Ben Hur’s visit on Christmas Eve

chariot_edited-2Back when the beloved husband and I were dating we introduced each other to our family customs and traditions. For the beloved husband it was beer drinking, baseball and being outside whenever the weather allowed. For me it was different things – shopping without buying, family reunions and feelings talk.

There was one area where we were entirely in agreement and that is music. We both love lots of different types. He is kind when I break into song, off-key with the wrong words. Now that is love. I thought he would really like my Christmas tradition — Christmas Eve mass.

In our cathedral, which is the seat of the local Catholic diocese, midnight mass was a huge deal. The wonderful choir sang at 11 p.m. with the formal mass starting at midnight. Since it was a high mass celebrated by the bishop it was full of pageantry. That’s what made it so wonderful — incense all over the place and costumes galore.

It would fill up to standing room only so to get a good seat or any seat you had to get there by 10:30 p.m. You can do the math – arrival at 10:30, choir at 11, an hour-long high mass at midnight, it took close to 3 hours. The choir was wonderful but the best part was when they sang the Hallelujah chorus at the very end of the mass. That ensured no one left early. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the place and everyone was in the holiday spirit hugging strangers on their way out of the church.

The beloved husband, who at that time was Mr. Wonderful, appeared (?) to be excited about it. We got there at 10:30 only to be smooshed in a hard wood pew with tons of other people and all kinds of smells. Some people ate garlic before mass. Some drowned themselves in perfume. Others may be been clean but wore a coat that wasn’t cleaned in ten years. Aside from the Campbell’s soup smell coming from the armpits, I could see the spirit of meals long past dribbled all over.

The choir delivered. They were just wonderful. However, we had been there an hour and a half before the mass itself started.

The bishop’s procession started down the aisle. He had a dozen altar boys with candles in front followed by six priests carrying incense burners. You can imagine the smell. Incense mixed with Estee Lauder’s Beautiful, Campbell’s soup, garlic and Old Spice. Yum! It was hot and sweaty so throw that in too.

From where we sat it looked awesome (my opinion) with all these folks in costumes strolling down the aisle. From Mr. Wonderful’s perspective it looked like a Roman orgy about to begin. It was only missing the gladiators and the lions.

I murmured positive comments hoping that he could hold on until the Hallelujah chorus but I was started to sweat myself. I don’t think this is what he signed up for. If only he could hold out. I just knew he would LOVE the Hallelujah Chorus!

Alas! It was too much. In an overcrowded cathedral with a very loud voice, he, who was raised in the Quaker religion, asked me if Messala was going to follow in his chariot to challenge Ben Hur. There was snickering all around us. Fortunately, neither of us were struck dead or thrown out.

Since I was raised with all that pageantry, I found it comforting and familiar and wonderful. Did I mention it was a Latin mass? For someone raised with severe simplicity, perhaps not so much. He was a great sport and lasted until the end of the Hallelujah Chorus. Then asked if we could not do that again.

Our new custom is to watch the 1954 movie “White Christmas.” It’s not quite the same but add some wine and it works.

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15 thoughts on “Ben Hur’s visit on Christmas Eve

    • It’s too crowded. They turn people away because of fire codes. It’s a brilliant thought though (the beloved husband said that!). The choir is locally known and they have a cd out with their Christmas music. I could buy that and play it at home with wine. Oh wait, I think I already have it!


  1. That sounds magnificent. When I still lived in London, we would always go to the midnight service at St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the great worshiping rooms of Europe, with a congregation of 3000 and 10 priests administering communion.

    In our house we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”

    Merry christmas to you.


  2. I’ve only been to one Christmas Eve mass and it was Episcopalian… which I’ve heard described as Catholic Lite. It was quite a spectacle with much too much music and showiness for a Presby like myself. I did, however, like the sermon delivered by a drunk priest who swayed as he slurred his way through it. That I thought was quite memorable.

    Have a merry Christmas, Kate. And please enjoy your movie + wine. Sounds perfect to me.


  3. LOL. I remember my first Mass. I was with my boyfriend. I remember thinking it was a little too much for me. I was born and raised baptist. There were no robes, no processions, no words I could not understand. My date was in awe and it showed. Later that night we went to the local college bar and had a wine. Yes, wine is the great equalizer. I never married him but I carry great memories of that night.


  4. Folk masses, masses with the pagentry – especially around Christmas – and the singing are all delightful. What can sometimes be taxing is having to stand too long. That scenario makes a relaxing movie and hot cocoa way too tempting. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Kate.


  5. Yes, that smell of all them people especially the food and booze. This is one I skip the traditional high masses. But I must say the whole entourage and the ensemble is worth going especially what we really are celebrating for. Sweet husband has a good sense of humour. Latin mass is music to my ears even I don’t understand it, especially the Hallelujah. Thanks for sharing, brought back lost of memories. Have a blessed Merry Christms.


  6. OMG. Like you, I grew up Catholic. Mass every morning before school began, Church twice on Sundays (Mass and Benedication), and choir mass on Saturday mornings. All mandatory, head counts were taken! And then CCD in high school because i went to public high. Today you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to that mass. I’ll nominate you for sainthood!!!


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