“That’s not fair.”
“That makes no sense.”
“I don’t see why it doesn’t count if you just go once, it’s a Sunday.”
“Do we still get to open one gift early like we do every year on Christmas Eve?”
These were the responses from my four beloved children when my husband and I attempted to explain that this year we will need to go to Mass twice in a span of 24 hours to fulfill our obligation, since Christmas Eve falls on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Neither of these single Masses fulfills the normal Sunday obligation and the Christmas obligation; they require attendance at different Masses.
To children, the obligation may seem like just that: an obligation. To others, myself included, it’s a blessed opportunity to draw closer to the Lord in preparation for His birth. Perspective is everything, and our attitudes change and mature with age and time, much like the meme that has made its way all over social media that says something to the effect of: “The things that seemed like punishments to me as a child are now rewards: staying home, going to bed early, and taking a nap!”
During a broadcast of his Angelus prayer from his residence in Vatican City earlier this month, the Holy Father emphasized that the Advent call for vigilance does not mean staying awake and watchful out of fear, but rather out of a longing for the coming of the Lord.
“Sometimes people think of vigilance as an attitude motivated by fear of impending doom, as if a meteorite were about to plunge from the sky,” said Pope Francis in his commentary on the Gospel reading for December 3, the first Sunday of Advent.
In Mark 13: 33-37, Jesus tells the parable of the servants awaiting their masters’ return.
“The servants’ vigilance is not one of fear, but of longing, of waiting to go forth to meet their Lord who is coming,” said the Holy Father. “They remain in readiness for his return because they care for him, because they have in mind that when he returns, they will make sure he finds a welcoming and orderly home.”
The Holy Father said Christians should welcome Jesus “as he comes to meet us in the Eucharist, in his word (and) in our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.”
Of Love and Longing
Most have either read or at least heard the tale of O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi,” which relates the story of a young couple of modest means who yearn to buy Christmas gifts for one another, yet lack the necessary funds. The wife sells her long, beautiful hair to earn money to buy her husband a chain for his treasured pocket watch; the husband, in turn, sells the pocket watch to buy his wife jeweled tortoise shell combs for her beautiful hair. Both laugh when they realize neither can use the gifts they have received because they sold their most prized possessions to buy them!
The narrator concludes the story calling the couple “even wiser than the three wise magi who brought gifts to the baby Jesus on the first Christmas Eve.” They gave freely, passionately, and extravagantly, because they loved, and when one loves another, no gift is ever enough. Love prompts the heart to give until one can give no more. Each person in the story gave what they treasured most out of love for the other; this is what God gives to us on Christmas: His Son, and His most prized possession.
One thing Pope Francis has done continually and done very well is stretch the limits of our concepts of what it means to be truly Catholic, to push us out of our comfort zones, to challenge us to examine our own prejudices, preconceived notions, and sinful attitudes that are so entrenched that we fail to notice how they dictate our interactions with our brothers and sisters.
This Christmas, may we truly make room for the Christ child in our hearts, by tearing down the walls of rigidity, misunderstanding, self-righteousness, and pride that infect even the most well-intentioned of us all. Perhaps the things we see as obligations can be seen as opportunities to show devotion, when done out of love.
And let’s remember that we are blessed beyond measure to celebrate our Lord in the Eucharist twice this Christmas. Celebrating true love is never a duty, but a privilege.
Kristi McCabe is an award-winning freelance writer, Catechist, a former teacher and editor who lives with her family in Owensboro, Kentucky. As an adoptive mother of four and an adoptee herself, Kristi is an avid supporter of pro-life ministries. She is active in her local parish and has served as Eucharistic minister and in various children's ministries.