I had never been to a Christmas Eve Midnight Mass until just a few years ago; neither had Ethan. It had never been a part of either of our family’s traditions growing up. When Ethan was no longer a teacher with a great Christmas break schedule and we were far from family living in Nebraska, we decided to try something new.
It felt a little silly – why were we going to pack up girls in the middle of the night, get into a cold car, and pile into a church pew when we could just as easily get a full night’s sleep and go in the morning? We thought it would be a one-time thing – just to have experienced it once.
We were truly overwhelmed with Midnight Mass, and it is now our family’s favorite Mass of the entire year, and certainly the highlight of our Christmas!
There is a certain ethereal beautiful aspect of Midnight Mass, to be sure.
The church is dark except for the many blazing candles on the altar, and the sparkling lit trees which adorn what has been a barren church throughout the waiting season of Advent.
After so many hymns expressing our longing for the Savior to come throughout Advent, the rich, beautiful Christmas carols are finally sung for the first time, and echo throughout the church. The penitential purple vestments and missing Gloria of Advent are replaced with vibrant gold vestments and the return of the sorely missed Gloria.
No other Mass of the year feels quite the same – even beautiful Rorate Masses or the Easter Vigil do not have quite the same feeling as the Christmas Midnight Mass.
Beyond the physical beauty of the lights, decorations, and carols, there is something else that makes Midnight Mass so impactful. There is something about waiting for Christ in the darkness.
A well-observed Advent has been a time of true longing for Christ. Our nativity creches are missing the little figurines of the Christ Child. It is a time pregnant with waiting and reflecting upon the darkness of the world after Adam’s sin and before He became man, and anticipating the joy of His finally coming at Christmas. As we prepare for His arrival on December 25, we are given a reminder of His second coming, and how we ought to be vigilant and prepare for that most awesome day.
When we gather in the church at Midnight Mass, we come at that moment we recall during the Saint Andrew Novena, the blessed hour when Christ was born, at Midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.
Very often in life, we come to Christ in our darkest times. Just like His birth, Christ coming to us is often humble, quiet, simple. A whisper in the darkness.
I will never forget my first Midnight Mass – it was two weeks after losing our third child to miscarriage.
I entered the church that night truly feeling enveloped in dark emptiness. I felt so empty, knowing the little baby I was so excited for was gone.
At the end of Mass, my sweet Philomena audibly gasped when she first saw the priest lovingly lay the Baby Jesus into the creche and kneel and humbly adore Him. The beauty of the humble adoration in the darkness was truly overwhelming – I understood her gasp, and I can never explain how healing that moment was. Even though my baby was gone, the Babe who I needed, the Babe Whom the whole world desperately needed in order to open the gates of Heaven, He came.
The creche is no longer empty. The inner darkness is illuminated, and there is a joy and wonder about singing that first carol to the Infant King that words cannot quite describe.
My girls singing Silent Night with all of their might as we all kneel and adore are moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
When we get in the car, the girls always say how it was the best Mass of their lives, and they happily drive home so they can admire the Baby Jesus under our own tree.
Tips for Taking Kids
We have found a few things help make taking kids to Midnight Mass easier:
- When in doubt, go earlier rather than later. We should have anticipated this last year since our parish had tripled in size from the year before – we arrived 45 minutes before Mass and the church was already packed. Ethan was just going to stand and hold Zelie, while Philomena and the baby and I were going to take the last two chairs set in the aisle that the usher showed us to. A couple dear teenage girls in one of the small pews on their own insisted we have it and they took the chairs. We were so grateful! On that note…
- Consider sending someone for a pew. This year I think we will have one of us go to the church early and get a pew, and the other come with the girls closer to Mass.
- Dress kids before bed. After we decorate the tree on the evening of Christmas Eve, we actually have the girls put on their new dresses and do their hair. (Many families also just take kids in pajamas, but if you’re going to do church clothes, having them on already prevents groggy fights to get dressed.)
4. Put kids to bed early. They don’t fall asleep right away – it is all so exciting, but the more rest the better.
5. Go to bed early yourself. Our goal is lights out by 8:00, and we set an alarm to wake and quickly dress at 10:40 or so.
6. Warm the car. If you can, let the car warm up for 5 – 10 minutes before leaving so that it isn’t so bitterly cold for the little ones.
7. Kids right to the car. We don’t have the girls up far in advance. We literally wake them, set them on the potty if applicable, and put them right into the car.
8. Take a deep breath and relax. Little kids will likely fall asleep in the pew. They might want to be held the whole time. They may have a hard time. Regardless, they are almost guaranteed to be more relaxed if you’re not sending all the signals that you’re super stressed.
9. Plan for a slow morning – whether you all gloriously sleep in, or are up at the regular time because excitement is sky high, know you’ll likely be tired. We make sure everyone drinks plenty of water when they get up, Ethan and I enjoy a cup of coffee with some homemade irish cream, and I have a prep-ahead breakfast done the day before. The prep-ahead breakfast means I don’t need to do anything but heat it up and soak in the morning and opening presents with our kids. (Afternoon naps are a must, too!)
Midnight Mass is not the most convenient Mass in the world.
There are certainly circumstances where it might not work for a family to go to it. Maybe Christmas morning holds just as dear a place in your heart.
But, if you have never gone to Midnight Mass and are flirting with the idea, worried about taking the kids, I encourage you to take the plunge and try it. Midnight Mass reorients everything around Christmass, and Him coming in darkness is something everyone should experience.