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The decision to schedule the big Vikings-Packers game for Christmas Eve has riled up pastors and congregations in both Minnesota and Green Bay, especially where churches rescheduled services to accommodate football fans. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that a segment of the faithful have called into question their church's commitment to the Lord as well as the judgment and avarice of the NFL:
When the Rev. David Pleier of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Green Bay, Wis., announced that his church was eliminating its 4 p.m. mass on Christmas Eve because it conflicts with the 2 p.m. start of Friday's Vikings-Packers game, one congregant commented, "You mean to say you're putting football ahead of the birth of Christ?"
"If we had a 4 o'clock service, we'd have family members saying, 'You go to church, but I'm not missing the second half," Pleier said. "At a time when we hope families will be together, to pray together, this game threatens to drive them apart."
The Vikings have played on Christmas Eve before -- as recently as four years ago, when they played the Colts in Indianapolis, on a Sunday, when the league offered its usual full Sunday schedule. But a midafternoon weekday game on Christmas Eve is unprecedented, prompting angry words from pastors from Minneapolis to Green Bay during a traditional time of peace.
The Strib includes a number of angry quotes from two Catholic priests, railing against the greed of NFL owners:
"The NFL's expression of commercial arrogance and fundamental disregard for things that do really matter is astounding," said the Rev. Eugene Tiffany of St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis ....
"It's unconscionable that the NFL would do this -- presenting the kind of conflict that destroys families," said the Rev. Ken De Groot, of Green Bay's St. Willebrord Catholic Church ...
While I sympathize with the overall sentiment expressed by these priests and their congregations, in this case they are simply wrong. Yes, the decision to schedule the game on Friday was driven by television, but it's because the game would normally have been played on Christmas Day, as the NFL expands to both Saturdays and Sundays when college football's season ends. It's also not Christmas -- it's the day before Christmas. As much as I love Christmas Eve services, it's technically not even a holiday. When I was younger, Catholic churches only offered a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, as the day of obligation was Christmas itself. The extended Christmas Eve Mass schedules exist to make Christmas attendance easier on the congregation.
Moreover, the game will be played at 2 pm CT, which puts it in the middle of one of the busiest shopping days of the year. It hardly makes sense to put one of the biggest rivalries in the NFL up against last-minute Christmas shopping if avarice is the deciding factor, especially when that game will probably decide the division championship. By the time 6 PM Mass rolls around, most people will still be at the malls, not watching this game. Why are the priests not railing against that? Isn't the hijacking of Christmas for commercial purposes more significant than an NFL game in the middle of the afternoon on a day that has no technical significance to the Church as it is?
If these priests wanted to send a message about commitment to the Church and to the Lord, they'd schedule Christmas Masses on Christmas Day instead of allowing people to "put the gift opening before the Lord," to paraphrase the objection noted earlier. This sounds like a cheap way to garner attention on behalf of a few priests. My church will offer Masses at 4, 6, 8, and 10 on Christmas Eve, as well as a full slate on Christmas Day, just like most (if not all) Catholic parishes throughout the country. That's plenty of room for Catholics to celebrate Christmas at Mass. If Catholics fail to show in sufficient numbers to those parishes that object to the football game, perhaps the fault lies not with the NFL but with the parishes themselves.Sphere It View blog reactions
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