In 1992, the Charismatic Episcopal Church (http://www.iccec.org) was founded, led by retired Patriarch A. Randolph Adler. Their mission: To make visible the void. Since, many other groups, such as the CEEC (http://www.theceec.org) have formed, as well as splinter groups, such as the Communion of Christ the Redeemer (http://www.coctr.org). Again, the premise, to make visible the void. What is this void? The discovery of the ancient Church, i.e., the liturgy and Sacraments, the teachings of the Church Fathers, and so on, and then blending them with the already established Charismatic and Evangelical foundation. This became known as the Convergence Movement, the blending of the “three streams” of Christianity.
Saying this, one would think that the full incorporation, of all three streams, would be “enforced,” especially in the services of “importance,” or obligation, such as Christmas (Eve or Day) and Easter, however, this is not always the case.
Before I go further, I want to state that I am not attacking anyone or any church, just expressing an opinion held deep within my own belief structure. Now, with that, I believe a Christmas Eve service, expecially in one of the Convergence style groups, should be just that, a “proper” Christmas Eve service, i.e. Christmas Eve Mass… not just a Communion and prayer service, but a service that trumps every other service, maybe even the Easter Mass, and is full of the pagentry that makes one, not only Charismatic and Evangelical, but also Liturgical and Sacramental. The reason for this is not so we can feel good about ourselves, nor is it a dog and pony shoy to show off fancy vestments and proove some sort of “superiority,” but to be a sign and symbol to the entire community, especially if that church is a cathedral church.
The most attented services thoughout the year are both Easter and Christmas Eve. This attendance goes beyond the normal membership and patronship of the church. Family members arrive, as well as members of the community who are either curious, or who, for the sake of escaping the commecial aspect of what Christmas has become, decide to go and worship God and celebrate the coming of His Son. The Cathedral of St. Michael and All Angels (ICCEC) in Thomaston, GA, the church founded by my father, Bishop John Holloway, celebrated its first service in the buildings that the church occupies now on Christmas Eve in 1999. This service was probably the grandest service, besides the consecration of Bishop Holloway in 1997, that Thomaston, Upson County, Georgia had ever seen. The church was packed, even with the lack of pews, and the meaning went far beyond Christmas Eve. St. Michael’s had literally been fighting for, praying for, and standing in faith for these buildings for seven years. There were many prophetic words given about those buildings, and the church stood since its inception to occupy those buildings. The service began with the ringing of the bell, one time for each year that the church had not been occupied by a Christian organization, and the Christmas Eve service was filled with not only angelic dancers, but incence, praise and worship, liturgical prayer and structure, and evangelical sermon/homily, and then most inportantly, with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. For eight years, until Christmas Eve of 2007, this was always the case. For eight years, the Christmas Eve Mass at the cathedral stood as a sign an symbol of the majesty of God, and the grand importance – or as the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta said in his Christmas Eve homily, the “big deal” of the Incarnation – not only to the members of the cathedral and diocese, but to the whole city and country, including the surrounding area.
Now, I believe talent shows are wonderful, likewise, I believe prayer services are a very important part of the Christian worship experience, however, I do not believe they should take the place of Mass on Christmas Eve. A Communion service is a great thing, but if it should be the mark of what the Christmas Eve service should be, I do not believe the “guides” of the liturgical expressions – i.e. the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and the Anglicans – would have specific services and rubrics for the occasion. I do not believe the Anglicans, whose prayer book many convergence groups use, including the ICCEC, whould have specified a service in their Book of Occasional Services, which is a book madated for Cathedrals to use in the Episcopal Church, etc, to use for Christmas Eve Mass.
I do not know why churches make the decision to scale down the Christmas Eve experience. maybe its because the service traditionally starts so late… even though ever since I was a young boy, I hardly slept anyways on Christmas Eve. Maybe its because there is a belief the parishoners are really tired after a long and stressful pre-Christmas season, but then again, if Christmas stresses you out too much, maybe you should re-evaluate what Christmas really means to you. Msybe its to make it easier on the clergy, again though, The Incarnation is not about making it easier for us, but to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Again, I do not know the reason why some desire to scale it down, but at least I was able to enjoy the taped Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basillica in Vatican City.
Final though, Mass, which makes up the second part of the word Christmas, does not just mean Communion, but the entire liturgical and sacramental experience. To me, one can not pick and choose what parts we like and do not like once the precendent has been set, otherwise, it does not constitute the Mass, just a part and parcel of the whole.