Cardinal Dolan suggested the faithful assembled for Midnight Mass at Christmas at St. Patrick’s Cathedral either in the pews or remotely amid the global coronavirus pandemic “think of that first Christmas in Bethlehem and ask, really, are we that different from that, this Christmas, so unique?”
“I’d say we’re in pretty good company with Jesus, Mary and Joseph this Midnight Mass.”
Faith, hope and love sustained the Holy Family; may it be for us, too, Cardinal Dolan recalled Pope Francis observing earlier in the week.
“What a joy to have many of you here personally with us,” Cardinal Dolan said in his homily Dec. 25 for the Nativity of the Lord Christmas Mass During the Night. “This holy night, this silent night, is made the better by those of you who are with us as well” through the Catholic Channel, Sirius XM 129, the Catholic Faith Network, PIX 11 and the cathedral livestream.
“We’re glad all of you have accepted that traditional ringing Christmas invitation to ‘Come, let us adore Him,’” he added.
Conceding “this Christmas is rather different” due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cardinal Dolan acknowledged “it’s not quite the way we usually celebrate this sacred feast.”
He cited “the fears and anxieties, the adversities, the loss of these past 10 months still weigh so heavily upon us, no? We’re not able to be with our families and our neighbors, our friends, like we cherish. There are still people sick and under strain. And we tearfully recall those who have gone to eternity this past year.”
Principal concelebrants included Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, and Auxiliary Bishop Edmund Whalen. The cardinal acknowledged as well the presence of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal.
In his homily, Cardinal Dolan also shared a memorable Christmas for him that happened in 1979, as a priest of three years assigned to The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., for graduate studies. Because he had no parish duties, he joined a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. “The highlight was to be Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. That’s probably the reason most of us signed up for the pilgrimage.”
He recalled heading out to the church that cold and damp Christmas Eve afternoon among his fellow pilgrims. “We stood in line for hours, waiting to get in.” They were almost there when the security guard announced the church was full and they would not be admitted.
“What a disappointment it was. This was hardly the way we imagined Christmas would be celebrated.”
A “friendly Francisican priest” suggested they hike about a half mile or so out of Bethlehem to Shepherds’ Field, the cardinal said, “where the angel announced the birth of the Savior to those startled shepherds.”
The Franciscan priest gave each of them a candle to illuminate the walk. “And off we went. It was pitch dark. Thank God we had the candles. Thank God we had the stars in the sky above Bethlehem that were so radiant.
“Oh, that silent night shouted out meaning and joy and faith,” said Cardinal Dolan who, before the hike, retrieved his Mass kit from the bus. “So there, on a primitive rock in the middle of that field I celebrated Midnight Mass for our small group of pilgrims who had all become pretty close friends by then.
“Boy, we belted out the carols we knew by heart. That Bible narrative of the Lord’s birth in the Gospel moved us with particular awe and even tears.”
The prayer that night “was so sincere,” he continued, “the joy was palpable, the Christmas spirit pervasive. It was indeed O, Holy Night.”