Christmas midnight mass in decline with drunks and streakers interrupting prayer


The centuries-old tradition of attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve, particularly common among Roman Catholics, is under threat in many parts of the country, as churches report struggles with security and a lack of priests.

A survey of more than 50 Catholic deaneries conducted by The Tablet this week, showed a reduction in the number of churches holding a service to usher in Christmas morning.

Some churches have changed the service time to as early as 5pm on Christmas Eve, while others have scrapped it altogether.

Monsignor David Hogan, parish priest of St Bernadette's, in Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough, estimated that less than a quarter of parishes now offer midnight mass.

"Last time we had it, we ended up with a drunk trying to get the doors off the church," Hogan said. "So we've made the decision not to have Mass when people are pouring out of the pubs sloshed."

Priests say the change has come in response to the aging population and a reduction in the number of priests, alongside security issues.

St George's Catholic Church in York moved the service to 8pm after a streaker made an appearance at midnight mass.

Another priest recalled having to contact police three times during a service after people who were drunk attacked the church.

"It is not nice being showered with bricks by drunken yobbos when you're trying to pray," Canon Peter Turbitt said of the incident at St Michael and All Angels, Portsmouth. "A lot of people were frightened to walk home afterwards," he said.

Incidents such as these have led some churches to have people at the doors of the church acting as 'bouncers'.

Another reason for the decline of midnight mass is the increasing popularity of vigil services on Christmas Eve. Carmelite priest Fr Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard said he was concerned that this mass had become a substitute for children attending mass on Christmas Day. "We have turned our practice of the faith into a matter of convenience rather than a matter of commitment," he said.

The Tablet found that a midnight service is often only held in one parish in each deanery. One such example is Fr Michael Marsden, priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, in Middlesbrough diocese, who is determined to keep his service going, against the trend of the rest of the deanery.

"Going to Midnight Mass at Christmas used to be one of the hallmarks of being a Catholic; it is sad if that is changing," Marsden said.