The nighttime Christmas Vigil liturgy is an occasion for the whole family—kids, too

By Meg Waters     12/17/2015

Is the Christmas Vigil Mass intended for kids? After all, it makes for a late evening, it can be crowded, parking can sometimes be a problem and it’s going to last longer than usual.

For enthusiastic adults the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord—the formal name for the vigil—doesn’t present a problem. But is it a good choice for families with children?

For Father Tim Ramaekers, pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Aliso Viejo, the answer is an enthusiastic yes. “It is absolutely appropriate to bring children as young as 5 because this is a very special liturgy,” he says. “If your children no longer need to be in the cry room, and would appreciate the solemnity, music, incense and other special characteristics of this Mass, then by all means bring them.”

It used to be known as Midnight Mass, but in many parishes, 9 p.m. is the new midnight. “It is called the Mass during the night so there is no rule that the Mass be held at midnight. Our parish, and many others, is moving this service to 9 p.m. – we call it the Midnight Mass in New York,” explains Father Tim. Mass in the late afternoon or early evening is often geared specifically to children in terms of the music and homily, which is why families with young children tend to gravitate to the Christmas Eve Mass. The Mass during the night is more solemn, but can be appreciated by children as well as adults.

“Talk to young children about the fact that this is the celebration of Jesus’ birth with special stories and music to give thanks to God who sent his son to teach us to love one another,” says Father Tim. Along with the Easter Vigil, it is one of the two most solemn Masses in the liturgical year. Some parishes also have a special blessing of the Christmas manger, and the statue of the child Jesus is brought into the church and placed in the creche as part of the processional.

Father Tim adds that the service is something all Catholics should experience. Prior to the opening procession, the Mass during the night may begin with the Roman Martyrology proclaimed by a deacon, lector or other minister. The Roman Martyrology declares in a formal way the birth of Christ.

“…When ages beyond number had run their course…

Desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence,

Was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

And when nine months had passed since his conception,

Was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah,

And was made man:

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh”

This exceptional Mass might be just what is needed to calm a frazzled family that has become preoccupied with the stress of the holidays. Through music, recitation of familiar prayers and sacred liturgy, the eyes and hearts of the young and the old can be redirected to the great love story of the season.