Christmas Eve 2023: Catholic Guide to Christmas Eve, Midnight Mass, Candlelight and Online Services

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Christmas Eve 2023: Table of Contents

Although it can take place on any day of the week, Christmas Eve, in many ways, is remarkably 

similar to a regular Sunday liturgy.

Unlike other key moments of the liturgical year, such as Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday or the Easter Vigil, the Christmas Eve Mass is not unlike liturgies that take place throughout the year.

The service features an Old Testament reading, a responsorial Psalm, a New Testament reading and a Gospel. After the priest’s homily comes the Liturgy of the Eucharist–where the priest consecrates the bread and wine and distributes the Eucharist to the parish.

A pretty standard Mass.

The most striking difference you’ll notice at Christmas Eve Mass–aside from the parking lot being more crowded than usual–is how the church is decorated, often with beautiful poinsettias and other flowers.

Jesus now will be present in the manger in the nativity scene. The Advent wreath may still be in the worship space, but now with a large white candle in its center or with four white candles replacing the purple and pink ones lit during Advent.

The white candles symbolize the joy and celebration of Jesus’s birth.

The most unique aspect of the Christmas Eve service is The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, an ancient text that is often read before the start of Mass. This is sometimes called “Proclamation of the Birth of Christ.”

But Christmas Eve is an incredibly important liturgy. And not all Christmas Eve Masses are the same.

Hallow breaks down everything you need to know about Christmas Eve in 2023.

Different Christmas Eve Masses and Times

Including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there are four Masses that kick off the Christmas season in the Church:

  • The Vigil Mass
  • Mass During the Night (unofficially called “Midnight Mass”)
  • Mass at Dawn (sometimes called “Shepherd’s Mass”)
  • Mass During the Day

Attending just one of these Masses satisfies the obligation to attend Mass on Christmas (yes–Christmas is a Holy Day of Obligation!) Each Mass has different readings 

The Mass During the Night (“Midnight Mass”) traditionally has taken place at midnight, and many Catholics have memories of the custom of attending the liturgy at this time. However, the Mass can take place at different times. 

Pope Benedict moved the Mass time to 10 p.m., while Pope Francis has held it at 9:30 p.m. He even moved the Mass to 7:30 p.m. during the pandemic so attendees could return home before the local curfew.

Vatican Christmas Eve Mass

The world’s most famous Christmas Eve liturgy is the Midnight Mass that the Pope celebrates each year.

Officially known as Holy Mass on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Midnight Mass at the Vatican takes place in St. Peter’s Basilica in order to accommodate the large crowd.

Tickets are required, but they’re free.

The Vatican’s own YouTube channel broadcasts midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica every year on Christmas Eve.

In 2021, Vatican Christmas Eve Mass began at 9:30 p.m., a trend that continued 2022 and figures to continue in 2023.

SEE MORE: Christmas Eve Prayers

Candlelight Services

Candles play an essential role in the Mass throughout the liturgical year. 

They light our entry into the worship space during the Easter Vigil and welcome the newly baptized in the Church. Advent Candles mark our progression through the Advent season. The flicker of a candle light also signifies the presence of Christ in the tabernacle.

However, candlelight Christmas Eve services–where the worship space is mostly dark and lit by candles–are more prevalent in other Christian denominations. They often include some form of worship music along with scripture. 

It’s important for Catholics to make it to Mass on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

The Importance of Christmas Eve Mass

In 1969, Pope Paul VI clarified that “The liturgical day runs from midnight to midnight, but the observance of Sunday and solemnities begins with the evening of the preceding day.”

This helped make popular “vigil” Masses on Saturday evening since Pope Paul VI made it clear that such liturgies satisfied the standard Sunday obligation. 

This opened the door for Christmas Eve liturgies that made it acceptable to not attend Mass on December 25 (a Holy Day of Obligation) so long as one made it to Mass the night before.

Attending Mass on Christmas Eve can be extremely practical for many. The holidays can be stressful, and many people travel on Christmas Day. Christmas Eve can be a great option. 

While Christmas Eve Mass may offer a certain convenience, it’s important to remember its significance and not view it as a chance to “go to Mass the day before and get it over with.

Whether you attend Mass on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, it remains a Holy Day of Obligation and the celebration of one of the most significant moments in our faith story: when God became man. 

Crowds at Church

With its popularity, Christmas Eve Mass often draws big crowds.

This could include people in your parish who worship at other times on other weekends. It also probably will consist of people who don’t regularly worship at your parish.

Rather than getting frustrated that parking is more challenging or that your usual seat is occupied, consider it an opportunity to welcome in unfamiliar faces and offer the gift of hospitality.

“Expect that someone will be in your seat and be OK with that,” says Fr. Joshua Laws, a priest in Baltimore. “At the end of Mass, I always say we’re really glad you joined us. You brought something with you that we wouldn’t have had without you.”

How to Find a Christmas Eve Service Near You

With all the other considerations and planning around Christmas Eve, finding a service to attend should be the least of your concerns.

For starters, consult your local parish bulletin or website. Mass times for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day usually can be found here.

You can also visit to see a more robust listing of Mass times in your vicinity. However, special holiday Masses may not be listed, so it’s best to check your parish site.

If you’re looking for Catholic churches in your area, browse the USCCB website to find the different dioceses near you. Each of those sites should have a “Parish finder” map that can show you different churches in your area.

For general Christian churches, Church Finder may be a helpful resource.

Streaming Catholic Christmas Eve Mass

If you’d like to watch a livestream of a Catholic Christmas Eve Mass, many options are available.

One of the benefits of watching any Catholic Mass virtually is the opportunity to see the different liturgical elements that make each parish just a bit unique. All parishes celebrate the same liturgy, but minor elements–like church design, decor and local customs–can vary.

Additionally, you can hear different readings (and a different homily) than you’ll hear at Christmas Day Mass the next day. 

Here are Christmas Eve Mass streaming options in different time zones:

Common Questions about Christmas Eve Mass 

What time to arrive for Christmas Eve Mass?

Consider arriving around 30 minutes before the start of Mass. If there is an earlier Mass still going on when you arrive, be sure to allow it to finish before entering.

Is Christmas Eve a Holy Day of Obligation?

Christmas is a Holy Day of Obligation. Attending Mass on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day satisfies that obligation.

What to wear to Christmas Eve Mass?

Styles are always changing. Christmas Eve Mass is a great opportunity to wear something festive that you’re comfortable in.

What is a Christmas Eve candlelight service?

These services, common in Protestant and non-denominational churches, feature song and scripture in dark worship space.

How long is a Christmas Eve Mass?

Christmas Eve Mass is mostly similar to regular Sunday Mass when it comes to the liturgy. However, the larger crowds usually makes the Mass 10-15 minutes longer than usual.

What time is Mass on Christmas Eve? What’s the earliest time it can be held?

This varies by parish. Many parishes have more than one Mass. Usually, Mass is no earlier than 4 p.m., although some churches have services beginning at 2:30 p.m.

How to watch Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican?

The Vatican’s YouTube channel broadcasts Christmas Eve Mass.

More Advent and Christmas Resources

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