Monday, December 27, 2021


The snow has stopped falling, but there's still a couple feet of the stuff on the ground (though drift size varies...lots of wind yesterday), and the freezing temperatures are keeping it from melting. As such, we ended up staying in most of the day Sunday, even forgoing church despite it being (*shudder*) a Holy Day of Obligation.

Which is fine. I mean it's not the first HDO I've missed...probably won't be the last.

Still, it's too bad. We attended Mass on Saturday morning (for Christmas...natch) and I found it very enjoyable. Even though we got there late, even though we had less-than-ideal seats, even though there was an alarming amount of coughing around us (virus PTSD), and an annoying amount of misbehaving kids, and a fairly pedestrian homily...I found the whole experience a welcome, comforting experience.

Christmas Mass isn't the most important of the year, nor even my a Catholic I find Easter to be the "Big One" and greatly enjoy all the stuff of the Lenten season (from Ash Wednesday to the Friday fasts to Holy Week). The Easter season pretty much sums up the reason there is a Catholic church, after all, aI find the reflections during the Easter season the best of my (annual) religious "cycle." But Christmas Mass is still a good one, and one that I cherish doing with my family especially now that I have children. Not because I'm so much into the Christmas story (I'm more a Gospel of John guy) but because it's a chance to get away from the crass commercialism and Santa worship that permeates December and get back to why we're doing the whole dance. 

[and, yes, I've explained to the kids...this year particularly...the origin of the holiday in other (pagan) winter festivals, Roman and otherwise, and how it was simply re-purposed by the church and not based on an actual "birth day" of Jesus. They understand there was a marrying of non-Christian tradition with the celebration of our religion's foundational figure to create a delicious stew that STILL can have a very positive, spiritual message...if we keep it in mind]

Also the music is pretty good at the Christmas Mass.

But here's the main thing: Christmas Mass is always well-attended...more so even than Easter (people that only get out to Mass once a year seem to make the Christmas celebration). Always. And being surrounded by so many Catholics, all celebrating the Mass together, is heartening. There is a shared community see all these folks repeating the same rote words, following the same ritual, taking the same Communion, speaking to the same Baptismal vows...and you know that you are part of something large, that you are not alone in your "silly" beliefs. 

We didn't have that last year. There was no Christmas celebration to attend in 2020. Despite all the "joy" and "cheer" and (Lord knows) eating, drinking and gift-giving, the whole thing was fairly subdued and depressing. I note that I didn't blog about anything but bugbears and B2 at the end of last December...I'm guessing I was a bit down in the chops at the time.

This year, I got to go to Mass and I was comforted by it. Our priest pointed out that we sing about "tidings of comfort and joy" but don't really think about the reason comfort is needed. If everything's just a big feast and celebration, why the hell do you need tidings of "comfort?" We don't comfort people who are joyfully celebrating. 'Hey, that guy looks like he's having a great time...I better go comfort him.' 

No, comfort is for the sad and the downtrodden and the miserable. And there has been a LOT of those folks over the centuries. And there are a lot of those folks now. And the birth of a dude who is going to inspire a far-reaching Way of living and behaving based on kindness...well, that is a joyful thing to celebrate, and it may well have given His followers of the time something to be comforted about. That things were going to get better. That life was going to get better.

I said that a big Mass, full of fellow Catholics celebrating Catholic "stuff," is heartening to me as a Catholic. But Saturday's Christmas service was the first time I was struck by...and comforted by...the full power and strength of the tradition of the Mass. Participating in a ritual that has remained, more or less, the same (at least the important parts) for centuries...stretching far back before the lives and times of my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, etc. This thing, this celebration of the birth and life this Jesus guy, this sharing of the Eucharist with our fellow believers, is something that has been done for more than a thousand years

Empires have risen and fallen, governments have been tumbled and created, wars have been fought, plagues and pandemics experienced...and still the celebration of the Eucharist persists. The celebration of the Word persists. The teachings of a man who said "turn the other cheek" and "love your neighbor" persists. And in that stubborn persistence, in that staying power, in that tradition, there is comfort. There is the comfort that things can last; there is the hope that maybe, possibly, humanity as a species can endure, despite all our shortcomings, missteps, and tendencies to fuck everything up.

