Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Bethlehem, Part 2: Midnight Mass

Last week we received notification through our work e-mail accounts that the consulate had received ten complimentary tickets to accompany the Consul General to the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass held at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

Being Jewish, we found very little religious incentive to go.  However, there is definitely something to be said for once in a lifetime opportunities.  I'm also a sucker for limited edition items, and ten sounded pretty limited to me.  We threw our names in the pot and were mildly surprised to learn Monday afternoon that both of our names were drawn.  Once we thought about it, however, we realized that it probably wasn't as highly a coveted ticket as we had imagined, as people would likely (and rightly) wish to spend Christmas Eve with their families instead of fighting crowds for seating and/or standing room at an hours-long service in a church 40 minutes away from home.  But, as Christmas wasn't an issue for us, we were more than happy to go.

We met up with the eight other lucky suckers winners at the consulate at 10:30PM on Christmas Eve and were promptly shuttled over to Bethlehem, where we received a police escort right to the front curb of the church.  We felt very glamorous as we exited the motorcade vehicles and walked the short distance to the church door, camera lights flashing as if we were arriving on the red carpet of the Academy Awards.  To say there was a strong media presence is a bit of an understatement.  Perhaps I ended up on television somewhere?

We were handed a service program as we entered the church and, as we took our places along the lefthand aisle shortly before 11:30PM, were disheartened to discover that the program was a full 140 pages long.  Thankfully, the program featured multiple languages, so it wan't that bad (Not bad at all; We were walking back to the van by 1:45AM).

The majority of the service was conducted in Latin, so I can't comment much beyond saying everyone appeared to have good diction and that I enjoyed the singing.  I will say that it was very heartwarming to see so many people of a shared faith congregating to sing songs of praise on one of their holiest of holy nights, at their faith's holiest of holy sites.

President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas was present.  I got a photo of the back of his head.  He's the white haired individual, dead center, behind all of the nuns.  This is a photo taken as he was leaving the service.  I'm ashamed to say that I had a clear shot of him entering, but hesitated.  There was lots of rabble-rabble going on as he entered, but not a lot of camera flashing, and I missed my cue.  TJ and I later debated which of us was to blame, but the outcome is still unclear.  (Since this is my blog, I can state with finality that it lies with him.  Ha!)  Abbas was there primarily to hear the homily delivered by Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.  The transcript can be found here.

At the end of the service, a procession marched down the center aisle on its way to the Grotto of the Nativity, where a sculpture of the baby Jesus, carried by Twal, was to be placed.   I managed to snap one photo of what I *think* was the back of the baby's head.  But probably not.  We didn't make our way down to the grotto, as time did not permit such an activity, but photos of it taken previously can be found in my last entry.

We emerged from the Church to find a captivating view of the Manger Square Christmas Tree.  Although we had seen it on our last trip to Bethlehem, I was not prepared for the gut-punch of awesome that an evening view of it would provide.

It was a beautiful moment in time.  It's something I would never have known that I wanted to experience until it happened, and now I'm ticking it off of my bucket list.

It was (shamefully) the first religious service that we have attended since arriving in Jerusalem, but I know it won't be our last.  While not awakening any long-lost Christian part of my soul, it has certainly sparked a desire to continue my Jewish learning. 

Probably not what the church intended for the service, but it is what it is.  And I thank them for that.

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