QUAERITUR: Winter Solstice Mass?

From a reader:

In [a parish bulletin] bulletin, they are announcing a “Winter Solstice Mass” on Dec 22nd. I have never heard of such a thing. Please advise! This is considered a “solstice” mission with the window aligned with the sun, however it sounds rather pagan to me.

Neither have I heard of a “Winter Solstice Mass”.

Keep in mind that the main door of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the main altar within is exactly aligned with the rising of the sun on the Vernal Equinox.   On the Winter Solstice, if memory serves, the Egyptian obelisk relocated to the center of St. Peter’s Square would have lined up with the obelisk and the rising Sun on the Winter Solstice and with the obelisk at Piazza del Popolo on the Summer Solstice.  Popes such as Sixtus V placed these obelisks very precisely according to a urban renovation plan.  The obelisk at St. Peter’s serves as the spina of an enormous sundial.  The great churches of Christendom served also as accurate clocks and sometimes you see on the interior pavement an analemma where a shaft of sunlight darts to the floor.  There is a great example of this in Rome at Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Since the very earliest times, Christians observed the turning of the seasons and the changing direction of the sun’s apparent risings and settings. For example, we make much of St. Lucy’s Day in December (Latin for light is lux), and we have in the traditional calendar the Ember Days, which tie us in the Northern Hemisphere closer to the seasons, we celebrate St. John the Baptist in the summer at the solstice.

But a Winter Solstice Mass smacks of sometime … New Age? The New Age thing is a mishmash of the pagan and gnostic. Or it could be secularizing, in the sense of “Winter Festival” rather than “Christmas”.

Maybe this is a special observance of the religion adhered to by the LCWR or the Fishwrap?

It could be purely astronomical and calendrical, but … what sense would that make for a Mass?

Unless some information is missing, this seems a little strange.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Supertradmum says:

    In a parish bulletin here in Ireland in 2010, the local winter solstice celebration was advertised. These things bring in the occult as well as New Age, and most stupidly, Druidism. I do not know where the person is who wrote to you, Father, but I would follow up that event immediately. Parents must know what is going on.

    Now there is one of these festivals in Dublin in two weeks, which is bluntly, occult. I am glad I shall be out of the city by then, as it is just down the road apiece. These people celebrate and I quote,
    ” An indoor music event that celebrates the global phenomenon of 2012. This particular date has been pinpointed by the Mayans, the Egyptians, Hopi Indians and many more making it the most exciting astrological night for 26,000 years.

    Partying from sun-down to sun-up just like the way our Celtic ancestors used to, with a live-feed from Newgrange at sunrise – The festival is a non-stop feast of International bands and well-known Irish music performances mixed in with a touch of spiritual awareness.”

    I am afraid that more people will show up there than at the pro-life vigil I attended on the 4th. This is the new Eire and old pagan nonsense mixed in with New Age mythology

  2. mamajen says:

    I know my knee-jerk reaction is to associate winter solstice celebrations with pagan or new age beliefs, but I’m finding that a lot of people simply like to celebrate the “return of the sun” and longer days. The darkness before 5:00 is one of the things I hate most about this time of year, so I can relate to the celebratory mood! I agree, though, that celebrating a mass for that particular reason seems a bit…confusing. I wouldn’t want people to get the message that the Church is embracing New Agey stuff any more than they already have.

  3. fvhale says:

    It sounds to me like a yearning to return to the Ember Days, which fall on Dec 19, 21 and 22 this year (Ember Days in Advent). I have always appreciated the wisdom of the Church including the Ember Days on her calendar.
    This is another place where the wisdom of the Extraordinary Form shines out in the sometimes bleakness of the OF calendar. (On the other hand, I really appreciate the OF propers for weekdays of Advent! Thanks be to God for both!)

  4. frjim4321 says:

    I’ve heard of this kind of thing.

    I think the association with pagan celebrations would give me pause.

  5. Choirmaster says:

    Well, I think they can have a Votive Mass any time they want. It does seem a little out-of-character to have a Mass like this to mark an astronomical event, but it doesn’t have to be ‘pagan’, as such.

    Still, this would make much more sense if there was some sort of astronomical feature to the architecture of the church building. For example, maybe on the winter solstice at sunrise (or sunset) a shaft of light shines through a window and onto a side-altar dedicated to the parish’s patron saint. It would be pretty cool to celebrate a Votive Mass at that time of day to take advantage of the light show.

