The crew, numbering 17 people, wired the building for the eight microphones and three cameras needed to capture the event, and attached a "large microwave dish" to the roof of the cathedral.
Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Christmas Eve 1949 marked the first time that a Catholic Mass was televised in Boston.
This was sure to be a special evening, and as parishioners flocked to midnight Mass at their respective parishes, they had reason to celebrate not only the birth of Jesus Christ, but also the commencement of a Holy Year declared by Pope Pius XII.
Preparation began about a week in advance. An article in the Boston Globe, dated Dec. 23, 1949, revealed the effort by radio and television crews to prepare for the broadcast. The crew, numbering 17 people, wired the building for the eight microphones and three cameras needed to capture the event, and attached a "large microwave dish" to the roof of the cathedral. A special camera lens was even loaned to WBZ for the occasion, as it was designed for use in an environment with limited lighting. In fact, it had first been used one year earlier, when NBC televised midnight Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
Both parishioners arriving early at the cathedral, and those who tuned into the radio broadcast beforehand, were treated to a program of traditional Christmas carols by the Cathedral Sanctuary Choir and the choir from St. Clement's Hall.
As Cardinal Richard J. Cushing, the principal celebrant, delivered his sermon, his voice was projected to all those listening in on the radio, gathered around their television sets and, thanks to the assistance of the public address system, could be heard echoing around the cathedral. His words, which follow, remain relevant today:
"Sometimes we are so preoccupied with the political problems of the age, with the social difficulties of our civilization, with its scientific spirit and secular interests, that we try to think of Christ exclusively in terms of these and we expect our faith with him to provide ready-made, prompt solutions to all the preoccupations associated with these.
We forget the lessons of patience and of growth and of progress through pain and waiting and prayer and plan which are all taught by the simple fact that Christ came as a child, a child who would grow and become strong, full of wisdom unto which we, too, may come if only we imitate his patience and humility."
The television program, broadcast on WBZ, was accompanied by the commentary of Father Francis P. Moran, editor of The Pilot. Church officials were quick to point out that watching the service on television did not fulfill one's obligations to attend Mass in person.
On that Christmas Eve in 1949, parishioners were anticipating the start of a new Holy Year. We have recently begun our own Holy Year -- the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, which began Dec. 8. This holiday season, let us take time to reflect on Cardinal Cushing's message, what Christmas means in our own hearts, and how we can best demonstrate the principles of this Jubilee Year through our words and actions.
THOMAS LESTER IS ARCHIVIST OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.