Midnight Mass--On Oxes, Asses, and Incense That Stings

  At midnight, I sat in a folding chair in the back of the auditorium.  The priest walked in slowly, Word held high.  He circled the alter, swung incense, and welcomed the birth of the Christ child while the choir sang “Joy to The World” from the balcony above us.  The incense stings the lungs a bit, lets you know that you’re alive.

He offered a raucous introduction.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us!  He is born! Merry Christmas!”  We sang old songs and offered new liturgical responses.  The responsive potions of the mass had recently been changed by theVatican, you see; so, when he offered the peace of the Lord to us, we returned it to him saying “and with your Spirit.”  In the creed, we spoke of Christ as being “consubstantial with the Father.”  True, the changes have a more artistic affectation.  Perhaps that’s not all bad.

 During the homily, the Father expounded upon Isaiah.  “The ox and the ass recognized Christ,” he said, “but the world did not.”  He preached hard, reminded us that the groaning creation released a bit that day.  “After all,” he said, “the donkey was made to reflect the creativity and glory of our Lord!”  Then he asked us to humble ourselves and praise the Word made flesh. “Otherwise,” he said, “the rocks and asses will cry out!” 

Some may say that’s new age, but I say that’s the bible, so I’m strangely relaxed in the personification of a rejoicing asses.

After the service, I ran into the mother of an old friend.  She gushed about my family, how I should be Catholic seeing as I have four boys and all.  She told me that her son had moved to Australia and that she was taking me home with her and her husband.  She’s a good German lady who knows the importance of having a son at Christmas, and I could tell that she missed hers deeply.  As we said our good-byes I hugged her and said, “peace be with you.”  She smiled wide and responded, “and with your Spirit.”

On Christmas morning, the smell of incense hung on the sweater I had worn the night before.  It reminded me that creation rejoiced in the birth of its creator.  It reminded me that family is not a concept; instead, it’s tangible even across great distances.  It reminded me that there is peace to be passed around, that it should be hung like garland on our spirits.  And most of all, it reminded me that we have begun the slow walk to the cross and the resurrection, the coming of Easter!

Incense lingers.  Let’s you know you’re alive.


Thank you for reading my space over this last year.  I am deeply appreciative. 

Peace be with you.