A Pandemic Christmas

The celebrations of the Nativity of Our Lord this December will be like none other most of us can remember.  We hope that the following will provide you some strategies, guidance, suggestions, and resources to assist your parish in having a joyous, reverent, yet safe liturgical celebration of the Birth of Christ this winter.

Start Time for Christmas Eve: No Earlier than 3pm

Archbishop Schnurr has determined that the earliest start time for a Vigil Mass for the Nativity of the Lord remains 3:00pm on December 24th, whether there is an obligation for the faithful to attend or not. Parishes should carefully consider their schedule of liturgies for Christmas Eve and Day, and communicate accordingly with the faithful.

As we receive additional suggestions and feedback from you, we’ll be keeping this list up to date as we draw closer to Christmas. Email us with your suggestions and parish plans for celebrating the Nativity of the Lord!

In all things, liturgical celebrations should follow the guidance already issued on Worship in a Time of Public Health Concern. Notably, social distancing and the regulations put forth by local, state, and federal health authorities must be observed.

  • Archbishop Schnurr has determined that Mass for the Vigil of Christmas may begin no earlier than 3:00pm on December 24th, whether there is an obligation for the faithful to attend or not.
  • **NEW** The Holy See has granted an indult for 2020 ONLY enabling any priest to celebrate as many as FOUR Masses each on Christmas Eve and Day.
  • Don’t expand your normal Christmas Eve/Day schedule too much until you know more about what you’ll actually need.
    • Think about when you could add a Mass and prepare to add it later on (early-mid December) if and when you determine you’ll need it.
    • By Dec 24, we could be able to expand our capacity in church buildings…or there may be more restrictions than we currently have: too soon to tell.
  • Consider new times that you’ve never tried in the past:
    • 8pm or 9pm on Christmas Eve has been successful in some parishes during past years
    • Some families (especially older adults with no young children) might appreciate an early morning Christmas Day Mass.
    • This also gives you a chance to use the Mass at Dawn (likely the most under-used of the four Christmas liturgical formulas!)
  • If you need to use two spaces simultaneously (e.g. church and gym), having two Masses is best (ask Chancery for permission)
    • Of course this requires an additional priest to preside and additional ministers, as well as a full set of liturgical furniture and décor, but…
    • Simulcasting (those in the secondary space merely watching a video of those in the primary space) is definitely a lesser option.
  • Take this as an opportunity to change your Christmas Eve/Day schedule; don’t just do what you’ve always done, do what’s best for your parish community.
    • During this pandemic time everything is flexible and fluid, so relieve yourself of any expectation to do exactly what was done in the past.
  • Find a way to let people know that even there may be no obligation, they are welcome and the parish is ready to celebrate joyously, reverently, and safely.
    • Remind people that Christmas is not just a day, or even a 2-day unit, but rather an entire octave (up to January 1st, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God), and indeed an entire season up to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
    • The calendar for 2020 actually invites us to consider the weekend of December 24-25-26-27 as one “festal unit”
    • Invite people to participate once during those four days, or even sometime during the following week.
      • “Our liturgies on Saturday and Sunday will be joyful celebrations of Christmas, including Christmas music, beautiful flowers, scriptures about the Holy Family, and an opportunity to join your parish family more safely in a less crowded setting.”
    • Appeal to your regulars to participate NOT on Christmas Eve, but rather on Christmas Day or on Sat/Sun for Feast of the Holy Family.
  • Get the word out early and widely!
    • Send postcard to all registered households – this will be the most effective way to reach not only those who have already returned to Mass regularly, but all those who might actually come on Christmas.
      • The postcard should be simple: times, a URL for more information and signups, a phone number for people to call with questions.
    • Make a webpage/FB page and other easily shareable assets (infographics, social media posts, etc.) and ask your regulars to share with their neighbors
    • Video message from the pastor
      • Be sure to indicate that people are welcome and that they are missed
      • Also include essential info (signup, parking, health rules, etc.)
  • Availability of priests to preside
    • The Archdiocesan Deans have been asked to engage the priests in their deanery in working together to cover appropriate Mass schedules especially for Christmas Eve/Day
    • Several mens’ religious communities are willing to assist parishes when needed (see below for contact info and details)
  • Start talking with lay ministers now about their availability, willingness, and comfort
    • Don’t assume anything
    • People’s “typical” holiday routines (travel, gatherings, work schedule) may be radically different than in a typical year.
    • Communicate the unusual practices around health safety and hygiene to all liturgical ministers – some may have not served in many weeks.
  • Consider creating a comprehensive worship aid (print and digital) to assist people in praying
    • Don’t forget that many people coming to (or watching online) are “amateur worshipers”, not necessarily “professional worshipers”; they will feel more comfortable if you provide an outline of the liturgy, responses from the Order of Mass, and other basic pieces of information.
    • Since most parishes are not using hymnals, such a worship aid should include the music sung by the congregation – make sure you follow proper copyright guidance and only use music you have permission to reprint.
    • Make sure both the printed and digital versions are laid out properly and able to be used in church and at home.

