Starting at 11:30pm on Christmas Eve, St. Mary’s will celebrate a public Vigil of the Office of Readings before the beginning of Midnight Mass. Please plan to come to Midnight Mass a little early this year to join with us in this special liturgy.
What is the Office of Readings?
The Office of Readings is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily prayer of the Church, consisting primarily of psalms and other scriptural readings. The Office of Readings in particular combines scripture with excerpts from the writings of early Church Fathers.
The office of readings seeks to provide God’s people… with a wider selection of passages from Sacred Scripture for meditation, together with the finest excerpts from spiritual writers (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours 55).
But prayer should accompany “the reading of sacred scripture so that there may be a conversation between God and his people: ‘we talk with God when we pray, we listen to him when we read God’s words.'” For this reason the office of readings consists also of psalms, a hymn, a prayer, and other texts, giving it the character of true prayer (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours 56).
There is an ancient tradition of celebrating certain feasts with vigils observed on the night before. The Office of Readings has a special place in these vigil observances, especially at Christmas.
As with the Easter Vigil, it was customary to begin certain solemnities… with a vigil. Among these solemnities Christmas and Pentecost are preeminent. This custom should be maintained and fostered (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours 71).
The Fathers and spiritual writers have frequently encouraged Christians, especially those who lead the contemplative life, to pray during the night. Such prayer expresses and awakens our expectation of the Lord’s Second Coming: “At midnight the cry went up: ‘See, the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him… (Mt 25:6). “Keep watch, then, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether late or at midnight o at cockcrow or in the morning, so that if he comes unexpectedly he may not find you sleeping” (Mk 13:35-36). All who maintain the character of the office of readings as a night office, therefore, are to be commended (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours 72).
On Christmas eve it is fitting that by means of the office of readings, a solemn vigil be celebrated before Mass (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours 215).
What to Expect
If you are not familiar with praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can expect recitation and singing of psalms and other scriptural canticles, readings, and hymns of praise. We will have booklets available to follow along. It will take approximately 20 minutes, ending about ten minutes before midnight Mass begins.
From Bishop Peter J. Elliott:
On major solemnities, the Office of Readings may be celebrated as an extended vigil… This celebration of the Office of Readings is particularly appropriate at Christmas, when it may be joined to the celebration of midnight Mass (Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite 759).
Please join us! We hope this extended celebration will add to the joy of the Christmas season for you and your family!