Bishop O'Connell celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas morning in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. Vic Mistretta photos
Bishop O'Connell celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas morning in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. Vic Mistretta photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

There is something distinctly different about Christmas Day, when peace, joy and love reign for 24 hours.

Photo Gallery: Bishop celebrates Midnight Mass in Co-Cathedral

What’s important to remember is to make the days that follow different in the same way, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., shared with faithful of all ages who gathered for Midnight Mass in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

“The whole world becomes different at Christmas, but truly, deeply, profoundly only if we allow Christmas to touch us and move our hearts,” said Bishop O’Connell, who then asked the faithful to consider “what about tomorrow and the day after and the day after that?”

Christmas “must continue to make those days different, too, must continue to make us all different, too, or [Christmas] makes no difference at all,” he said.

Holy Night

In the Co-Cathedral festooned with poinsettias and Christmas trees, more than 1,000 gathered for Mass, which was preceded by a concert with the parish choir and orchestral ensemble.

Candlelight then cast a soft glow as a statue of the Infant Jesus was carried in procession throughout the vast nave and into the gathering space to the large Nativity scene that greeted the eye upon entering the building.

There, the Infant was placed in the crib, and Bishop O’Connell blessed the manger as clouds of incense swirled upward.

In his homily, the Bishop pointed to the Scriptures of Isaiah, St. Paul and St. Luke that were proclaimed during Mass that speak of Jesus as the Light of the World. It is this light that “makes the dark different. It enables people to see,” he said.

With the Birth of Christ 2,000 years ago, faith, hope and love were the grace that appeared for all time, he said, urging all to focus on those gifts throughout the year, not just on Christmas Day.

“Faith has to be stronger because of this night. Hope must be stronger because of this night. Love must be easier because of Christmas. Those things are the grace that has appeared for all people,” he said.

Pope Francis, Bishop O’Connell said, “reminded us once how we behave is much more persuasive than anything we say. He advises us to ‘talk a little, listen a lot, say just enough and look everyone in the eye.’”

Then and only then, the Bishop said, will the “world become different; then and only then, can we sing with the angels of that first Christmas night 2,000 years ago and on this Christmas night, ‘Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to those with faith, hope and love, on whom God’s favor rests.'”

A Shining Light

During Mass, Bishop O’Connell urged all to pause by the manger and spend some time in reflection. As the nave emptied after Mass, hundreds spilled into the gathering space to pray before the manger and exchange greetings.

Among them were Kyra Lolly, 18, and her mom, Bonnie, who explained that they used to attend the earlier children’s Mass on Christmas Eve.

“But we’ve started attending Midnight Mass and really find it so moving and beautiful. The music is wonderful,” Bonnie Lolly said.

Kyra Lolly chimed in saying, “It really puts the focus where it belongs, on Jesus.”

Parishioners Anthony and Maria Rondinella and their sons, Louis, 21, Nicholas, 19, and Matthew, 16, agreed.

“It’s a very peaceful way to begin Christmas,” Maria Rondinella said. “The kids really enjoy it.”

“It connects me with the meaning of Christmas,” Matthew Rondinella said with a smile. “It helps me understand what it’s all about.”