It may be known as midnight Mass, but for the second year running, Pope Francis chose to celebrate the service marking the birth of Jesus Christ in the early evening.
Although conditions at the Vatican this year differed from last year, when Italy was in near-total lockdown, authorities did step up restrictions this Christmas season as well, as COVID-19 infections, particularly of the omicron variant, continued to rise fast.
Last year, a very limited number attended the pope’s Christmas Eve Mass, while this year St. Peter’s Basilica was filled with faithful, although all were wearing masks, including all the Mass concelebrants. The Vatican on Thursday tightened restrictions to enter all Vatican offices. Employees must now show they are fully vaccinated or show evidence they have recovered from COVID-19.
At the start of his homily, Pope Francis told the faithful of the message the night Jesus was born. To you is born this day a saviour, who is Christ the Lord, the pope said — a poor child, wrapped in swaddling cloth, a baby lying in the dire poverty of a manger, with shepherds standing by. The pope said God is in littleness, adding that the message is that God does not rise up in grandeur but lowers himself into littleness.
Littleness, Francis said, is what God chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us and to bring us back to what really matters. God does not seek power and might, the pope added; he asks for tender love and interior littleness. And that grace of littleness, he said, is what we should be asking for at Christmas.
The pope urged the faithful to put aside complaints, gloomy faces and greed that never satisfies. Accepting littleness, the pontiff added, also means honoring the poor. Jesus is born close to the shepherds who were there to work because they were poor.
God came to fill with dignity the austerity of labor, the pope said; he reminds us of granting dignity to men and women through labor. On the day of life, he added, let us repeat: No more deaths at the workplace!
On Christmas Day, Francis is expected to deliver his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" message and blessing to the city and to the world.