Last Wednesday I celebrated a 5.00am Mass at Holy Family church. The building was full.
I jokingly asked those present if they could not sleep!
A robust breakfast was offered to all before they went off to work.
This was the start of a nine-day celebration of ‘Misa de Gallo’. These people come to Mass at 5.00am every day, for nine days, preparing for Christmas. It is a Filipino tradition, and although the vast majority of those present were Filipinos, there were people from several other backgrounds present.
I often remember some of the Christmas traditions that I grew up with in Malta as a boy. The cribs, special bagpipe music in church every morning, etc. These traditions touch something on a ‘gut’ level.
The communal part of our faith is very important.
We remind each other of what is most important, and of our common and shared beliefs. Communal Christmas celebrations and customs draw our attention to our Christian story. We are reminded in our busy lives to keep integrating that story into our everyday lives.
Our Sunday Masses, our special festivals, sacramental celebrations, are all part of a ‘healthy, balanced, spiritual diet’.
Of course, there is always the possibilities that this can become just a formality, or simply a cultural event.
However, with right and genuine openness and attitude, this communal prayer and celebration is also very necessary and useful.
The other complimentary side of this is private prayer.
Jesus, Himself, used to spend whole nights in prayer alone.
Just like we need one-to-one quality time with significant people in our lives, we also need that with God.
Prayer life is a sharing of intimacy. God invites us into an intimate relationship of deep love.
Friends, partners, need to actively create time to be with each other, to spend ‘quality’ time together. Our busy lives can mean that we communicate ‘on the run’.
That is not enough to sustain meaningful relationships.
So, private prayer plus various forms of community practices and celebrating, go together for a healthy spiritual life.