Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
be prepared for the papal household by the Cardinal-Bishop of Albano. After Matins and Midnight Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore, the Pope went in procession to Sant' Anastasia for Lauds and the Mass of the Dawn. The third Mass, at St. Peter's, was an event of great solemnity, and at it took place in the year 800 that profoundly significant event, the coronation of Charlemagne by Leo III.—a turning-point in European history. x3
Later it became the custom for the Pope, instead of pro­ceeding to St. Peter's, to return to Santa Maria Maggiore for the third Mass. On his arrival he was given a cane with a lighted candle affixed to it; with this he had to set fire to some tow placed on the capitals of the columns.1'! The ecclesiastical explanation of this strange ceremony was that it symbolised the end of the world by fire, but one may con­jecture that some pagan custom lay at its root. Since 1870 the Pope, as " the prisoner of the Vatican," has of course ceased to celebrate at Santa Maria Maggiore or Sant' Anastasia. The Missal, however, still shows a trace of the papal visit to Sant' Anastasia in a commemoration of this saint which comes as a curious parenthesis in the Mass of the Dawn.
On Christmas Day in the Vatican the Pope blesses a hat and a sword, and these are sent as gifts to some prince. The practice is said to have arisen from the mediaeval custom for the Holy Roman Emperor or some other sovereign to read one of the lessons at Christmas Matins, in the papal chapel, with his sword drawn.JS
Celebrated in countries as distant from one another, both geographically and in character, as Ireland and Sicily, Poland and South America, the Midnight Mass naturally varies greatly in its tone and setting. Sometimes it is little more than a fashionable function, sometimes the devotion of those who attend is shown by a tramp over miles of snow through the darkness I and the bitter wind.
In some charming memories of the Christmas of her childhood, Madame Th. Bentzon thus describes the walk to the Midnight Mass in a French country place about sixty years ago :—
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