"What time is Midnight Mass?"
It's one of the standard questions--and not really a joke--one gets this time of year.
The year before my arrival here in the parish where I work, the traditional Midnight Mass at midnight was moved to 10 p.m. It was observed that attendance was not injured, so we've kept it that way.
For all of my taste for doing things in the classical or traditional way, I am entirely committed to the Mass at Midnight at 10 p.m. Children are less cranky, adults are less drunk, and fewer of both go to sleep. The 10 p.m. time is also a help to clerical traditions surrounding Christmas Eve television: One can watch the Midnight Mass from St. Peter's Basilica a little earlier in the day, and still catch the Midnight Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral here in New York after locking up the church.
Sometimes people complain about the Mass at Midnight at 10 p.m. For this argument I have two strategies. For the casual complainer, I explain that the Mass is designed to end at midnight, and is thus a Midnight Mass in another form. For the more advanced or sophisticated, I explain that I would happily invite a trade: I will lobby for the Midnight Mass at midnight, if we can also have the Easter Vigil in the most proper spirit of veritas horarum and schedule it so that it ends right around first light on Easter morning. At this unimaginable suggestion, folks usually realize it is hardly worth the trouble of arguing with me.
Anyway, all this just to say that I feel vindicated by the Holy Father himself, as I read that Benedict XVI has decided that the Midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica will be at 10 p.m. This will make the television schedule even better on Christmas Eve, because it means that the Papal Mass can be viewed before the traditional priestly meal of Chinese take-out. (This is a way of being in touch with our Jewish roots as we celebrate the Lord's Nativity.)
We're on the same page, this Pope and I.
Update: My canonical counsel, having consulted his rubrical counsel, delivers this critical reminder: Though the (lame duck) American Sacramentary calls the Mass formulary in question, "Mass at Midnight," the actual rubric is "Ad Missam in nocte." Just night, not midnight.