"Use the new year well as an opportunity to grow in love for God and for your neighbors. You should want to share the Lord Jesus with everyone you meet."
While some people "ring in" the new year with dinner or dancing, or at parties or family celebrations, or by watching the giant lighted ball drop in Times Square in person or on TV, others "pray in" the new year.
For almost three decades, new Washington Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fisher has celebrated a New Year's Mass for the nuns at the Port Tobacco Carmelite Monastery in Southern Maryland. In a Catholic Standard article by reporter Kelly Sankowski, Bishop Fisher said the tradition began when he was a priest serving in his first assignment at nearby Sacred Heart Parish in La Plata in 1990.
He discovered that he and his cloistered nun friends both liked to begin the new year in prayer, and the Carmelites, who had been "praying in" the new year with a Eucharistic Holy Hour, invited the parish priest to celebrate a new year's Mass for them.
Since then, Father and then Msgr. and now Bishop Fisher has continued the tradition at Port Tobacco. Sankowski reported that "just as the clock strikes midnight, he lifts the Eucharist and says the words of Consecration, so he along with the nuns who live there can ring in the new year with Jesus."
One of my favorite new year's memories happened on Jan. 1, 2000, when I convinced my wife Carol to join me for a Mass celebrated by Cardinal James Hickey, then the archbishop of Washington, that began at 11 p.m. Dec. 31 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Now this was not my wife's idea of a romantic new year's date, but I believed it would be a great way to begin the new century and new millennium (plus it would be the cover story for the next Catholic Standard).
As he opened his homily, Cardinal Hickey said, "Some of you have come to the cathedral not so much to ring in the new year, but rather to pray in the new year and the new millennium. I am so happy that you are here, and we can pray together!"
In my article on the New Year's Mass in 2000, I reported:
"As it turned out, the stroke of midnight occurred as people in the congregation were sharing the sign of peace, so some couples marked the passing of the new year with a kiss. Seconds later, the explosion of fireworks across town on the Washington Monument grounds could be heard inside the cathedral, with a brief, muffled, 'BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!'"
Cardinal Hickey encouraged people to get to know Jesus better by becoming "men and women of prayer" in the new year, through daily prayer and reading of Scripture, and also by taking the time to recognize Jesus in the face of the poor and forgotten and by reaching out to them.
"Use it (the new year) well as an opportunity to grow in love for God and for your neighbors. You (should) want to share the Lord Jesus with everyone you meet," the cardinal said.
Attending Mass on Jan. 1 – the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, a holy day of obligation – offers Catholics a prelude, or should a say "pray-lude" to "praying in" the new year, and praying in the new year. Have a happy, and prayerful, new year!