.- The traditional midnight Christmas Mass at St. Peter's Basilica will be held two hours earlier this year. For many the news aroused fears about the Pope's health, but, according to the Vatican spokesman, it's only an effort to save Pope Benedict's energy for a busy Christmas schedule.
Although the change is without precedent, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said not to worry. In a response to the Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale, Fr. Lombardi said that the decision was made months ago and that "there are no 'alarms' whatsoever as to the health of the Pontiff."
It was decided the Mass would be held at 10 p.m. "to permit Benedict XVI to wear himself out a little less and to be able to retire earlier in anticipation of the reading of the message the day after. The Mass, instead of starting at midnight, will finish at that hour," Fr. Lombardi said.
The message referred to is the "Urbi et Orbi," the Pope's traditional noon address on Christmas Day, in which he announces the birth of the Savior and greets Rome and the world in multiple languages.
Among the events on the Pope's calendar leading up to Christmas Mass are today's celebration of the Immaculate Conception, a meeting with the new Cuban Ambassador to the Holy See, and a private audience with the President of Vietnam.
The latter two, Tornielli explains, are particularly important as they confirm Vatican relations with the two Communist nations, where the Church "is playing an important and delicate role on the social plane."