The Catholic tradition of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is under threat in Britain due to interruptions from drunken intruders.
According to a survey for Catholic magazine The Tablet, 50 deaneries – local groups of parishes – have had to scale back, move or cancel the Christmas Eve celebrations altogether due to disruptions. Some have even had to employ bouncers to guard the Church entrance to keep out drunken revellers.
Monsignor David Hogan of St Bernadette’s parish in Nunthorpe, northern England, said that less than a quarter of parishes in the area now hold the service. “Last time we had it, we ended up with a drunk trying to get the doors off the church,” he said. “So we’ve made the decision not to have Mass when people are pouring out of the pubs sloshed.”
Mgr Hogan also blamed the decline on the introduction of Vigil Masses earlier in the evening. “There has never been any significance in celebrating Mass at midnight at Christmas beyond the fact that it used to be the first opportunity there was to have it.”
One parish in York was even forced to move its Mass forward to 8pm after it was interrupted by a streaker last year. Canon Alan Sheridan said: “We are on the main drag into town so people are coming straight from the pub and it can make Mass very difficult.”
A church in Havant, southern England, also reported having to call the police three times after drunken yobs threw bricks at worshippers. Canon Peter Turbitt said: “It is not nice being showered with bricks by drunken yobbos when you’re trying to pray. A lot of people were frightened to walk home afterwards.”
Many priests in Britain have expressed their sadness at the increasing rarity of Midnight Mass. Fr Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard of St Mary’s parish in Pembroke said that he worried that 5pm Vigil Mass was becoming a substitute for Christmas Day Mass for children. “We have turned our practice of the faith into a matter of convenience rather than a matter of commitment,” he added.
Fr Michael Marsden of Our Lady of Lourdes in Middlesbrough also lamented the change. “Going to Midnight Mass at Christmas used to be one of the hallmarks of being a Catholic; it is sad if that is changing.”