As people across the city gear up to ring in the New Year with celebrations planned at their favourite party destinations, many Christians head to their churches to participate in the Midnight Mass. While most churches across the city conduct a service at night, St Andrew’s Church in Bandra remains one of the oldest.
Established in 1616, the church is one among the oldest in the city, finding a position in the “400+” league of churches (older than 400 years). “The church was founded by the Portuguese in 1616 even before the Taj Mahal was built. However, a chapel existed here even before that,” said its Head Priest, Father Caesar De Mello.
But the church began conducting midnight masses less than a century ago. “The concept is quite new as masses could not be conducted during the night, in the absence of electricity. Also, without modern transport, people would find it difficult to travel during the night,” said Father Nigel Barrett, the spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay.
However, according to Father De Mello, it is not a universal practice and is not observed in all countries. “When I was studying in Rome in 1976, I realised that they do not conduct a mass at midnight. Even countries like Germany do not have that practise,” he said.
The Mass is preceded by a “Holy Hour” during which believers thank God for the year gone by and look forward to the coming year. The mass begins at 12 midnight and goes on for an hour. “Since people tend to get quite drowsy by then, we keep it engaging with a mix of singing, praying and responsive reading. For the participants, it is a meaningful way to begin the New Year with thanksgiving,” added Father De Mello. “As we pray for others, we remember those who who lost their lives due to religious clashes and seek peace in the country. Through the prayers, we also try to make people aware of things that are happening around the world,” he said.
The Catholic Church observes January 1 as the Solemnity of Mary and all six masses, including the midnight mass, conducted on that day are dedicated to her. Pope Francis has directed all churches to mark the year as the the “Year of the Youth” focusing on the importance and life-giving presence of young people in the church and society.
St Andrews Church has 7,500 members with 1,500 families but not all attend the service. “While the church is packed for the Christmas Midnight Mass the New Year’s Midnight Mass is never well-attended, as many people tend to prefer to begin the New Year with celebrations. Also, since January 1 is a working day, people find it difficult to stay up late in the night. Many attend the early morning service on the first and the working population come for the evening service,” Father De Mello said.