Bishop William Murphy urged parishioners at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre Sunday to reject greed and selfishness and instead focus on family and togetherness in an era of hard economic times and divisive national and local politics.
Thousands of worshippers filled the pews during the early morning Masses, but it was standing-room-only in the massive church when Murphy, leader of the Rockville Centre diocese, celebrated the service just before noon, one of the first on a major Christian holiday in which new translations of prayers were used.
"There are so many challenges we face," Murphy said. "There's so much negativity. We could all point out the dark spots."
Today's culture, he said, is too often marked by "egoism, greed and selfishness. We have turned power to exploitation and wealth to greed."
People need to return to faith, he said.
"We should remember not to look at the church as a service station. The church is not a commodity. It is the place where we meet Jesus Christ."
But the hourlong Mass, consisting as it always does of Missals, was a bit different this year.
A Vatican edict that took effect worldwide Nov. 27 instituted a new translation of the Missal that church leaders say is more faithful to the original Latin.
It is the first large-scale translation since the early 1970s, and changes the words Catholics under 40 have used all of their lives.
For example, when a priest would say "The Lord be with you," the congregation's response was "And also with you." The new response is "And with your spirit."
Congregants were reminded of the changes before the Masses were celebrated.
Murphy, in his homily, did not address a decision by the diocese to close six Catholic grammar schools, citing declining enrollment.
Outside the church, Murphy greeted virtually all the congregants who attended the 11 a.m. Mass, wishing each a Merry Christmas.
He said people need to keep from being "distracted" by day-to-day life so that they don't get "caught up in the net" of greed.
In Manhattan, hundreds of celebrants, including international visitors in New York for the holidays, packed a noon Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Angela D'Souza, 26, of Stony Brook, came to church with her parents and sisters who were visiting from Kuwait.
Her father, Alphonso, 60, said he didn't mind the crowd. "The main thing is we're here," he said. "It's a good way to practice our faith."
Angela: "They really wanted to see snow."
Alphonso: "It's a pity."
Angela: "No, it's not."
Louis Del Rosario, 51, of Queens, said he and his wife Mercy, 46, attended Mass at St. Patrick's rather than their parish church because: "We wanted to make it special. We wanted to celebrate what Christmas is truly about."