(Reposted from 2010 and revised.)
The Vigil of the Nativity is a traditional day of abstinence.
From the 1945 Marian Missal:
The Station Church [the churches at which it was formerly the custom for the Pope to personally celebrate the principal liturgies on certain important days] for Christmas Eve is at St. Mary Major in Rome with a Privileged Vigil of the First Class. It was only when Our Lord’s nativity was celebrated with increasing solemnity that a special Mass was said on this vigil. The actual solemnity of December 25, instead of consisting of two Masses, one of the vigil and the other of the feast, with a third inserted in commemoration of St. Anastasia, ended by allowing four Masses, all of them in honor of the Christian mystery. Thus, one in the evening of December 24 at the beginning of the night Office, one at midnight at the first cock crowing, one in the early morning, and one, finally, at the hour of Terce. Unlike the other vigils, in which the penitential character and a sense of sadness predominate, that of Christmas, is full of vivacity and holy joy. This is fully in accordance with the nature of the heart of man. After so long a period of anxious and painful expectation the sudden news of our approaching deliverance lightens the heart, while a common joy unites us and makes us forget for a moment the hard conditions of our life here below.
|VIGIL OF THE NATIVITY|
|Deus, qui nos redemptiónis nostræ annua exspectatióne lætíficas: præsta; ut Unigénitum tuum, quem Redemptórem læti suscípimus, veniéntem quoque júdicem secúri videámus, Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum. Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus, Per omnia sæcula sæculorum.||O God, Who dost gladden us year by year with the expectation of our redemption, grant that we, who now with joy receive Thine only begotten Son as our Redeemer, may behold Him also without fear, when He cometh as our judge, our Lord Jesus Christ. Who with Thee livest and reignest, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.
|Da nobis, quæsumus, omnípotens Deus: ut, sicut adoránda Fílii tui natalítia prævenímus, sic ejus múnera capiámus sempitérna gaudéntes: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus…||Grant us, we beseech Thee, O almighty God, that, as in anticipation we come to celebrate the adorable birthday of Thy Son, so we may joyously lay hold upon His everlasting rewards. Who with Thee livest and reignest, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God…|
|Da nobis, quæsumus, Dòmine: unigéniti Fílii tui recensita nativitáte respiráre; cujus cælésti mystério páscimur et potamúr. Per eúmdem Dóminum nostrum.||Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we may begin a new life with this festival of the Nativity of Thine only begotten Son, Who, in these mysteries, feeds us with the meat and drink of that life which is eternal. Through the same Lord.|
The first Mass at Midnight for the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, the Redeemer of mankind, has always been held at the Station of St. Mary Major, where the relics of the Bethlehem crib are kept, for it was at midnight that Our Lady brought forth her first-born Son into the world and laid Him in a cradle, or a manger. As we saw in Advent, the first Coming of Our Lord prepares us for the second Coming.
|FIRST MASS AT MIDNIGHT|
|Deus, qui hanc sacratíssimam noctem veri lúminis fecísti illustratióne claréscere: da, quæsumus; ut, cujus lucis mystéria in terra cognóvimus, ejus quoque gáudiis in caelo perfruámur. Qui tecum vivit./||O God, who hast made this most holy night to shine forth with the brightness of the true light, grant, we beseech Thee, that we who have known the mystery of His light on earth, may attain the enjoyment of His happiness in Heaven. Who with Thee liveth.|
|Accépta tibi sit, Dómini, quæsumus, hodiérnæ festivitátis oblátio ut, tua grátia largiénte, per hæc sacrosáncta commércia in illíus inveniámur forma, in quo tecum est nostra substántia. Qui Tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus…||May our offering on this day’s feast be acceptable to Thee, O Lord, we beseech Thee: that by Thy bounteous grace, through this sacred intercourse, we may be found like unto Him, in whom our nature is united to Thee. Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God…|
|Da nobis, quæsumus, Dómine Deus noster, ut qui Nativitátem Dómini nostri Jesu Christi mystériis nos frequentáre gaudémus, dignis conversati-ónibus ad ejus mereámur perveníre consórtium. Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus…||Grant to us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we, who rejoice in celebrating by these Mysteries, the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, may by worthy lives, deserve to attain unto fellowship with Him. Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God…|
The second Mass at Dawn used for its station the very ancient church of St. Anastasia, whose name appears in the Canon of the Mass. She was burnt alive at Sirmium in Yuglosavia on December 25th during the terrible Diocletian Persecution in the early 300’s. There is a commemoration of St. Anastasia at this second Mass and, like the shepherds, we need to do what they did: glorify and praise God for all the things we had heard and seen, as it was told unto us through the True Church. The Epistle shares the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior who first appeared to the shepherds, so that all would know that being justified by the grace of Our Lord we may be heirs of life everlasting. Let us go, as the Gospel relates, with the shepherds to the Infant Jesus; the Lord manifested to these shepherds the Incarnation of His Son. Let us go with haste and adore Him in the crib.
