Thursday, December 24, 2009
Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims as he leads his weekly audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican December 23, 2009.Photograph by: Alessia Pierdomenico, Reuters
AFP December 24, 2009 5:34 AM
VATICAN CITY - In a Vatican first, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Christmas midnight mass two hours early, at 10:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Thursday, because of his advanced age of 82.
The decision, taken several weeks ago, prompted fears that Pope Benedict may be suffering health problems -- but Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the pontiff's condition is "absolutely normal" for a man of his age.
"It is a sensible precaution (and) there is no cause for concern or alarm," Lombardi told AFP earlier this month.
Pope Benedict's long-serving predecessor John Paul II insisted on observing the tradition of beginning the mass at midnight despite years of ill health, notably the ravages of Parkinson's disease, at the end of his life.
He died in April 2005 aged 84.
Lombardi said the earlier mass, which will finish shortly after midnight instead of at 2:00 am, was planned "to make Christmas a little less tiring for the pope, who has many engagements during this time".
Notably, Pope Benedict will celebrate Christmas mass on the morning of the day itself, Friday.
See also from CBS News, "Video: Pope Benedict's 10 P.M. Midnight Mass."