Contact Info for Religious Priests Willing to Help

Feel free to contact any of the following with requests for priest assistance on Christmas Eve/Day. This list will be continually updated as we hear back from more religious communities who are willing to assist.

Franciscans (OFM)

Contact Fr. Bill Farris, OFM

Dominicans (Order of Preachers)

Contact Fr. John Langlois, O.P.

Jesuits (Cincinnati area)

Fr. Paul Mackie, S.J.

  • Keep musical selections familiar
  • Spread out your musician budget by hiring one solo instrumentalist for each service instead of 5 or 6 for one mass.
  • A small quartet of well-rehearsed singers, with proper distancing within the choir area, can add beauty and solemnity to the mass.
  • While it is tempting to add multiple masses, pastors should keep in mind the workload of their musicians, especially if there is only one musician needing to cover lots of extra masses 
    • Aside from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which are on a Thursday and Friday this year, the regular weekend schedule will also need to be covered, limiting the time musicians can spend with their families and relaxing.
  • It’s a long weekend, so think now about how to keep the building and grounds welcoming and clean four days in a row.
    • Scheduling of facilities/maintenance staff may need to be adjusted
  • Ensure you have appropriate supplies not just for health safety, but for usual needs (e.g. paper towels, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Consider asking your regular “professional worshipers” to park further away, leaving the close parking spaces for those who aren’t as frequent participants.
  • Think about how ministers of the hospitality, clergy, and staff can greet people in a socially distant way.
  • Will the existing narthex or gathering space allow for this? Could this be done in a different way or in a different place?
    • This may be weather dependent, but a balmy day may allow for more space outside after Mass.
  • Open church before/after Masses for families who won’t come to Mass in person to come and pray quietly before Blessed Sacrament and/or creche, take pictures, etc.
    • Without actively discouraging people from attending in person, this opportunity may be appealing to those who are “on the fence” about attending Mass in person but don’t want to miss the experience of visiting a sacred space.
    • Publish the hours that the church will be open
    • Make sure the lights are on and doors unlocked and the church is as warm and welcoming as possible.
  • Assume some families may not even view a livestream of Mass (or may try to but need to bail out), so what other resources can you offer them for prayer in the home?
    • An extended meal blessing
    • Litany of thanksgiving before opening presents

Offertory giving at Christmas Masses and end-of-year giving is vital to a parish. With the uncertainty surrounding Mass attendance this year, here are a few ways to help encourage continued support and sustain contributions.


  1. Saying “Thank You”
  • Use the month of November/Thanksgiving to thank parishioners
  • In addition to general “thank you” in the bulletin, email, website, etc., think of other creative ways to thank parishioners for their financial support, but also any other ways that have stepped up to support the parish during these pandemic months. A few examples below:
    • Email personalized video message to families
    • Deliver thank you letters for contributions. If not home, have a Post-It Note ready with a note explaining the reason for stopping by and leave at the front door


  1. Engage Your Parish Leadership
  • Recognize that we don’t have all the answers; seek input from Pastoral Council, Finance Council, ministry leaders, long-time parish families, regular contributors
    • Example: “Here’s the financial state of the parish this year; here’s what we normally would see at Christmas… what advice would you have for Father?”


  1. Use Stewardship and Pastoral Language in Materials and Letters
    • “In thanksgiving for the many blessings God has given you…” – our financial giving is a tangible way we respond to God’s blessings, it’s our offering back to Him.
    • “We understand that the pandemic has affected families in a number of ways, but if you are in a position to support…”


  1. Take advantage of GIVECatholicAOC on Giving Tuesday


  1. Consider a Special Thanksgiving/Advent/Christmas Appeal this Year
    • Direct mail the appeal to all households: include a letter, donation card, return envelope
    • Use your “Parish Pandemic Report” to highlight all the Good that your parish has been doing and continues to do for families, the local community, etc.; invite families to make a special contribution this year 
    • Online Giving continues to be a MUST; have your donation button or link prominently located on your parish website