Over the years the demographics have changed. Small farms consolidated into larger ones. Travel became easier. The clergy shortage required a realignment of parish assignments. St. Bridget lost its status as a mission church and was designated as a chapel and would only be used for special occasions. The parish family disbursed to find a new spiritual home and the church is seldom used. However, on Christmas Eve the people of St. Bridget come together in a wonderful cooperative effort to celebrate again the birth of Christ.
Within a week before Christmas, volunteers vacuum and dust everything. The 15 choir members hold two practices during December. The manger scene is set up. On the day before, the heat is turned up so that the church is comfortably warm. The dedication of the parishioners and all of their preparation make Midnight Mass at St. Bridget special.
On Christmas Eve, final preparations are made. As I turn off the highway onto the side road, I see the warm glow of the church lights coming through the stained glass windows. The church is already full by the time I arrive. Often I sit and listen to the choir before Mass. It seems to me that Christ was greeted in much the same way on the night of his birth – in silence and in song.
Midnight Mass begins and we enter our praise and worship of God. We have stored the Gospel story of Christ’s birth in our hearts for meditation, which makes us anxious to hear it again. We hear the words of Isaiah: “The people in darkness have seen a great light.” This sacred time reminds us that light triumphs over darkness. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist we learn to be patient and appreciate the wonder of God whose nearness we celebrate.
Once Midnight Mass is completed, everything symbolic of Christmas is taken down and stored until next year. But once a year at St. Bridget, we have a meeting place between ourselves and our loving God, celebrated in the birth of a child.
(This article originally appeared in the Dec. 15, 2005, issue of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Bellville, Ill., and is reprinted with permission. Redemptorist Fr. Weinert, a native of Kewaskum, was editor of Liguorian Magazine from 1989-2002 and currently is treasurer of the Redemptorists of the Denver Province.)