Christmas Vigil vs Midnight Mass

I wish to ask about the difference between the Christmas Vigil Mass and the Christmas Midnight Mass, because I find that few people differentiate between the two. Until now I did not. I hope this is the right forum in which to post this question - it was the nearest I could find for a discussion thread.

After the attack on HH Pope Benedict XVI on 24 Dec 2009, the news articles used “Vigil Mass” and “Christmas Eve Mass” and “Midnight Mass” to describe the time of the event.

I assumed there was the normal Mass for the day (Christmas Eve) which would be in the morning and then Christmas Mass which also fell on Christmas Eve for the midnight Mass. Apparently not - the Vigil Mass comes later, before the Midnight Mass. The readings I am familiar with from the 5pm/7pm/8pm/10pm/12am Masses I’ve attended are the Midnight Mass readings.

Evidence that the Christmas Vigil Mass and the Christmas Midnight Mass are not the same:

USCCB listing of readings for Christmas Vigil Mass
Is 62:1-5
Ps 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29
Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
Mt 1:1-25 or 1:18-25

USCCB listing of readings for Christmas Midnight Mass, first of the three Christmas Masses
Is 9:1-6
Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
Ti 2:11-14
Lk 2:1-14

The 2nd and 3rd Christmas Masses are also different;
2nd (Dawn):
3rd (Day):

Pope Benedict’s Midnight Mass sermon

The Vatican website lists it as being the Midnight Mass sermon. It cites the readings for Midnight Mass. It does not list the sermons for the 2nd and 3rd Masses - are they the same?

Zenit lists it as being the Christmas Vigil Mass sermon. “Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave tonight at the Christmas Vigil Mass in the Vatican

When was the pope attacked?

Clearly at the Midnight Mass, the one that was moved to 10pm from midnight.

Zenit says it was at the Christmas Vigil Mass. “Benedict XVI is unhurt after he was knocked down tonight as he entered St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate the Christmas vigil Mass, reports a Vatican spokesman.

From the same page: “The Christmas vigil Mass was celebrated for the first time in recent memory at 10 p.m., instead of at midnight, in an effort to make Christmas “a little less tiring for the Pope.”

The Vatican press communication does not specify which Mass.

The BBC calls it the Christmas Eve Mass. “A shaken Pope Benedict has celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in St Peter’s Basilica shortly after being knocked over by a female spectator.” … “The Christmas Eve service in the Vatican started two hours early because officials did not want the pontiff, 82, to get tired.

The Daily Mirror calls it Midnight Mass.

The New York Times calls it the Christmas Eve Mass and specifies the time of the early 10pm Midnight Mass.

When is the real Christmas Vigil Mass (i.e. not the Midnight Mass) usually celebrated? I have never heard of one, or been to one, to my knowledge, unless 24 Dec was on a Sunday and that was the Mass that morning.


The Sphere has an original Associated Press error (removed from most of the articles) that said, “As a choir sang, he sprinkled incense on the altar before opening the Mass with the traditional wish for peace in Latin.” I doubt he sprinkled incense anywhere. :eek:

This misunderstanding arises from the fact that over the years the the term ‘Vigil Mass’ has been incorrectly used when ‘anticipated Mass’ was meant. The term Vigil Mass only applies to a handful of Masses through the year, each specific to a feast: Christmas, Easter, Assumption, Pentecost, St. Peter and St Paul and one other that slips my mind.

Christmas is a feast with 4 specific Masses each with its own specific readings: “Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord”, “Mass at Midnight”. “Mass at Dawn”, “Mass During the Day”.

The Vigil Mass is celebrated starting in the late afternoon of Dec. 24, either before or after 1st Vespers (according to the Sacramentary and Lectionary) up to midnight.

Since the option is there to celebrate an anticipated “Mass at Midnight” rather than the “Vigil Mass”, most priests I’ve known have opted for an anticipated “Midnight Mass” rather than the Vigil for any Mass after 4 p.m.

The other Solemnity with a Vigil is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. I’d guess that it’s not used much, not being a Holy Day of Obligation and not normally falling on Sunday.

