When my sisters and I were all very young we would always attend Mass on Christmas Day. Once we were old enough to stay awake through Christmas Eve Mass, my parents began a tradition of going to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland. It was almost an hour drive from our home and we had to get there early in order to find enough space for all six of us to sit together. We would get dressed up in our Christmas dresses and Dad would drive through the snowy weather downtown. The hour ride seemed like nothing as we passed the time by singing Christmas carols together the whole way.
It didn’t matter how early we intended on leaving, we always managed to get there around 9:30, a half hour before Mass began, which meant we were seated in the back half of the church. But we didn’t mind. The choir would already be singing beautiful Christmas music that rang through the Cathedral as we prayed before Mass.
There was nothing wrong with our home church, in fact it was absolutely beautiful! But being in the gorgeous cathedral with the organ, trumpets, and choir sounding like the angels from the heavens themselves…it truly made an impression on my sisters and I and reminded us all the more that this was no ordinary day. This was the celebration of the birth of our Savior!
The Mass was always reverent and inspiring. Our home church was very small and so being surrounded by so many hundreds of people as we all worshiped together was something special and unique. After Mass, we would walk around the Cathedral before beginning our drive home. We would walk silently while admiring the stained glass windows, the beautiful statues, and the serene nativity scene. When we were through, we would bundle up and head back to the car for the ride home, singing carols once again until one by one each of us girls fell asleep.
My family moved to Georgia for my father’s job during my first year at college and that specific tradition ended. Going to Mass with my parents and my sisters is always wonderful and I treasure the times were are together and able to attend Mass at their church or ours.
This year since my family would not be in town until after Christmas and we would be seeing my husband’s family on Christmas Day, my husband and I decided to go to Mass on Christmas Eve at our church, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church or “St. Pat’s” as it is fondly called. It is the church my husband grew up in, the church we both belonged to when we met, the church we were married in, and the church we belong to now. Our very first Christmas together my family had come in for the holiday and we all went to Mass at our church on Christmas Eve. This was the first year since then that my husband and I were in town for Christmas and able to attend Christmas Eve Mass there once again. The church was decorated so lovely. The music was truly reverent and Father’s sermon was wonderful as always. The Mass was just beautiful.
After Communion we all sat down. The lights in the church went dark until the only light that remained was from flickering candles and the glowing lanterns in front of each stained glass window lining the church. Then the choir began to sing “Silent Night.” It was so soft, so beautiful, so holy, that I could not help the tears from forming. Father had spoken in his homily about the wonder of Emmanuel – God is with us! As the church joined in sung prayer to the Lord, I felt God’s presence so strongly. I imagined the angels singing with us as we lifted our voices in sung prayer to the precious Baby Jesus. My husband held my hand as we sat in the darkness. I sang as tears filled my eyes as I prayed and thanked the Lord for the wonders He has given us. It was a beautiful moment filled with the peace of knowing that God is indeed with us.
As little girls, my sisters and I felt that our parents had started a tradition of going to the Cathedral. But the tradition itself went so much further. By going to the Cathedral, my parents had instilled in us a deep reverence for this holy day of Christmas. Of putting the Lord first and joining together in worship and praise for the Baby Jesus. Of taking time to pray and to recognize the significance of such a glorious day.
We may not know what the future holds. We may not know what church we will be able to attend with our children one day for Christmas Mass. But as I sat praying in the silence of St. Pat’s once “Silent Night” had ended, I knew the tradition still lived on and would continue to live on through our own family and our own children. Whether we attend Mass on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, at St. Pat’s, in Georgia, or anywhere else, the tradition will live on. It is a tradition of faith, holiness, and reverence. Not just at Christmas, but the whole year through. The tradition is not being in a specific building, but of remembering that no matter where we are, God is with us! Emmanuel!