The Priest stood ready at the back of the room, along with the deacon and the cross bearers. He was dressed in his robes of office, beautifully red and white, the reflection of the colors that surrounded the season.
When I asked if I could attend Midnight Mass with friends, they looked a little quizzically at me and asked, ‘which one?’.
I replied, ‘the mass held at midnight for Christmas’. Smiling, they said that if I wished to attend mass at midnight, I would need to travel to another city. Midnight Mass would be held at 7 pm. I was taken aback. How could Midnight Mass be held at any other time than Midnight? The tradition of my youth was to hold church services in the middle of the night, then come home and begin celebrating with gifts. I also wondered about the traditions in Cusco regarding Christmas mass.
Familiar songs floated up from the congregation. “Away in a Manager” in both English and Spanish seemed so wonderfully inclusive. This song, written by Martin Luther, was a beautiful hymn about the lowliness of the Christ Child.
I checked the notices in Cusco for Misa de Gallo. I found “The General Vicar, Mons. Israel Condorhuaman announced that these feasts should be ones of family unity and much reflection. For that, the traditional Misa de Gallo offerend in teh Cathedral of Cusco, this year will be performed at an earlier hour. He indicated that after evaluation the diocese has established that the mass will be officiated at 8 pm and not at midnight as was the customs each year.” (Reference)
Kneeling for prayer I came face to face with a little girl who rested her head on her father’s shoulder. Her brown black eyes sparkled as she looked at the beautiful blue stained glass windows, glowing from the streetlights outside.
“The primary reason some parishes have moved the Christmas Mass at Midnight earlier is pastoral consideration for parishioners and those who play a role in the special liturgies to make it more convenient for more to participate,” said Mark Dupont spokesman of the Roman Catholic Diocese.
It has become common for the mass that was previously held at 12:00 to be held at any hour. The liturgy is still the same, but the times are varied according to the customs of the people. Midnight Mass is still offered in the larger parishes, but often choices are given for families to attend programs much earlier in the evening.
They can then perform local customs, whether that of getting the children to sleep so the parents can create the simulation of a visit by Santa Claus, as in the United States, or to drink hot chocolate and eat panetón before setting off fireworks at midnight, as is the custom in Peru.
I looked again at the children and families and felt a Christmas warmth of inclusion in this early mass.