Hey Washington Post: Now it's time for Christmas rites in the Church of the Nativity

Now it's time to say "Merry Christmas!" to worshipers gathered in Bethlehem's ancient Church of the Nativity.

That really isn't big news. So why mention it? Let's back up a week or so.

The bottom line: I didn't hear about an international incident (or an ecumenical breakthrough, depending on one's point of view) at the Church of the Nativity back on the 25th of December. Did you?

You may recall that this was when The Washington Post said that a Catholic bishop -- the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem -- was going to be celebrating Mass at the Orthodox altar in the ancient Orthodox basilica.

Honest. That's what the story said and I wrote GetReligion posts about this error here and here. That Post story is still online, without a correction. The key error of fact is contained in this passage:

There will be a Christmas Eve Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the 1,700-year-old basilica built above the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born and visited by Bethlehem shepherds.

That Christmas midnight Mass, as I stressed, was actually held in the newer, in a Holy Land frame of reference, Catholic sanctuary -- the Church of St. Catherine -- that is located next to the much older Church of the Nativity. That's the Orthodox sanctuary that contains a high altar built directly over the grotto containing the traditional site of the birth of Jesus.

As I noted in my second post: "Catholic prelates lead Catholic rites at Catholic altars." In practice, that looks like this:

Meanwhile, Orthodox bishops lead Orthodox rites at Orthodox altars. That's logical. Right?

Also, of course, there is the issue of the old and new liturgical calendars.

The Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, for the most part, celebrate Christmas on the older Julian calendar – which means that Christmas falls on the 7th of January. Thus, there was no midnight Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ held in the ancient Orthodox basilica on December 25th. That service, taking into account the time differential, is being held tonight.

We have this early online report:

BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FOX) -- Orthodox Christmas celebrations underway in the West Bank on Wednesday as the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem walks through the streets of Bethlehem in a traditional procession.
A large convoy of marching bands and clergymen follow Theophilos III as he leads the way toward the Church of Nativity, marking the beginning of Christmas celebrations.
The church will hold a midnight Mass commemorating the biblical birth of Jesus. Orthodox Christians follow the old Julian Calendar for religious celebration days.

Actually, the old-calendar churches in Orthodoxy use the Julian calendar all year long, not just for certain "celebration days," whatever those would be. The rest of the Orthodox, including the majority of us here in the United States, follow the Gregorian as a rule -- except for Pascha (Easter), which is observed according to the Julian.

Also, our Eucharistic rite is called the Divine Liturgy, while Catholics use the term "Mass."

But, hey, at least this short report has the right prelate in the right church headed to the right altar in the right sanctuary on the right day! Progress!

If there video of the Church of the Nativity rite is posted online, I will update this post.

So to the old-calendar Orthodox on this night: "Christ is born! Glorify Him!"

And to the Washington Post editors: Please correct that story. It's never too late to correct an error.

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