|SECOND MASS AT DAWN|
|Da nobis, quæsumus, omnípotens Deus, ut qui nova incarnáti Verbi tui luce perfúndimur, hoc in nostro respléndeat ópere quod per fidem fulget in mente. Per eúmdem Dóminum nostrum.||Grant us, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we on whom the new light of Thy Incarnate Word is poured, may show forth in our works that brightness which now doth illuminate our minds by faith. Through the same Lord.|
|Múnera nostra, quæsumus, Dómine, Nativitátis hodiérnæ mystériis apta provéniant, et pacem nobis semper infúndant: ut, sicut homo génitus idem refúlsit et Deus sic nobis hæc terréna substántia conférat quod divínum est. Per Dóminum nostrum.||May our gifts, we beseech Thee, O Lord, prove worthy of the Mysteries of this day’s Nativity and ever shed forth peace upon us: that, as He who was born as man, shone forth also as God, so may these earthly creatures bestow upon us that which is divine. Through our Lord.|
|Commemoration of St. Anastasia|
|Accipe, quæsumus, Dómine, múnera dignanter obláta: et beátæ Anastásiæ Mártyris tux suffragántibus méritis, ad nostra salútis auxílium proveníre concéde. Per Dóminum nostrum.||Accept, we pray Thee, O Lord, the gifts duly offered to Thee, and, by the interceding merits of blessed Anastasia, Thy martyr, grant them to be profitable for the furtherance of our salvation. Through our Lord.|
|Hujus nos, Dómine, sacraménti, semper novitas natális instáuret: cujus Natívitatas singuláris humánam répulit vetustátem. Per eúmdem Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum Fílium Tuum.||May the new life of this sacrament, O Lord, ever restore us, especially on the Nativity of Him whose wondrous Birth hath overcome the old nature of our manhood. Through the same Jesus Christ.|
The third Mass during the day on Christmas Day returns to the major Station at St. Mary Major and we hear in the Epistle from St. Paul that it was by the Word that God made the world. Let the nations and kings come and adore Him. If the Angels fall down and worship Him, can we do any less. We kneel and do just that during the very Gospel — the Last Gospel — we hear at every Mass for it is the main Gospel on this day: that of John 1: 1-14, for indeed “The Word was made flesh.” The et verbum caro factum est completes the prophecies of the Old Testament, for the promised Infant God-man has indeed come and the Redemption accomplished by Christ at His first coming will be completed by Him at the end of time when He comes again. The Last Gospel for this Mass only is that of Matthew 2: 1-2, that of his account of the Magi. During this Holy Mass of the Day, every priest celebrates Mass for those of his parish.
|THIRD MASS AT DAYTIME|
|Concéde, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut nos Unigéniti tui nova per carnem natívitas líberet; quos sub peccáti jugo vetústa sérvitus tenet. Per eúmdem Dóminum.||Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that the new birth in the flesh of Thine only-begotten Son may set us free, whom the old bondage doth hold under the yoke of sin. Through the same Lord.|
|Obláta, Dómine, múnera, nova Unigéniti tui nativitáte sanctífica: nosque a peccatórum nostrórum máculis emúnda. Per eúmdem Dóminum.||The gifts we offer, do Thou, O Lord, sanctify by the new birth of Thine only-begotten Son: and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through the same Lord.|
|Præsta, quæsumus, omnípotens Deus: ut natus hódie Salvátor mundi, sicut divínae nobis generatiónis est auctor; ita et immortalitátis sit ipse largítor. Qui tecum.||Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that as the Saviour of the world born on this day is the author of our divine generation, so He may Himself also be to us the giver of immortality. Who with Thee.|