So, this is my year of conversion, and I'm going to be doing a lot of 'firsts'.
Christmas is a Holy Day of Obligation. Catholics are obligated to attend a mass on these days. To accommodate this, for ordinary days of obligation, most parishes will have multiple masses, where typically on a weekday they will just have a morning mass. For instance, my parish, has a daily mass at 8:30 am, Monday through Saturday. On Holy Days of Obligation, they hold mass at 7:30 am, 9:00 am, and 7 pm. This is to give people who work the chance to fulfill their obligation. The only exceptions to this, that I know of, are Christmas and Easter. Christmas they hold a children's mass at 5:30 pm Christmas Eve, which counts for the Christmas obligation, a Midnight Mass, a dawn mass, and then a mass during the day. On Easter they hold Easter Vigil on that Saturday, and that counts as fulfilling the obligation for Easter, though I know of many people who will attend Easter Vigil and then go to mass on Easter Sunday as well.
Why did I go to Midnight Mass, when technically I'm not yet obligated? I felt like it was something that I needed to do. Technically I'm not obligated to even go to Sunday masses yet, but I do. I need to be there, for myself, joined in worship, though I can't receive yet. Every Sunday, I go up in line, and I bow before my Lord, present in the Eucharist, and I long for the day when I can receive him.
So, Midnight Mass. I'd been told that it was always insanely crowded, and it was recommended to get there an hour to forty minutes early, to ensure a seat and a parking space. I'd driven by earlier in the day, right before the children's mass, and it was packed! Cars parked up and down the access road, and I'm certain that there were more in the grass along the back of the church. So I got there about an hour early, around 11pm. At the time there weren't very many people there, so I found my favorite parking spot, and went inside. No trouble finding a spot in a pew, and I spent the time I had left praying.
The church did get very crowded, though there weren't people standing in the side aisles, like there was when I attended Easter Sunday. Father P conducted the mass. We have two priests, Father P's the pastor, Father A is our Parochial Vicar. I like both of them, they have slightly different styles. Father P is more down home, I guess, while Father A is younger, and tends to lean to the more formal side of things. Both are excellent homilists, it's just a matter of style, I guess. Father A chants when presenting the Eucharist, while Father P merely speaks the words. Father A makes certain to hold the bread close to the microphone in the altar so that we can hear the crisp snap when he breaks the bread, Father P doesn't worry about that. They're both great priests though.
Anyway, aside from the time, it was an ordinary Mass, which means that it was lovely, and I'm glad that I went. I was also dead tired by the time I got home, and so ready to do it again next year, when I will be receiving the Eucharist.
The picture at the top is Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Midnight Mass this year.