Why Busy Parents Should Always Go to Midnight Mass
At our house, if we do something one time, the kids assume it's a tradition. Not only a tradition, but an indispensable tradition without which life is nothing but an empty fraud. This is frustrating when the insta-tradition is something like feasting on jumbo shrimp, which happened to be on sale on someone's birthday last year, but it certainly isn't on sale this year.
We didn't mind at all, though, when the kids just assumed we'd be going to Midnight Mass this year, just because we did last year. To them, it was a tradition, and we were happy to play along, even though we have tons of little kids and live in the great, frozen North:
It's the opposite of camping out all night outside of Best Buy. We can talk all we want about how important something is to us, but what really speaks is effort. Are you willing to brave the dark and the cold, lose sleep and rearrange your schedule to get a discount on a big screen TV? There's nothing immoral about that in itself -- but if getting stuff is always worth the effort, but you always make decisions about Faith-related things according to how convenient they are, then it may be time to take stock of your priorities.
It's easiest. Now that I got that first, pious reason out of the way, I have to admit the real reason: it really is the most convenient. Think about it: Christmas eve and Christmas day are already packed with activities, the kids are already buggy, and my husband and I are already up late doing last-minute preparations, and already nobody gets much sleep. As long as it's the craziest 48 hours of the year anyway, might as well go whole hog and add a van trip into town in the middle of the night. I'll tell you what's difficult: finding time the evening before, when we're supposed to be wrapping presents, or the morning of, when everyone's hopped up on chocolate and candy canes and doesn't want to be torn away from their new toys. We've tried the vigil Mass and Christmas morning Mass, and they are not a walk in the park!
It's clarifying. One of the reasons people fast is to attain clarity of mind, so you can hear God speaking to you. Being up in the middle of the night has a similar effect: it's so very different from what you're used to, it's almost impossible to zone out during Mass, or forget why you're there, or to be distracted by petty complaints. The choir is a little wobbly? What a profound and moving expression of humanity's helpless need for Jesus. The homily is a little unfocused? Dear man, I wonder if he got any sleep at all this week. All priests are heroes, when you think about it! These thoughts are about 1000% better than the thoughts that usually wander through my brain while I'm parked in a pew.
There's a very good chance the little kids will sleep through it. For those of us with especially feisty miniature Catholics in our pews, Midnight Mass could actually be the easiest hour of the year. You get there a little bit early, check out the creche, swaddle them up in their coats, and enjoy actually following the Mass for a change, instead of trotting back and forth to the bathroom and foyer the whole time. Another confession: I got to sit down while everyone else stood and knelt, because I had a four-year-old drooling on one of my shoulders and a six-year-old dreaming on my lap. I coudn't move, but I was awfully cozy and warm.
Everyone thinks you're some kind of hero. That's the only good thing about today's low standards: you do the bare minimum, and complete strangers will fervently shake your hand and bless you for doing what you're morally obligated to do. Do it in the middle of the night on Christmas, and people will consider naming an airport after you, or at least writing you into their wills (at least I'm assuming this will happen eventually, edifying as we are). And honestly, parents need to be patted on the back from time to time, because raising kids in the Faith is hard work.
You get to celebrate Christmas as soon as possible, down to the very first minute when Jesus is here. Sweet, understanding mother Church does it again: all of the rest of the year, we have to learn temperance, patience, fortitude, and restraint. But when it's Christmas we're waiting for? Go for it, kids! If you weren't looking forward to the birth of the savior, this is a very good reminder that it's the best thing ever: because the Church assumes that we just can't wait.