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Catholic Dictionary




Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. In the early Church the feast was celebrated along with the Epiphany. But already in A.D. 200 St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215) refers to a special feast on May 20, and the Latin Church began observing it on December 25. The privilege of priests offering three Masses on Christmas Day goes back to a custom originally practiced by a pope who, about the fourth century, celebrated a midnight Mass in the Liberian Basilica (where traditionally the manger of Bethlehem is preserved), a second in the Church of St. Anastasia, whose feast falls on December 25, and a third at the Vatican Basilica. Many of the present customs in various countries are traceable to the Church's Christianizing the pagan celebrations associated with the beginning of winter and the new year. (Etym. Anglo-Saxon Cristes Maesse, Christ's Mass.)