Photo courtesy of The Cathedral Heritage Foundation
St. Paul’s Cathedral
(Christmas Eve 2010)
Annette Marie Hyder
There was a choir up above
singing all the while.
Their voices fell from on high
like rain that waters the soul
floated like feathers
from many angel’s wings
descended like manna — made from music.
There were many brightly lit
and flaming through the night
but none shone more brightly
than the faces all around me
none warmed like the flames
of devotion that crackled against
Curiosity and a promise made
brought me there last night.
The beautiful people all around me
some in denim, some in suits
came out in the cold to kneel and to pray
to genuflect and sing
to worship with clean hearts
their God king.
And all the while
the priest’s words
blazed like stars
across the firmament
of my hearing.
I consulted with my Catholic sister on what to wear, when to arrive and how to conduct myself. Thus prepared, I ventured forth on a cold, snow-streeted night to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at the Cathedral of St. Paul here in St. Paul, Minnesota.
What to wear, when to arrive and how to behave
What to wear? Anything you want. I wore a black dress. I wanted to be respectful of the occasion but I also didn’t want to draw attention to myself.
When to arrive? My sister suggested 11;30 PM.
Dos and Don’ts? According to my sister: Do not partake of the sacrament if you are not Catholic. Do approach a priest if you would like a blessing.
I asked her “What about my being baptized a Catholic when I was a baby? Wouldn’t that make me good to go for the sacrament?” I didn’t really want to partake because I think being Catholic means sharing their beliefs and acting in accordance with those beliefs but I just wanted to hear what she would say. “Yes, a person who is baptized in the Catholic Church becomes a Catholic at
that moment. One’s initiation is deepened by confirmation and the
Eucharist, but one becomes a Catholic at baptism. But since you don’t share our beliefs at this time and have not gone through confirmation, it wouldn’t really be appropriate to partake of the Eucharist. But you can go up and get a blessing from the priest if you want to.”
I sat in the middle of the center aisle and had a great view of everything — the vaulted ceilings, the confessionals, the statues and the stage (also the choir high above and behind the congregation.)
Long robes and religious theater
The cathedral’s vastness served to emphasize the mere human littleness
of everyone there — no matter the length of their robe or the height of their mitred hat. The presence of no less than six confessionals made me
think that they were very well prepared indeed to handle sins. Is that a normal number of confessionals? I had thought there would be just one.
One thing my sister didn’t tell me about were the kneeling benches — which I mistook for footrests! My neighbor pointed out to me that they were for kneeling and so following that instruction I used the one in my row appropriately.
When it came time for the Communion Rite, sure enough, in the program under “Communion Rite” I read (they also announced this information):
“All God’s children are welcome to this sacred place and liturgy. The Catholic understanding of Holy Communion as the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ limits the reception of the Holy Eucharist to those who share our faith and are united in discipleship within the Church. Our brothers and sisters of other faiths are invited to come forward to receive a blessing at this time. The desire to do so may be indicated by crossing the arms over the chest.”
I got up to get a blessing (an orderly row-by-for affair) and when Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt saw my arms crossed over my chest, he said with sincerity, humility and great enthusiasm, “May God bless you always! Merry Christmas!”
Meanwhile protesters clashed with painted ceilings, strident voices were raised below stained glass windows, religious rebels tried to rouse resentment outside the cathedral, just feet away from the steps leading into the building. The controversy they were promulgating was “traditions of men vs. truth of God”.
My sister has beautiful memories of attending Midnight Mass with our Irish-Catholic father. She feels especially connected to him in attending such. I am younger than her and do not have such a wealth of memories because he passed away when I was still a child. But now I have this memory of my own.
There were people of all colors and social standing and at one point in the service everyone turned to their neighbors and wished them blessings. I really liked that! I liked wishing people I didn’t know and would probably never see again the best and happiest and holiest of Christmases. We are all connected and this was a moving experience — connecting with people outside my usual sphere. I overheard one of my neighbors saying, “We are all God’s children.”
I kept waiting for the lights to go out. My sister had told me that the lights would go out and then the candles would be lit to symbolize the coming of Jesus Christ. But the lights never once went out. I don’t mind though. It seems fitting that a night filled with such joy in those around me and spilling over into my own heart through being there with them should be lit up like a new day, a glorious dawn.
Links of interest:
Virtual tour of Cathedral of Saint Paul
Link to Cathedral of Saint Paul website
Questions about Catholic baptism