The Tradition of Midnight Mass

The History of Midnight Mass

Catholic LifeThroughout the years, Midnight Mass has been a popular Christmas Mass choice for many Catholics. But how did the tradition of this Mass begin?

In the early history of the Church, vigils were held before every feast for the purpose of preparing for the feast itself. Mass would be held in the evening, followed by a period of prayer and contemplation. Solemn services were then held the next morning. As more feasts arose, the number of vigils kept was decreased. In the current Roman Calendar, there are six Masses designated as vigils to proceed the feasts the next day: vigils for Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, Ascension, Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul. Vigil Masses are so designated because their propers and readings differ from the Masses for those feasts themselves, while remaining tied to the feasts. Vigil Masses therefore differ from normal anticipated Masses, which are the same as the Mass taking place the next day, but held the preceding evening.

The vigil Mass for Christmas, held Christmas Eve, also differs from the Christmas Midnight Mass. Christmas Day actually has three separate Masses that are or can be held, in addition to the vigil – at midnight, at dawn, and during the day. It is not known exactly how the tradition of the three Masses originated, as even the origin of the feast of Christmas itself isn't certain – depending on the city, something resembling a Christmas celebration started in different years (and at varying times of the year, as well). By the end of the fourth century it was almost universally held on December 25, with Rome having started celebrating it on that date before 354, and Constantinople not before 379. The celebration of Epiphany on January 6 had previously been the major Christmas-like celebration, but once December 25 became the widely agreed-upon date of Christmas the celebrations moved to that date as well.

In the 380s, a Christian woman named Egeria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, observing for three years and keeping a journal of the customs and liturgies she saw there. She witnessed the Christians celebrating the birth of Christ on January 6, since it appears the tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25 had not yet begun there, beginning with a midnight vigil in Bethlehem, which was followed by a torchlight procession to Jerusalem culminating with a gathering in Jerusalem at dawn. When the basilica of St. Mary Major was built in Rome around 430, Pope Sixtus III included a replica chapel of the Bethlehem cave where Jesus was born, and much like had been the practice in Jerusalem when Egeria visited, he instituted the celebration of a midnight Mass in this chapel.

Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?Around 550 AD, the Pope began to celebrate a Mass in the Church of St. Anastasia before dawn on Christmas Day, initially because the feast of St. Anastasia was celebrated on December 25. Eventually, though, this evolved into a second Christmas Mass that seemed to replicate the dawn celebrations that Egeria witnessed in Jerusalem. This Christmas Mass would be followed by the Pope going to St. Peter's to celebrate the dawn office of Christmas with the faithful. Until sometime before 1156, only Popes were allowed to celebrate the three Christmas Masses, but by 1156 there is evidence that priests began to say all three as well, which still occurs today. A single priest can celebrate all three Christmas Day Masses, provided they follow the correct times (midnight, dawn, and sometime during the day). The midnight Mass is different from Christmas vigil Masses held earlier in the evening of Christmas Eve. Any of the four types of Christmas Masses (vigil, midnight, dawn, or day) is valid for fulfilling the Christmas Mass obligation.


Adapted from the article "Three Masses on Christmas" and the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Christmas.

Search for an Article


Search results for christmas, mass:

List display as list Grid display as grid  Go back several pages.Page  Go back one page.Page  8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Go forward one page.
Displaying 121-132 of 199 items.
Greatest Gift Christmas Cards
Greatest Gift Christmas Cards
Price: $17.50
Personalize This Gift
Item Number: 96801
Add to order

Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St Vincent de Paul
Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Vincent de Paul - Paperback 
Price: $11.99

Item Number: 93978
Add to order

Charbel Maklhouf Ceramic Plaque
St. Charbel Maklhouf Ceramic Plaque
Price: $36.80

Item Number: 13154
Add to order

Brother Francis - The King is Born
Brother Francis - The King is Born - DVD 
Price: $10.39 $12.99 (20% discount)

Item Number: 95751
Add to order

Meditations for Mothers
Meditations for Mothers - Paperback 
Price: $12.95
This item carries the Aquinas and More Good Faith Guarantee. This Item Carries an imprimatur.
Item Number: 62936
Add to order

Patron Saints: A Feast of Prayer Cards
Patron Saints: A Feast of Prayer Cards - Hardcover 
Price: $27.50

Item Number: 60731
Add to order

Joy to the World - Advent Activities for Your Family
Joy to the World - Advent Activities for Your Family - Paperback 
Price: $6.99
This item carries the Aquinas and More Good Faith Guarantee.
Item Number: 23007
Add to order

My Christmas
My Christmas - CD 
Price: $15.16 $18.95 (20% discount)

Item Number: 22423
Add to order

Lumen Gentium
Lumen Gentium - CD 
Price: $13.50
This item carries the Aquinas and More Good Faith Guarantee.
Item Number: 96909
Add to order

Magnifikid! 3 Year US Subscription
Magnifikid! 3 Year US Subscription - Magazine 
Price: $79.00 $142.20 (44% discount)
This item carries the Aquinas and More Good Faith Guarantee.
Item Number: 78038
Add to order

Be Merry!
Be Merry! - CD 
Price: $18.95

Item Number: 62453
Add to order

Holy Family Christmas Greeting Card
Add to order

Go back several pages.Page  Go back one page.Page  8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Go forward one page.
Displaying 121-132 of 199 items.

Find a Wish List
Find a Registry

We accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express, Checks, Money Orders and Paypal.

Shopper Award
Nextag Seller

By using our site you agree to our terms of use.
All content copyright 2017.
Special Features