“A Child Can Teach Us How To Love” – Despite COVID and Curfews, Christus Natus Est

Before anything else, especially amid all the sorrows, fears, loss and disorientation of a brutal year across the globe, Buon Natale a tutti – to one and all, a Blessed Christmas… may all its light, hope and richness fill each of us in ways we’ve never known.

Always the world’s most-watched religious event, the Pope’s Mass on this Holy Night takes place under circumstances without modern precedent. 

A far cry from the usual overflow crowd spilling into St Peter’s Square, this Eve’s liturgy begins at the record early hour of 7.30pm Rome time (1.30pm US Eastern) in deference to Italy’s monthlong 10pm curfew, the nation’s latest drastic effort to curtail the virus’ second major wave there. 

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“The Poor Are The Center of The Gospel” – At Vatican “Festivus,” The Church’s Choice: “The Docility of the Shepherds, or the Defensiveness of Herod”

Fifteen years (less a day) since Benedict XVI revolutionized the Roman Pontiff’s Christmas “greeting” to the leaders of his Curia – transforming the holiday pleasantry into a Pope’s ultimate programmatic address of the calendar – for everything that’s changed since, the distinction remains.

Even so, of course, 2020 has been no ordinary year: not merely in terms of a pandemic that’s only bolstered Francis’ standing as the premier spiritual leader of a world under lockdown (one left all the more to watch him over a livefeed), but likewise in a tenuous feeling on the homefront, whether in the loss of the crowds and travel that define the nature of a Church gathered around Peter, or the ongoing throes of a Curial reform which doesn’t seek mere structural tweaks, but the spiritual conversion of its players – the latter marked in epochal form by September’s “decapitation” of a cardinal, the first such move in the modern era for reasons apart from sexual abuse.

Where B16 made the Christmas speech a premier moment of the governing munus of the Universal Pastor, his successor has brought his own unique facet to the exercise. 

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Whether you’ve been waiting three decades or just three weeks for this, the “mountaintop” is at hand. 

From 4pm Rome (10am US ET), the livefeed of a Public Consistory like no other – from the Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s, an unusually sparse rite for the elevation of 13 new Cardinals… and with it, a watershed for American Catholicism as Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory receives his red hat: 

Due to the pandemic, the customary packed house of global pilgrims and full-on turnout of the 200-member College have been severely whittled to a crowd of roughly 100. And indeed, for the first time since 1998, a voting pick won’t be present for the conferral of the biretta and ring – both this intake’s Asian designates (Brunei’s Cornelius Sim and the Filipino José Advincula) have been forced to stay home in light of travel restrictions. Though the insignia will be sent to them and received in local ceremonies, they will have full membership in the Pope’s “Senate” when their names are read out by the Pope alongside the others at the liturgy’s start.Among other concessions in the name of safety, the traditional evening “courtesy calls” to the new class will not take place, nor will the sign of peace among the cardinals after the new picks are invested.*  *  *SVILUPPO: Having chosen Jesus’ warning against ambition in St Mark’s Gospel and its exhortation to be “servant of all,” as the reading for today’s rites, in his homily, Francis urged the new intake to avoid any sense of “a worldly spirit” and – citing the title that comes with the rank – the temptation to become “secular eminences”: 

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