Friday, December 17, 2010

At the Vatican, "What Time is Midnight?"

Like it or not, folks, as the wider world goes, this week's big story at the Vatican wasn't the Peace Day message, nor the Holy See's fiery response this morning to the recent provocations by China, nor even word that -- as a Pope hasn't in memory -- B16 would be welcoming the poor behind the walls with a lunch....

No, none of these -- as public perception goes, the global lede came courtesy of the now-(in)famous topless acrobats at Wednesday's general audience, whose gyrations made the US morning shows before 9am Wednesday (with at least one of the viral videos of the performance just closing in on a half-million views). And along those lines, the beat's next side-story fits neatly into the frame of Yuletide tradition... but one that can't exactly be taken for granted in the pews anymore: namely, the time of Midnight Mass.

For the second year running, the Pope will celebrate the first liturgy of Christmas Day... on Christmas Eve -- the Office for Papal Liturgical Celebrations has announced that the start-time will yet again be 10pm (4pm ET, 2100GMT) for the "Midnight" rites, traditionally the world's most-watched religious broadcast of the year (thanks in part to an unusually-high viewership in some surprising locales, among them Indonesia -- the world's largest Muslim country -- and heavily-Protestant Scandinavia).

Of course, this year's Mass in the traditionally overpacked St Peter's will likely see a heavier security presence after its last edition, when a mentally unstable Italian woman jumped a barricade and pulled Benedict to the ground as he processed in, sparking several minutes of chaos before the Pope could proceed to the altar, continuing the celebration without further incident.

That said, for those who'd like to review the pontiff's homilies from his prior Christmases, here are English translations of the texts from 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009... and in the meantime 'til the next one, Monday sees the annual "Year in Review" speech that is the Pope's Christmas message to the Roman Curia -- a "greeting" that usually tends to be weightier than its billing.