Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Shepherds Masses at Assumption Grotto: The Revival of an Ancient Custom

Diane at Te Deum Laudamus has some great photoposts of Christmas Midnight Mass and the Shepherds Masses that followed it.

On Christmas every priest is allowed to celebrate three Masses: Midnight, Dawn and Day. Apparently the custom was that, immediately after the Midnight Mass, some priests would do some of these Masses privately at different altars around the church. At Assumption Grotto in Detroit, they decided to revive this custome. It was unanounced and so not many people stayed, but Diane suspects that, next year, there will be a lot of people who will remain to observe the spectacle.

All the Masses were celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.


  1. Actually, that was only possible at religious houses or private chapels, not in parish churches, cf. can. 821 § 2 and 3 CIC/1917:

    § 2. In nocte Nativitatis Domini inchoari media nocte potest sola Missa conventualis vel paroecialis, non autem alia sine apostolico indulto.

    § 3. In omnibus tamen religiosis seu piis domibus oratorium habentibus cum facultate sanctissimam Eucharistiam habitualiter asservandi, nocte Nativitatis Domini, unus sacerdos tres rituales Missas vel, servatis servandis, unam tantum quae adstantibus omnibus ad praecepti quoque satisfactionem valeat, celebrare potest et sacram communionem petentibus ministrare.

  2. Oh, and by the way, the term "Shepherds Mass" really only applies to the second Mass (in aurora), because of that Mass's Gospel.

  3. Fr. John! Please don't let whichever variety of US English spoken there influence you too much! "On Christmas" will be tolerated this year, but in twelve months' time I expect to see "At Christmas" on your blog ;)

  4. Interesting note on the canons.

    It is hard to understand, then, the elderly parishioners who recall these Masses in their younger days at parishes. Is it possible there was some sort of permission given locally? Two different sets of parishioners, who came from other childhood parishes in metro-Detroit recall this "custom". Both also described the Masses taking place soon after the midnight Mass was over.

  5. Perhaps there was an apostolic indult? Or Assumption Grotto was considered a house of religious or some other pious house?

    The current liturgical law is that each Mass is to be celebrated at its proper hour, viz. the Night Mass (not necessarily at midnight - Pope Benedict celebrates 'Midnight Mass' at 10pm); Dawn and Day. Therefore the "custom" being "revived" at Assumption Grotto would not be in keeping with current law. And then we get into the debate as to whether current liturgical law applies to the Extraordinary Form.

    All very interesting.

  6. These people were not parishioners of Assumption Grotto as children. Rather, they seem to have been from different ends of Detroit.

  7. I just asked our Bishop emeritus about his memories - he seems to recall priests celebrating Dawn Mass straight after Midnight Mass but was not aware of their being known as Shepherds Masses. So perhaps there is something in the tradition after all.

    It could well have been a practical thing: get a Dawn Mass in while you are still awake, and then just have one Mass left when you wake up in the morning.

    But as mentioned above, the law is now quite clear: each Mass is to be celebrated at its proper time.


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