The word “midnight” refers to a time of day; nothing else. If a Mass is celebrated at 12:00 AM, it’s “Midnight Mass.” It is logically impossible to have “Midnight Mass” at any time other than at 12 Midnight; just as it’s logically impossible to have “eleven o’clock Mass” at “eight o’clock”

In English-speaking countries, there is a particular Christmas Mass called “Mass at Midnight.” This Mass has its own propers (the 3 presidential prayers) and its own readings (althought the Christmas readings can be re-arranged at the celebrant’s discretion).

The problem is that in the last few decades, many parishes in the English-speaking world have done away with Midnight Masses and replaced them with Masses at other times. There is nothing wrong with this. A Mass can be celebrated at 5 PM or 10 PM or any other time. Again, there is nothing wrong with that, however, they have likewise taken to calling these Masses “Midnight Mass” which they are not–that’s the problem. It has become so popular, that many people no longer realize what they’re saying.

With regard to what happened at the Vatican, the official word from the Holy See was that the Holy Father was to celebrate “Mass in the Night” at 10 PM on Christmas Eve, not Midnight Mass. The English translators decided to call it “Midnight Mass” even though it was not to be a Midnight Mass. Even EWTN called it “Midnight Mass” although it wasn’t. Since the Mass itself was to start at 4 PM ET in the US, most people would not have known the difference, so EWTN might have used the incorrect term “Midnight Mass” only because their viewers were so accustomed to watching “Midnight Mass at St. Peters” that to change the title of the program would have caused confusion.

Thanks for the clarifications - I understand now! :thumbsup:

Midnight Mass is actually a misnomer.

There are 4 Masses for Christmas. From my Graduale Romanum, it gives chants for use:

Ad Missam in vigilia (At the Mass of vigil)
Ad Missam in nocte (At the Mass during the night)
Ad Missam in aurora (At the Mass at dawn)
Ad Missam in die (At the mass during the day)

In French (my first language and I live in a French-speaking country), we say:

Messe du 24 au soir (Mass on the evening of the 24th)
Messe de la nuit (night Mass)
Messe de l’aurore (dawn Mass)
Messe du jour (day Mass).

None of them have a specific time given. In Quebec where I live having the Night Mass at Midnight was a long tradition. With the shortage of priests, and the desire to have a Mass on the 24th at a more convivial time especially for those with small children, the Vigil Mass has become more popular, and the Night Mass is no longer now specifically at Midnight as the priests bounce from parish to parish to ensure everyone gets a Mass on the evening of the 24th. At the Benedictine abbey where I normally attend Mass, they celebrate the Night Mass at midnight, and the Day Mass at 11 am on the 25th.

But really, do they celebrate the Vigil Mass with the Propers and Readings of the Vigil or do they celebrate an anticipated Midnight Mass (in the Canadian English Sacramentary it’s called “Mass at Midnight”)? The Vigil Mass Gospel is the geneology of Jesus and I’ve never heard that reading.

There’s no such thing as an “anticipated Midnight Mass.”

It’s not the readings that determine the Mass. It’s the Mass which determines the readings.

This (that the readings don’t determine the Mass) is especially applicable on Christmas, because the readings from the various Masses can be re-arranged.

I know, but I’ve never heard the Propers & Readings of the Vigil Mass at any Mass on Christmas Eve. In my experience, regardless of whether the Masses are at 4:30, 6, 10 or 11 p.m. December 24, the Propers and Readings of the “Mass at Midnight” are used. I’ve never experienced a true “Vigil of the Navity of the Lord” Mass with its Propers and Readings. Sadly, the Canadian Lectionary even suggest that the readings of the Vigil not be used if you are really celebrating the ‘Christmas’ Mass.

Or is there? Kind of reminds me of those people who followed time zones and the dateline to usher in the new millenium in as many places as they could. :stuck_out_tongue: What a waste of money. :shrug:

But not in the EF. Three Masses for Christmas, each with its own fixed propers and reading, and no mixing and matching.

