This year’s Advent Season is cut short. Very short. In fact, it’s the shortest possible season we can have, beginning Dec. 3 and ending just 21 days later with the vigil of Christmas, or as we say colloquially, “Christmas Eve.”
It’s kind of a strange situation we have this year. On the one hand, we get a lot less time for seasonal anticipation. On the other, we get a back-to-back call to a festive celebration of the Mass, because this year, Christmas Day falls on the Monday after the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
Christmas Day (Dec. 25), of course, is a holy day of obligation. Unlike some other holy days that fall on Mondays in the United States when the obligation is lifted, the obligation to attend Mass on Christmas Day never changes. This means this year, we have two obligations to fulfill: one obligation for Sunday, Dec. 24, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and one for Monday, Dec. 25, Christmas Day.
While it may sound confusing, it’s not that difficult. Simply put, we have an obligation for Sunday, and we have an obligation for Christmas. Two obligations means two Masses. That’s just the way it is. As my mother asked me, “You mean, we gotta go to church twice?” Exactly. One Mass cannot fulfill two obligations.
If you’re like me, hopefully you don’t just go to Mass because of an “obligation.” But let’s be honest: I know what real life is like in a family with family schedules, holiday travel, meal preparation, gift wrapping, Christmas baking, etc. It’s a busy time. What then are the Church’s expectations, and what are your options, for getting to church for these holy days? Let’s explore some options.
Option One: Your Regular Sunday Schedule
Many parishes will schedule their Christmas Masses similar to their Sunday Mass schedule — first for Dec. 24 for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and again on Dec. 25 for Christmas. If that’s the case, perhaps stick to your regular schedule. For one, it’s easy to remember and simple to plan.
Two obligations, two Masses, two days — Sunday morning and Monday morning.
Option Two: Vigil Masses
Anticipatory Masses take place the day before the actual feast day. For a Sunday, this is the Saturday evening Mass — sometimes called a “vigil” Mass. Most, if not all, parishes in the Archdiocese have a Saturday evening Mass.
Attending Mass on Christmas Eve has become quite the trend in the United States, compared to attending Mass on Christmas Day. In fact, I’ve never seen the first Mass of Christmas draw only a “small” crowd — it’s usually packed. It’s a great way to start off the celebrations of relatives, friends, presents and a big meal. Therefore, this option works great because you don’t need to get up on a cold December morning, but instead both Masses are in the later — hopefully, warmer — part of the day.
Two obligations, two Masses, two days – Saturday evening and Sunday evening.
Option Three: A Free Day
Maybe you are traveling on Christmas this year. Or maybe you’re like my brother who just insists on Christmas shopping no sooner than Dec. 24. Maybe getting young kids out of bed, dressed, and to church on two consecutive mornings sounds more like Lenten penance than Christmas joy. Fear not. There’s an option for you, too.
In this situation, you could opt for a Saturday evening Mass, anticipating the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and then again attending Mass on Monday morning for Christmas Day. Sunday is a free day to stay in, leisurely drink your coffee or finish up last-minute gift wrapping.
Two obligations, two Masses, spread out over three days — Saturday evening and Monday morning.
Option Four: Super Mass Sunday
Don’t kid yourself — this is a full day, but instead of spreading out your obligations across three days, you decide to just go twice on what I’m calling a “Super Mass Sunday.” OK, I admit, it’s a bad play on “Super Bowl Sunday,” but I’m a Wisconsinite now living in Rome, where Saturday evening Masses just aren’t all that common outside of the large pilgrimage sites. Therefore, this will certainly be my option this year.
For this to work, you attend Mass on Sunday morning for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and then again that evening or night for Christmas.
Two obligations, two Masses, all in one day — Sunday morning and Sunday evening.
No matter how you choose to do it — there are two obligations this year. That means two Masses.
Be sure to check with your parish for Mass times.