Celebrating the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord at a Dec.24 Christmas Eve Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory said the story of Jesus’s birth at Christmas parallels the story of his death at Calvary, revealing an important lesson of Christmas.

In his homily, Cardinal Gregory noted, “This child who is born in a stable and as a crucified man will need to borrow another person’s tomb, never seems to have a place to call his very own. From the beginning to the end Jesus lacks a place wherein to dwell… Herein is the important lesson of Christmas – Christ really longs to live within our hearts.”

The cardinal then said, “Jesus who this night is born for us and eventually will die for us, wants only to dwell within us.”

Cardinal Gregory gives his homily at the Dec. 24 Mass for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord at St. Matthew's Cathedral. Seated at left is Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the cathedral's rector. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Before the Mass began, Cardinal Gregory knelt before the cathedral’s Nativity scene and blessed it. Moments later, the congregation sang the joyful opening hymn, “O Come All Ye Faithful/Adeste Fidelis.”

The Christmas Mass at Washington’s majestic downtown cathedral reflected the coronavirus safety protocols in effect at churches throughout the Archdiocese of Washington, with Massgoers all wearing face masks and sitting at social distances in alternating pews, with a maximum of 250 people allowed at places of worship in the city in accord with the District of Columbia’s COVID-19 restrictions.

In normal years, the cathedral’s Mass near midnight on Christmas Eve would draw a standing-room congregation, with music led by the full Schola Cantorum choir. At this year’s Mass, four singers, the choir’s director and an organist, all masked and at social distances from one another, led the music, which included “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night, Holy Night” at Communion and “Joy to the World” as the closing song.

The Mass was livestreamed and was viewed by more than 1,400 people from across the United States, including from New York, Florida and Oklahoma, and from around the world, including viewers from Canada, Brazil, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In the chat accompanying the livestream, a woman mentioned that she was viewing her first Mass, and another person mentioned that their family has been attending St. Matthew’s since the 1940s. One viewer wrote, “Praying for those sick with covid this Christmas and especially those who will pass this day,” and a man wrote, “Thank you for streaming the Mass, when so many of us can’t make it this year.”

Cardinal Gregory elevates the Eucharist during the consecration at the Dec. 24 Christmas Eve Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington. In the photo below, Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the cathedral's rector, gives Communion to a woman at the Mass. (CS photos/Mihoko Owada)

In his homily, Cardinal Gregory noted that he was blessed to spend part of Christmas with people, even though it is different during this pandemic year.

“The special message of this night is spoken even to those who are away from their loved ones and without the ordinary festive gatherings that they may have known in prior years,” he said, adding, “Nonetheless, most people are now so filled with happiness, and with a sense of the peace of the season, that we might even pause to give thanks for all that we have received and not focused exclusively on the limitations that we currently tolerate.”

The cardinal then reflected on how Christmas will be a different experience for families this year.

“Families that rarely share a common meal because of their busy schedules will long to dine together this day, especially if the current conditions limit that possibility,” he said. “Many of them will offer a simple heartfelt prayer of thanks, just for the gift of being a family.”

A woman prays during the Christmas Eve Vigil Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral on Dec. 24, 2020. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Returning to his message of Christ seeking to dwell in people’s hearts, Cardinal Gregory noted, “Jesus does not care about having a warm home in which to be born, he wants to live in your family. Jesus does not care if he has no grave wherein to be placed, he wants only to free our hearts from the deadliness of hatred, greed, bigotry, violence, racism, injustice and all those human flaws and sins” that keep people oriented to death rather than life.

Cardinal Gregory emphasized that “Jesus wants to live in your hearts” and transform them into hearts of love and mercy, according to God’s design.

“May this Christmas soften all of our hearts, not simply with sentimental thoughts or nostalgic recollections of the past, but with the profound hope that Christ has been born to bring us that peace for which we have been destined,” the cardinal said. 

As he closed his homily, Cardinal Gregory said, “May you reflect this evening and all day tomorrow on the deepest meaning of Christmas, and may your hearts be opened to receive Jesus who actually wants to dwell only therein.”