Speaking of the EF, I’m well familiar with the custom of “Midnight Mass” but the First Mass of Christmas (Dominus Dixit) is subtitled in nocte with no further prescriptions. Considering that canonical “night” begins after Compline, I would imagine that the First Mass of Christmas could be done anytime after that and before dawn. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I’ve not found anything in the Missal specifying an hour. The same is true for the Second Mass of Christmas (Lux Fulgebit) which is sub-titled in aurora. I recall in the “old days” the local Roman Rite parish offered both the First and Second Masses publicly only once, (usually midnight for the First ( though I remember once it was done at 11pm) and 7am (which was the first Mass of the morning, even though it was technically after “dawn”) for the Second). The 3 remaining public Masses on Christmas morning were all the Third Mass of Christmas (Puer Natus).

The readings are one thing, the propers are something else. Each Mass has its own propers, and there’s no provision for moving them around. In fact, when it comes to the antiphons, and somewhat to the prayers, it would make no sense to move them from one Mass to another, since many of them use time-references which only make sense for the appropriate Mass. Sadly, what you experienced was a priest(s) who used wrong text for the Mass.

The readings just aren’t relevant; yes, of course they are in-and-of-themselves, but they’re not relevant for determing which Mass is celebrated.

In our parish in the ‘old days’ the Mass during the Night and Mass at Dawn were celebrated back to back, one ended and the other started immediately.

Yes, I’ve heard of that custom as well. In the parish I mentioned, there were three priests assigned, and after the First Mass – solemn – was completed and the congregation filed out, the clergy would return to the sacristy and the two not assigned to the 7am Second Mass (the pastor normally did that one, regardless of who celebrated the First) would vest and say it privately (with one server each) at the side altars. I’m stretching my memory here, but I think it worked out that with 3 priests and 5 scheduled Masses, two of them would offer one Mass publicly, and the other 2 Masses privately, while the third priest would offer all 3 publicly.

Maybe when the new missal in English is printed, the “Ad Missam in nocte” can be translated as somthing besides “Midnight Mass”, so that when the Pope (or any of the parishes in the US) celebrate the liturgy at nine or ten PM local time, there won’t be the confusion. EWTN can put that in its listings, and Catholics will know what Mass is meant.

In our parish, it was announced rather jokingly that our Midnight Mass would be held at Midnight EST, rather than Midnight PST (we’re near Portland, Oregon).

I remember this as well. Then Mass at Midnight was celebrated at 11:00, then 10:00, etc. The busiest Masses at my church are now the one’s at 4:00 and 6:00 pm on the 24th. Going at those times just doesn’t seem like Christmas Mass to me. I really miss going at midnight.

I used to live in a country parish, and our Midnight Mass was packed every year. These days, though, only a few parishes with relatively young pastors have Midnight Mass. They are spread so much more thinly than in the past, so it is too hard on the older ones.

This came up in some other recent thread and caused a little bit of contention over whether an English language Mass using the readings for “Midnight Mass” can properly be called “Midnight Mass” if it’s celebrated at “during the night”. :wink:

I don’t know about other liturgical publishers but I believe OCP doesn’t include the Vigil readings in it’s Mass publications. I wonder if the lack of missalette info is because the Vigil readings are so seldom used or if the lack of Vigil readings in the missalette causes parishes to refrain from using those readings.

I agree with whoever said that it would be nice if the new English lectionary uses the wording “Mass during the night” rather than “Midnight Mass” . But since most people I know would much prefer to use a three syllable phrase over a five syllable phrase I doubt much will change.

OCP’s Breaking Bread missalette - which seems to be the norm around here - has the readings for all four Christmas Masses. It seems to also be the norm for parishes around here to use the prescribed set of readings for the various Masses.

Neither the St. Joseph Missal nor the Living With Christ Sunday Missal contains the Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord. The only Vigil they include is the Easter Vigil, which they can’t leave out.

I should note that it’s also the norm around here to have an actual Midnight Mass. All the parish schedules I looked at - and I looked at a bunch out of curiosity - had a true Midnight Mass scheduled.