Christians are no stranger to the popular Christmas Eve service. In fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the Mass celebration that gathers a lot of faithful before they return home to Noche Buena dinners with friends and family.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the Christmas Eve mass is just one of three masses celebrated during this festive season— there’s also the Dawn Mass and another Mass during the day, each having different readings and prayers. (Read: Catholic Church to Implement Contact Tracing in Parishes)
This tradition of celebrating different Masses on Christmas Day goes back to the 6th century and emphasizes the different parts of the Nativity story. Christmas Eve mass, which is usually celebrated before midnight, was not a widespread practice until recently.
Here are the different kinds of Masses and what each of them means.
Christmas Celebrations: Angel’s Mass
Angel’s Mass celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ at midnight. It recalls the announcement of the angels to the shepherds, proclaiming that Jesus was born. The opening prayer for this Mass talks about the contrast between the darkness of midnight and the light brought about by Christ. (Read: CBCP Adds More Simbang Gabi Masses to Accommodate Churchgoers)
The Responsorial Psalm during the Angel’s Mass proclaims the joyful tidings of the Angel: “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” Moreover, the Gospel is the first part of the Christmas story.
Christmas Celebrations: Shepherd’s Mass
In the Nativity story, after the announcement of the angels, the shepherds who were tending to their flock traveled in haste to find the newborn Savior. The Shepherd’s Mass is celebrated at dawn and the readings highlight the shepherds’ role as the ones who proclaimed the good news of Christ’s birth.
This time, the opening prayer focuses on the light that has come to earth as the sun rises at dawn— parallelism to how Jesus Christ dispels darkness when He was born. The Responsorial Psalm highlights this theme: “A light will shine on us this day: the Lord is born for us.”
Christmas Celebrations: King’s Mass
The last of the three masses, the King’s Mass is celebrated during the day. It is the most festive one as everyone is invited to rejoice in the coming of Jesus, the King of Kings. This Mass also looks forward to the coming of the Magi at Epiphany. The opening prayer is about Christ’s Incarnation— his being human yet divine, and reigning with the unity of God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. (Read: 6 Ways to Practice Corporal Works of Mercy With Your Kids This Christmas)
It is also celebrated in the fullness of daylight which symbolizes that the Son of God has now been revealed to the whole world. The Responsorial Psalm for this Mass declares this by saying: “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.”