Hundreds of parishioners at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Hickory attended a Christmas Eve Mass Wednesday with Archbishop of Baltimore William E. Lori leading the celebration.
"This is a beautiful Mass, this Christmas Eve, so many families come, so many young people, so many children, and it's just a chance to welcome Jesus into our hearts and into our home and into our parish family," Lori said before the 4 p.m. service.
Lori previously visited St. Ignatius, which is a couple of miles north of Bel Air, about two years ago for a Saturday evening Mass when he was appointed as the archbishop by then-Pope Benedict XVI as part of an effort to visit as many local parishes as possible in the 145-parish Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Monsignor Jim Barker, the pastor at St. Ignatius, said between 1,500 to 1,600 people attended the Mass. There are about 3,500 families in the parish.
"I was just really overjoyed that the shepherd of the whole archdiocese would come out to Hickory to be with us," Barker said. "It's just a real sign of care for his people."
As the Celebrant, Lori delivered the homily to the assembled parishioners. He recalled a trip he took some years ago to Sydney, Australia. He said that, after a long flight from the United States, the hotel clerk told him and his fellow travelers that their rooms would not be ready until later that afternoon.
He noted that, for the time being, there was "no room at the inn."
The parents of Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph, faced a more difficult situation the night before Jesus was born in ancient times. Joseph and his wife Mary, who was carrying a baby despite being a virgin, tried to find lodging, but there was no room at any inn.
The couple ended up staying in "a crude stable scarcely fit for animals," Lori said.
Jesus, who Lori said was the Word of God "made flesh," was conceived via the Holy Spirit, although it was a conception centuries in the making, with God's word being passed through generations of ancient Hebrews chosen to carry His teachings to the world.
"The first Christmas night marked the last leg of that journey that began at the dawn of creation," the archbishop explained.
Jesus was the descendant of 42 generations going back through the Babylonian exile of the Hebrews to the first Jew, Abraham.
St. Ignatius Deacon Pete Calabrese read each name from The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, part of the Gospel of Matthew.
"I think that Deacon Calabrese should be congratulated for reading that Gospel," Lori said.
The parishioners applauded Calabrese's recitation from the lengthy text.
Lori asked how any innkeeper could turn away a pregnant woman and her husband, but he noted many people today also "hesitate to open the door of our hearts" to Jesus.
"Our hearts will change, and they will change radically, just the way a household changes when a new baby arrives," he said.
Lori said one must lose "that tendency you and I have to put ourselves first" when opening and enlarging one's heart.
"They're going to have to big enough to welcome all of those, the angels, the shepherds, the kings, but also the poor, the vulnerable, the unwanted and the unloved, as well as those we regard as our implacable enemies," he said.
Lori said Jesus will seek to make homes "places of love, joy and friendship."
He noted that the parishes of the Baltimore Archdiocese do not lack seats for people who wish to attend services.
"What I mean is, that our church communities must open their hearts as never before to welcome the newborn savior," Lori explained.
The Mass included Christmas hymns, Scripture readings and the giving of Holy Communion by Lori and Barker.
"I think it was a beautiful Mass," parishioner Denise Parker, of Jarrettsville, said after the service. "It was very touching and very moving, and I think St. Ignatius parish was very fortunate to have [Lori] come."