Pope Francis celebrates Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Dec. 25, 2019. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis’ Midnight Mass will begin at 7:30 p.m. this year, as the Italian government extends a national curfew through the Christmas season.
The pope’s traditional celebration of Christmas “Mass during the Night,” which takes place at St. Peter’s Basilica on 24 December, has in recent years begun at 9:30 p.m.
For 2020, the start time of the Mass has been moved two hours earlier to accommodate one of Italy’s coronavirus measures: a curfew which requires people to be at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless going to or from work.
Another novelty in 2020 is that Pope Francis will give the Christmas Day “Urbi et Orbi” blessing from St. Peter’s Basilica and not from the loggia on the church’s facade, which overlooks the square.
The pope’s celebration of First Vespers and the singing of the Te Deum on 31 December for the vigil of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, will take place at the customary time of 5 p.m.
Attendance at all of Pope Francis’ liturgies during the Christmas season will be “very limited,” the Vatican press office said.
The liturgical office of the Diocese of Rome put out instructions for pastors Dec. 9, stating that all Masses on Christmas Eve should be at times which allow people to return home by 10 p.m.
The diocese said that the vigil Mass for the Nativity of the Lord can be said from 4:30 p.m. onward on Christmas Eve and the Mass during the night may be celebrated as early as 6 p.m.
Since November, Pope Francis has been holding his Wednesday general audience via livestream and without public attendance, in order to avoid gatherings of people. But he has continued to give his Sunday Angelus address from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, where people follow along while wearing masks and keeping an appropriate distance.
On the Third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday, it has been a tradition in Rome for people to bring the baby Jesus figurine from their Nativity set to the Angelus to be blessed by the pope.
For more than 50 years, it has also been a tradition for thousands of youth and their leaders and catechists from an Italian association called C.O.R. to attend the Gaudete Sunday Angelus.
This year a smaller group, together with families from Roman parishes, will be present in the square 13 December “as a testimony of the desire to keep the joy of the meeting with Pope Francis and of his blessing on the figurines during the Sunday Angelus unchanged,” C.O.R. said.
C.O.R. president David Lo Bascio told Roma Sette, Rome’s diocesan newspaper, that “the blessing of the Baby Jesuses has always had the task of reminding children and young people, their families, and in a certain sense the city, that true joy comes from recognizing that Jesus is born always, again, in our lives.”
“Today, when we experience all the fatigue, sadness and sometimes the pain that the pandemic has caused, this truth appears even more clear and necessary,” he said, “so that this ‘unadorned’ Christmas can enable us to focus on him better.”