The Catholic church has made a lot of stupid, bad, and evil choices over the years. It's screwed up a lot. And yet the core of the thing...the Mass, the ritual, the teachings...these things carry on. There is strength in that shared, continued tradition...a foundational rock on which to build, and to rebuild, as and when necessary. If the church is slow to change and adapt to our evolving world...well, sure, I understand that complaint. People want, need, and demand progress. Growth and change and evolution is part of life, and we are part of a living world, not a dead, stagnant one. 

But we also need stability and consistency. Life is not always comfortable...should NOT always be comfortable. But comfort...and momentary respites from stress and chaos...are also necessary. We all need "a breather" sometimes. Our minds and souls need occasional rest just as much as our bodies.

I find this rest in my religious traditions. Sure, booze works, too...but the religion's a lot easier on the liver. 

[there is an analogy to be drawn here with old edition D&D, but I'll let my readers do that for themselves]

All right. Next post will be about either treasure or The Village of Hommlet or both. Later, folks.

Peace and love.
: )


  1. Hey J/B, Your post reminded me of a Christmas eve I spent in Brooklyn when I was in my 20s. My friends had all left town for Christmas so I had the city to myself and, as it was snowing for once, I wandered the neighborhood to soak in the Yule. I passed by a Catholic Church just as people were entering for "midnight" mass--though it was only 10:30 PM. With nowhere to be and feeling full of Christmas Spirit--and a bit of Guinness from the Irish pub down the street--I joined the throng and enjoyed a service entirely in Polish. A nice family next to me in the pew realized that I didn't speak the lingo and tried to help me along though only their daughter, who was 12-ish, spoke English well enough to make herself understood in the hushed tones required of the occasion.

    Anyway, my night wasn't over yet. My apartment was on the cusp of a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood so I wandered to the church down the street --I remember it had a distinctly, comically, non-Spanish name, like St. Goodwin or Ethelbert or somesuch--where midnight mass was kicking off much closer to its nominal appointment, and en espanol. Once again my ignorance was evident to all around, yet I was warmly welcomed by my pew-mates who giggled at the gaunt gringo whose Spanish extended no further than "Feliz navidad."

    I'm not Catholic and haven't been to a church service other than weddings and baptisms since that night more than 20 years ago, but I did find something in it, that I could be amongst these two ethnically distinct groups, each speaking a separate language but conveying (probably) the same message of peace on earth, goodwill toward humanity (I assume); it did warm the ol' heart and remains the standard by which I measure Christmas Spirit.

    1. Yeah, I’ve had the opportunity over the years to attend Mass in several countries; I wish I’d taken the opportunity to attend more. Experiencing other cultures is, in itself, generally enough to feel more connected to my fellow humans on this planet (we are, after all, not much different from each other)…but sharing a spiritual experience only serves to knit the bonds of commonality tighter.
      : )

  2. I'm glad that you got to go to Mass. I attended the Tridentine form, as I always do, and this year there seemed to be an overflowing of grace.

    I can't tell anyone how to instruct their children, but I find it interesting that the Feast of the Annunciation is March 25th, which is exactly 9 months prior to the Feast of the Nativity. I would caution that a lot of the criticism you may read about the Church and her customs are written by Communists and Protestants.

    1. @ Korgoth:

      Not sure if that last bit was sarcastic: I’ve known more than a few people my own age…who attended Catholic school with me, even through young adulthood…who have left the church due to their own “criticisms.” And they were far more Capitalist than I am!

      Grace is a funny thing. So is faith. I think both are easier to find than most might think…but for some (many?) of us, you kind of have to look for it. Or, as a priest buddy of mine might say, “be open to the possibility.”

      That can be a tall order for folks.

    2. I would add that it is possible that some pagan winter festivals got their origin from Christmas. A lot of the “pagan origins of Christmas and Easter” is, in my opinion, based in Catholic-bashing.

      The December 25 date was possibly marked because an early, unnamed, church father had the belief that a prophet eventually dies on the anniversary of his conception. If Jesus died on Easter, then, according to this theory, the Holy Spirit miraculously had Him conceived on that day, thirty-three years prior. Nine months later, Jesus is born. If the date He was miraculously conceived was March 25 (as this church father believed), then nine months later is December 25. I am using various sources for this info, by the way; some sources give names, some don’t. Some say that the celebration of Sol Invictus was celebrated on December 25, some say that it was celebrated a few days prior or after the 25th. It is very possible that the December 25th date for the feast of Sol Invictus was chosen because the date was already being used by Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

      Also, the Gospel of John has its own brief mention of the Nativity (“...the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us...”)