    But, of course, it would be way cooler if the parish instead announced that it would be celebrating the EF exclusively, and thus recovering the Ember Days, solving two problems at once. ;)

  6. Supertradmum says:

    By the way, I had the joy of seeing the sun in the slots at Stonehenge long before the gates and fences were put up to keep the new agers out. The experience was one of praise to God, Who made the stars and the skies and man to praise Him. Sadly, people are confusing the creatures with the Creator. But, then, New Age does not ask anyone to be moral. Thankfully, we have this document and the clear teaching of the Church to help us discern such things. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html

  7. Choirmaster says:

    And why should the ‘pagans’ have exclusive access to rejoice in Earth’s axial tilt and our stable orbit around the Sun, or a monopoly on the beauty and symbolism contained in the wheeling stars?

    After all, here in these United States of America, we Catholics celebrate a Votive Mass to mark our secular holiday of Thanksgiving Day. Maybe this is not so much a ‘pagan’ observation, but it is surely secular and not tied to any genuinely Catholic event.

  8. EXCHIEF says:

    Well is you were in the Diocese in my area you would be well familiar with this. It is brought to us by the Nuns on the Bus with their cadre of winter solstice liturgical dancers. Their speciality is the “snowflake” dance—–er, well FLAKE anyhow. Geez!

  9. mysticalrose says:

    Oh, the good Sisters of St. Joseph have a wonderful Winter Solstice peace celebration around the peace pole, so this sort of thing must be orthodox! Right?

    Yes, I am kidding. And yes, they really do this. Sigh.

  10. wmeyer says:

    frjim, shocking as it is, we are in near agreement. Though I would be more emphatic, and suggest it verges on scandal.

  11. Bryan Boyle says:

    I needed to pick myself up off the floor and wipe the coffee from my MacBook screen…finding myself in agreement with BOTH FrJim and wmeyer.

    Why (oh why?) are some in the Church so intent on doing stuff like this?

  12. John UK says:

    I must confess that I have always assumed that the Church had taken over and “Christianized” any pagan solstice celebration with a celebration on December 25th. of the birth of the Light of lights, Sun of suns. “The Light [that] shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not… the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”

    Kind regards,
    John U.K.

  13. tzard says:

    Let us lot lie down quietly and let our cultural heritage be usurped. Let us reclaim the winter solstice for Christ.

    Bring back ember days, let us praise God for the solstice – for the world continues to turn through His providence, and we persevere for another season.

    Of course this will take wisdom and prudence, to avoid being pulled by error, but we shouldn’t be timid in our christian duties.

  14. wmeyer says:

    Bryan Boyle: Shocked to agree with me? Hmmmph!

  15. wmeyer says:

    Why (oh why?) are some in the Church so intent on doing stuff like this?


    That, and they utterly fail to comprehend that the Church has the fullness of truth, so they keep trying to make it better.

  16. MichaelJ says:

    Isn’t December 22, according to all the hype and “science”, when the world is supposed to end according to the Mayan calendar?

    Maybe, to put a charitable “spin” on this, there are too many parishoners who have a genuine but misguided fear that the winter solstice represents the end of the world. I know that there is no place I’d rather be than at Mass at the ednd….

  17. yatzer says:

    Parishioners who have a real fear of Dec. 22? I thought that was a joke based on a movie.

  18. ScholaLady says:

    For many years we attended Mass at a nearby mission that was built so that on the morning of the winter solstice, sunlight would shine through the back window and fall directly on the tabernacle. It’s an amazing sight to see. It was nice that the mission opened up the church for it so people could see it, but on the other hand, they had some celtic style singer making her way up the aisle as the sunlight moved, singing who-knows-what in Gaelic. She may have been singing something religious, but the whole occasion felt very pagan-y. A Mass (assuming it was a reverent Mass) would be a big improvement.

  19. robtbrown says:

    Doesn’t the celebration of Christmas include the Winter Solstice (Roman Winter Solstice)? On the day of the year with the longest night: Lux in tenebris lucet.

  20. Bryan Boyle says:

    wmeyer: no…floored that I agreed with Fr.Jim. That, in and of itself, means we’re close to TEOTWAWKI.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    Exchief, are you serious? That sounds even worse than labyrinth walking. Say hi to your lovely wife for me.

  22. Wendy says:

    (Perhaps someone should whisper to them that the solstice is on the 21st this year – just in case they want to celebrate on the actual date.)

  23. wmeyer says:

    Bryan, you had me worried. But as to TEOTWAWKI, yes, it is another sign that it approaches.

  24. Bryan Boyle says:

    Got your back, Mr. Meyer…:)

  25. EXCHIEF says:

    I was kidding–it just seems that bad sometimes. Dr J says hi

  26. Emilio III says:

    My first thought, not knowing anything about local conditions, was similar to fvhale’s. A silly attempt to “update” Ember Days. It would be nice to learn more about the event, since some of our opinions are bound to be mistaken. :-)

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