Because of the way the televisions schedules came out for Christmas Eve, I was able to compare-and-contrast midnight mass, as recorded by NBC for rebroadcast from Vatican City, and as covered live by WGN from Chicago (and made available to cable subscribers across the United States.)

The Vatican bureaucracy, doing what it does best, appears to have circulated a rubric and suggested preaching points for the message, whether delivered by the Pontifex Maximus, by a Cardinal Archbishop, by a bishop, or by a parish priest in a remote settlement: and each has similar responsibilities, station or rank notwithstanding, during the service.

Perhaps, though, the order of worship involved that advice from Rome.  Both the Vatican and the Chicago services began with an add-on, the Christmas Proclamation, which the rules stipulate may not replace any other part of the service, although this may be chanted (both the Vatican and Chicago had people skilled in this art) or read (and in a smaller community, entrusted to the local Linus van Pelt?)  I had never heard this before, and it's intriguing.  An excerpt.  "[I]n the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace." Go tell it on the mountain. I'm probably doing the kind of thing that got my fourteenth great-grandfather tossed out of the Anglican Communion to point out that Augustus reigned forty years.

Among the readings, the Augustinian theme continues.  Luke 2, as chanted in Latin, read in English, and dramatized by Linus.  Augustus's census, when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.

In both services, there were readings and prayers in multiple languages.  On NBC, a church representative offered simultaneous translations into English.  On WGN, there were English subtitles, allowing a listener to work on his command of other languages.  I commend WGN for providing the captions rather than the voice-overs.  Alas, contemporary translations, whether closed-captioned or spoken, don't have the resonance and the rhythm of the King James Bible.  Dear reader, you cannot write good English prose without having read and listened to Shakespeare and to the King James Bible.  The committee that wrote the Revised Standard Version at least got that right.  Winston Churchill's speeches show that training.  The too-soon-departed editor of Trains, David P. Morgan, was the son of a British-born Presbyterian minister, and you could pick that up without knowing his biography.

The message, perhaps with some advice from Pope Francis, emphasized two components of the story as told by Luke.  "No room for them in the inn" indicates Joseph, of the house and lineage of David, being rejected by his own kind.  Perhaps, although humans under the same roof as animals was the reality for most of the population until recently, and "inn" refers to a tavern with perhaps some sleeping accommodations.  Think Tabard Inn of The Canterbury Tales; or Holiday Inn with a sales convention in town during the Mad Men era; or Quality Inn in a warm climate during spring break; or Hampton Inn hosting a big wedding party.  These days, we have hospitals and clinics to keep the children, and the near-to-term moms, away from the roistering.  Not so much in an era when fresh fish might be a special treat, and the tax-collector might be even more reviled than he is today.

Speaking of fresh fish, let us reflect on the shepherds, who in this year's message are "marginalized people."  There is a special circle in hell for anyone who introduces these culture-studies terms into ordinary discourse.  But didn't anybody in Francis I's staff remember who the Great Shepherd is?  On earth, if those men are not keeping the wolves, and the Saracens, away from the flock, those loaves and fishes will have to be stretched even further.  Count your blessings, and let's at least have a message that is more attuned to realities, back in the day, and these days.

But perhaps I should not carp.  This year, there were fewer people holding up their smart 'phones to record the processional in Rome, and the one discordant note in Chicago featured a parishioner turning around to snap a selfie as the Cardinal Archbishop passed by during the recessional.  I got the sense, though, that there were a lot of people present at the Vatican for the experience.  Chicagoans who stay up late into the night are going to make a joyful noise and bring an offering, and when you have some very lively censer-swinging and the Cardinal Archbishop belting out "O come let us adore him" for the microphone to send urbi et orbi, why not?  Oh, and working "kingdom" and "power" and "glory forever" into the closing prayer.  Those used to be fighting words.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I think you may like this: I attended midnight mass at a cathedral in a medium-sized city, and the bishop built his homily around his recollection that he had heard those lines from the Gospel of Luke from Linus Van Pelt many years before he heard them in a church. He suggested that perhaps ordained preachers weren't always the most effective conveyors of such messages. I was startled by his candor but found his conclusion rather lovely.