“A Light Has Shined”: Portland Cathedral Celebrates Christmas Eve

Shepherds, angels, and sages all came to see the newborn Jesus at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, and they all wore their masks.

The Nativity play performed by the children of the parish at the start of Mass on Christmas Eve looked a little different in the event of a pandemic, but it was also true to tradition. More than 400 people had entered the Catholic cathedral as dusk began to fall on Friday.

“We have had a good year,” said Reverend Seamus Griesbach in greeting. “It is the most complete this church has been in a while.”

The children had scattered from the altar and sat down with their families, halos of silver garlands and purple robes dotting the pews. The cathedral had been decorated with sparkling Christmas trees and wreaths with red arches. Hand sanitizer was offered at the entrance as well as song books. The congregation listened to readings from the Bible, then fell silent for the pastor’s homily.

“There is a very common way to structure a homily, especially for a big party like Christmas,” he began. “First you tell a story or a joke, then the bad news, then the good news, then you land the plane. But I’m not good at jokes, and we hear lots of bad news all the time, so if that’s okay with you, tonight I’ll jump right into the good news.

Faith Butera, center, looks down the center aisle of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland before she and other children take part in the nativity show before the start of Christmas Eve Mass at 4 p.m. hours Friday. Gregory Rec / Personal photographer

Griesbach paused. Dusk had fallen outside, and the last sunlight was filtering through the stained glass windows.

“People who walked in darkness saw a great light,” he said, citing one of the readings. “On those who dwelt in a land of darkness, a light shone. “

His post didn’t directly mention the pandemic or other stresses of the past year, but it hinted at dark and gloomy times. He said that the life of Jesus can help people understand the larger plan that is unfolding even during these trials.

“This world is a passage,” he said. “Jesus helps us understand why a good God would allow limitations, suffering, sin, and death to afflict those he loves. It’s not because he wants to hurt us or doesn’t care about us. He allows temptations and trials to afflict us because in a mysterious way there is great good that can be brought by adversity.

Later in Mass, the congregation prayed for the sick and the deceased. By this time the sky was dark outside. The mass ended with “Joy to the world”, the triumphant organ notes filling the cavernous cathedral. People hugged and waved from across the benches and wished each other a Merry Christmas. A shepherd posed for a photo in his costume. The ushers have propped up the doors so that families and light can spread through the dark night.


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