Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. Isaiah 9:1
Two years ago, I wrote a column for those people for whom Christmas is a rough time — those who have lost children, spouses, parents, friends, jobs, homes and grieve deeply through the holidays.
I was taken off guard by how many people wrote, telephoned or emailed me to say how much they appreciated it and how much it helped to know that someone understood. It might have been one of my most responded-to columns. I think I touched a nerve in many people’s hearts.
The response affected me deeply, so deeply that I was moved last year to “do something about it.” They told me that they “dreaded” the holidays because it seemed to them that the whole world was happy while they felt empty and alone. What was more touching was how many of them “dreaded” going to church during Christmas with trumpets and choirs belting out songs like “Joy to the World.” For them, that felt a bit like “salt in their wounds.”
Having heard their pain loudly and clearly, I decided to implement an idea that I had read about years earlier. I decided to offer a “Blue Christmas Mass” at Our Lady of the Woods Chapel at Bellarmine University just for them and their needs. I was shocked at the turn-out. The chapel holds about 175 at most, but well over 300 showed up from as far away as Bardstown and Elizabethtown. It was standing room only.
As I stood at the door greeting people, I was deeply moved by stories of suicides, sudden deaths from car wrecks and heart attacks, tragic house fires, divorce, murder and those who simply live all alone. One woman told me that the “Blue Christmas Mass” answered a prayer she had been praying over for many years!
I have decided to do it again this year at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve. It will be quietly appropriate with soft music rather than blaring trumpets and full organ. The homily will center on a word of encouragement for those who are grieving.
I ask those who are simply looking for an early Mass to respect what we are trying to do here and come to the later 5:30 p.m. Mass which will be a simple family-centered traditional Christmas Mass with spirited Christmas hymns.
If you are one of those people for whom the holiday season can be a lonely, empty time — a time when loss, grief and loneliness come into sharp focus, maybe you could benefit from an “alternative” celebration of Christmas. It will be very simple and reflective. It is my gift to you!
As most of you know, the whole idea for this column came from a commitment I made many years ago to simply “pay attention” to ordinary Catholics going about their lives. Noticing, I believe, leads to caring. Caring leads to service.
Father J. Ronald Knott