MILWAUKEE – After an absence of 18 years, Christmas Midnight Mass from the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist is returning to live television.
“It just kind of started as a wish,” according to Fr. Jeffrey Haines, rector of the cathedral. “We talked about it among our staff.”
The possibility of airing the Mass, designated in the Roman Missal as “Mass During the Night,” grew out of a question – “How do we get people engaged with the cathedral?” – according to Thomas Laabs, the parish’s director of administration and development.
As the discussion ensued, Midnight Mass was identified as “the most special Mass,” according to Laabs.
“Christmas Midnight Mass seemed to be the obvious choice for several reasons,” he said. “Many Catholics have fond memories of Midnight Mass, and most churches don’t offer a true Midnight Mass anymore. This was an opportunity to establish a tradition to share this special Mass with those who could not, or otherwise would not, attend Christmas Mass.”
Can it be done?
Once Midnight Mass became the focus, the matter of having the ability to televise was raised.
“There were two points,” he said. “’Can we technically pull it off?’ and ‘Can we get sponsors?’”
WHERE TO WATCH MIDNIGHT MASS ON TV
Midnight Mass from the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist will be telecast live at midnight on Christmas Eve on WISN-TV, Channel 12. Those wishing to help offset the cost of the telecast may contact Tom Laabs at
According to Laabs, WISN-TV, Channel 12, said, “We love the idea” and agreed to air it – without charge.
Once Channel 12 agreed to televise it, the cathedral staff got even more excited about it, Fr. Haines said.
But the station cannot produce it. It suggested Clearwing Productions of West Allis, which specializes in live productions, but which is incapable of transmitting the signal to Channel 12.
With a station and a producer, Laabs went to WMVS, Channel 10, in search of the missing technical link.
“I told the manager of production, Raul Galvan, from Channel 10, ‘Here’s the deal. I need a guy in a truck who can take the signal and bounce it off the satellite.’”
The cathedral hired Galvan to work from the truck, produce the telecast, and transmit the signal to Channel 12.
Paying the bills
With the technical pieces in place, Laabs sought sponsors. To date, Columbia St. Mary’s, Sartori Cheese, the Balistreri Family and Milwaukee Investment Realty are contributing a combined $10,000 to offset the costs, which Laabs estimated could reach $20,000.
This, he said, led the cathedral staff to ponder another question: “’Do we think we can pull this off?’” The answer was yes.
“There is a little bit of faith involved – a lot of faith involved,” said Laabs.
He and Fr. Haines noted that the parish council and the finance council are aware of what the parish will need to contribute to offset any shortfall, yet both entities overwhelmingly supported it, according to the priest.
‘This is who we are’
“They agreed that this is who we are, as a parish and as a cathedral,” Fr. Haines said. “We need to do this, and this is something we can do for all Catholics in our community.”
The goal for the telecast, which links to the question asked during summer, Laabs said, is to “get the cathedral known.”
“We’re thinking that the telecast will generate interest in the cathedral,” Laabs said. “There are people who are going to want to be part of this event, and who will attend. We’re hoping other people are going to see the telecast and be reminded that the cathedral is a special place.”
Fr. Haines concurred.
“I talk to Catholics who have lived here all their lives but who have never been to the cathedral,” he said. “When they watch this Mass – the choirs, musicians, the archbishop – they’ll want to come and see the cathedral.”
Laabs hopes those who attend the Mass or view the telecast are aware of at least one thing.
“We want you here; you are welcome here (at the cathedral),” he said.
‘The Mass of the year’
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, principal celebrant of the Mass, termed Midnight Mass “the Mass of the year” and an “enchanted hour” for many Catholics.
“They embrace the whole aspect of the romantic – in the best sense of the word – the nostalgia of Midnight Mass,” he said.
For the archbishop, the Mass is also an opportunity for evangelization.
“This telecast provides us with an opportunity to reach a large group of people, especially the ‘Chreasters’ – the Christmas and Easter Catholics,” he said. Watching Christmas Mass on TV, however, does not fulfill one’s obligation to attend Mass on that holy day of obligation.
The archbishop said people who attend Midnight Mass in person or who watch it on TV “have a great sense of understanding” of what is being celebrated.
“It evokes in people a sense of spiritual wonderment, awe,” he said.
Fr. Haines, who will concelebrate the Mass with the archbishop, said that while there is “a nice turnout” for Midnight Mass at the cathedral, it isn’t “standing room only.” Those wishing to attend should be able to find seating.
“There is excitement surrounding Christmas Mass, but especially when it is at midnight,” he said. “There is an electricity in the air.”