the motions of it every week for my entire life and  it is easy for me to go to Sacrament Meeting and treat the sacrament as a "snack" in the middle of church, rather than the sacred ordinance that it is.  I am sure that for some of the Catholics at the 11:30 AM Mass, it was the same mundane routine they had heard their whole life. Yet for me, who had only seen it once before, it was a moving reminder of Christ.

It reminded me that it is all to easy to become complacent in our worship of Christ that we forget to celebrate the miracle of what He has done for us. This Christmas God gave me a taste of what it feels like to have my heart worship-- to really celebrate Christ-- and that was by far the best Christmas gift I received.


  1. I grew up catholic and was baptized LDS at 17. I find it very interesting that you saw the Catholic mass as a moving and powerful reminder of Christ because I never really did-- in any of the 14 or so years that I attended regularly. I found actual, true discipleship and love of Christ in the LDS church--- and wayyyyy too much mundane ritual with no answers behind it in the Catholic Church. It's fascinating how our experiences color how we see things. I'm glad that you and your family were able to find Christ in Christmas :). And really shocked that there weren't many people at mass.... That said, you live in Utah, which could really explain it.

    1. Kristin, thank you for sharing your experiences, it is interesting how our different upbringings change how we see things! I feel like whenever I participate in the religious practices of others it always re-affirms my faith in my own beliefs. Not because I see that others are all wrong, but because I can see that they only have parts of the Truth and I can see where my religion fills in all the missing pieces.

      But I have found that some of my most profound spiritual moments have happened when I have found those pieces of truth in other religions and have realized that we are all more alike than we are different.
      I think that it helps me to look at things through a different lens sometimes :)

      And I think you are right about Mass, it was probably because we are in Utah. The Priest said that the 5 AM Mass had the best turn out, but that the later ones weren't as well attended. Which is kind of sad, even in Utah.

  2. I found myself also wishing that we had Christmas on Sunday, so that we could go to church on Christmas! The thought crossed my mind to attend our local neighborhood Lutheran Church for the very same reasons. Maybe next year...

  3. Brittney and I went to midnight mass on Christmas eve! I really loved going because for some reason I wasn't feeling AT ALL Christ-centered this Christmas. For like 70% of the time Brittney and I literally had no idea what was going. We just stood and kneeled and sat and sang when told to and I tried not to cough when they brought the incense by. But the time for reflection, the music, and the Priest's message were all really awesome. The church we went to even gave us a free "rediscovering Catholicism" book as a little missionary effort. It was pretty cool and something that I want to do again.

  4. We went to midnight mass with Matt's Dad up until we had Sophie,and he said he was getting to tired to go, and it was always PACKED, and that was in Idaho Falls. I always loved going and thought it was such a great way to celebrate Christmas. I did't even think of going on Christmas! I will have to remember this next year :)

  5. I just have to say, I love your blog so much. I find your views are so similar to mine, and it's nice to know i'm not alone in a lot of things. I love this idea of going to Christmas Mass. i'd never really thought of that. I've attended an Easter service at the local Baptist church that they held on Good Friday, and it was wonderful. I love learning about other religions, seeing what we have in common, and I love to attend meetings and socials from other faiths that don't conflict with my own meetings. like you, it reaffirms my faith in the LDS Church, seeing the doctrinal similarities, and where questions left unanswered in other places can be answered by our own doctrine. It also strengthens the bond I feel between us as brothers and sisters who love and worship God, no matter our religion.

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  7. I have often gone to Christmas services (usually Christmas Eve) over the years because I like attending church as well on Christmas. Some of my grown children now carry on the tradition. You might like to try an Episcopalian service some time. It has many similarities to the Catholic mass, but usually more music. Episcopal/Anglican churches sometimes offer a musical service called a "Lesson and Carols" which basically is an outline of the plan of salvation using scripture and music. The Anglican church has some Christmas music that will knock your spiritual socks off, so to speak. For example the lyrics of Adam lay ybouden: Adam lay ybounden, Bounden in a bond; Four thousand winter, Thought he not too long. And all was for an apple, An apple that he took. As clerkes finden, Written in their book. Ne had the apple taken been, The apple taken been, Ne had never our ladie, Abeen heav'ne queen. Blessed be the time That apple taken was, Therefore we moun singen. Deo gracias!

  8. I love Christmas masses, if you get a chance you should go to a Christmas eve mass. I grew up Catholic (and am now LDS) and still loving going to my parents each year and going to Mass for Christmas.

  9. The one I'd like to go to is Midnight Mass but there's no chance of dragging little kids out of bed so I just took mine to the Christmas Eve nativity service (at a much more reasonable time). ;) I don't know if there is an Anglican church near you? If there is, you might want to consider going to an Anglican service instead of the RC one because, in my church, you are welcome to take communion if you are entitled to do so in another church (i.e. you are old enough or confirmed or whatever would be the custom in your church). Although, you are also entitled to have a blessing instead (like the RC service - just keep your hands behind your back) if you'd prefer. Thought your boy would like to know. Also, we have RC relatives - I find the differences confusing too! ;)

  10. I've always wanted to go to our local Methodist church for Christmas Eve services. One day, I think when my kids are a bit older, I will. I like Cathoic Mass as well. You should consider going during Lent on a weekday. At least here in Santa Fe, at the Bassillica, they have a mass every day at noon during Lent and the lesson/talk the preist gives is always very nice.