Area Catholics who have gotten used to watching midnight Mass from Holy Name Cathedral on WGN-TV need not worry. Midnight Mass will be broadcast on the station at midnight Dec. 25 just as it has been since 1949.
This year’s liturgy will be celebrated by Cardinal Cupich and recorded by staff from the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Radio and Television Office, said Vincent Gerasole, the archdiocese’s director of multimedia content.
In the past, WGN staff broadcast the Mass live, but COVID-19 protocols limit the number of people who can be in the cathedral and the archdiocese does not have the technical ability to guarantee an interruption-free live broadcast, so the Mass will be recorded ahead of time.
As with regular Sunday Masses, midnight Mass will be available for streaming on the archdiocesan YouTube channel, Catholic Chicago, beginning at midnight on Christmas.
Holy Name Cathedral rector Father Gregory Sakowicz will narrate midnight Mass on WGN for his 36th straight year.
When the archdiocesan radio and television staff started recording Masses for broadcast in March, they would haul cameras and sound equipment into the cathedral to record Sunday Masses in English, Spanish and Polish each week.
Since then, seven permanent cameras that can be controlled remotely have been installed in the cathedral, Gerasole said.
“They really allow us to capture the cathedral with all its beauty and to recreate the experience of being inside the cathedral for Mass,” Gerasole said, adding that additional cameras will be used for midnight Mass as well. “We’ve been working on this for about two months. We realize how much midnight Mass is a tradition in so many families.”
There also will be a limited number of the faithful in the pews, helping add to the festive atmosphere.
The people in the cathedral will be drawn from those who have volunteered to help at Holy Name since it reopened its doors, along with possibly some representatives from around the archdiocese and donors who have made it possible for the cathedral to maintain its programs during the pandemic, said Father Marek Smolka, director of liturgy at the cathedral.
The Mass itself will be a traditional midnight Mass, with a procession and the incensing of the creche, Smolka said, with the addition of COVID-19 protocols.
“We want to make sure everyone is safe in the cathedral,” he said.
Those watching the Mass on TV or streaming it on YouTube will see a prelude video that includes a choir of 27 voices and three musicians from all over the archdiocese, recorded separately and edited together by Michael Neary, the youth music leader at Old St. Patrick’s Parish. The end of the Mass will feature messages of thanks from archdiocesan pastors.
“There are some people who have stepped forward and are doing even more, whether in terms of volunteering or giving, during the pandemic,” Gerasole said. “Some people have not been able to do as much as they usually do, but they are still making an effort. We wanted to express our gratitude to everybody for what they are doing.”
There will also be messages from Catholic Extension, which is partnering with the archdiocese to produce the Mass.
Many, if not most, archdiocesan parishes will celebrate midnight Mass in person, Gerasole said, but fewer people will be able to attend this year because of COVID-19 protocols and the limits on congregation size. Others might not feel comfortable attending Mass.
Whatever the reason, Gerasole said, the archdiocese has seen the demand for its televised Sunday Masses hold steady. Most Sundays since March, about 100,000 people have watched Cardinal Cupich celebrate Mass at 9:30 a.m. on ABC-Channel 7, with an additional 10,000 to 20,000 streaming the Mass. Most weeks it ties or does better than Meet the Press and Face the Nation, which are also aired in the 9:30 a.m. Sunday time slot.
The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments asked priests to take special anti-COVID-19 precautions this year when distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, including sprinkling ashes on the top of people's heads rather than using them to make a cross on people's foreheads.
When Cardinal Cupich joined other clergy in publicly receiving a COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 23 at St. Anthony Hospital, it marked the beginning of an archdiocesan campaign to encourage everyone to be vaccinated when they are able to.
Praising those who help the sick and praying for those who are sick, Pope Francis called on Christians to practice what they preach, including by guaranteeing equal access to health care for all people.