14 If it’s Christmas, it must be midnight Mass

posted Dec 11, 2018, 8:25 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Dec 11, 2018, 8:25 AM ]
George J Coelho

This was the feeling which started ever since I can remember and has stayed till today. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared an Emergency in India, someone coined the term “Indira is India, and India is Indira.” To borrow that expression, for me, Christmas has been midnight Mass, and midnight Mass meant Christmas. There are, of course, many other trappings associated with Christmas, too numerous to mention, but midnight Mass is something very special. However, since the last few years, due to security reasons, the midnight Mass has been advanced to a couple of hours earlier, but we still call it the midnight service.

My Christmas midnight Masses started in my home town of Belgaum in the late forties, and the services used to be held at the St Paul’s school grounds (somewhat like St Stanislaus’ School and St Peter’s Church) to accommodate the large crowds, as we did not have a bishop then, and the Cathedral came up much later, sometime in the beginning of the fifties. As with most schoolboys, I had to join the altar boys, and we altar boys had to practise for about a month before Christmas about the formations for the procession leading the celebrants to the altar, and which altar boy had to perform which function. The seniors always had the prominent parts like vesting the priests with their sacred garments before the Mass, the carrying of the Missal, and other varied functions that are held during the midnight service. However, at Communion time, we were given the task of holding the paten, and we used to fight to get the section reserved for the convent school girls. The prayers were all in Latin those days, which neither the congregation nor we altar boys understood, despite rehearsing the responses many times in advance. After the Mass, there used to be similar formations to lead the priests back to the sacristy, and from the look of the congregation, it was clear that they envied us for our designated functions. In those days, there were no lay Ministers, and unlike today, only boys led the procession to and from the altar. Once our school days ended, our altar boy days were over, and we had to go for the midnight Mass as ordinary parishioners, and it was our turn to envy the new band of altar boys. After the service, we used to be served cake which was a tradition in the parish.