Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of the Lord’s Nativity in St. Peter’s Basilica at 10 p.m. instead of midnight.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the decision, made two months ago, was so that the Pope “would become less tired out and could retire earlier in anticipation of reading the [urbi et orbi (to the city of Rome and the world)] message the following day.”
Mass, instead of starting at midnight, “will end at that time,” Father Lombardi said, according to a report in today’s Il Giornale newspaper.
Father Lombardi stressed the calendar of papal liturgical celebrations had been public for several weeks, and “there are no concerns of any kind regarding the health of the Pontiff.”
Over the past few days, some commentators have speculated why the Mass time has been moved up. One news agency noted that the time of the papal midnight Mass had never been changed, even during the last years of John Paul II’s pontificate when he had become very frail.
However, Benedict XVI is understood to be under an intense work schedule from now until Christmas, and his assistants wish to lighten his burden. This week, the Pope will have two major diplomatic engagements: On Dec. 10 he will receive the credentials of the new Cuban ambassador to the Holy See, and the following day he is scheduled to meet the president of Vietnam, Nguyễn Minh Triết. Both are communist nations which continue to impose restrictions on religious freedom.
Benedict has made it one of the priorities of his pontificate to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam in an attempt to improve the situation for Christians there.
After Christmas is also traditionally busy, with the World Day of Peace Message on Jan. 1 and the Pope’s annual message to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See usually delivered a few days later.