Blue Masses help the sad celebrate Christmas

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

Not everyone feels cheerful at Christmas.
It was that recognition that led Father Ed Koharchik, pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin, to offer a Blue Christmas Mass on Christmas Eve last year. It will be offered again this year.
“It’s tough, especially if you’ve lost a loved one this time of year,” Father Koharchik said. “Some people think, ‘I just don’t feel like fa-la-la this year.’”
The Blue Mass is quiet and subdued with dim lights. The homily acknowledges feelings of sadness and grief. Anyone feeling blue and out of sorts is welcome, Father Koharchik said.
It was those feelings that brought Wilson Carrillo, 29, to St. Vincent de Paul on Christmas Eve last year. The Dallas native had moved to Austin in 2012, leaving his parents and extended family behind. By then, he was struggling with his faith and feeling disconnected with his family.
When he looked for a place to go Christmas Eve, he saw the Blue Christmas Mass listed on the parish website and decided to try it.
“Christmas had always been about family gatherings and gifts,” Carrillo said. “I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit because everything wasn’t as perfect as I wanted it to be.”
But something clicked at Mass: Christmas is about Jesus.
It also helped to see a familiar face. Carrillo knew Father Koharchik and had sought spiritual guidance from him when he was at the University of Texas at Austin and Father Kohachik was serving at the University Catholic Center.
“Father Ed had walked me through some difficult issues,” Carrillo said. “But I hadn’t seen him in a while.”
Carrillo said Mass was a reminder that no matter how imperfect life is or whether your family meets your expectations, you can still love them and they can love you.
“It’s natural to feel this way, and it’s OK,” Carrillo said.
Father Koharchik said many people feel pressured to have the “perfect Christmas.” That adds to the stress, which leads to conflict and negative feelings.
Blanca García, a counselor with Catholic Charities of Central Texas’ Counseling Services, said it’s not unusual for people to have a myriad of emotions this time of year. Many times, people are embarrassed or afraid to speak about their feelings when they are assaulted by messages that this is the most wonderful time of the year.
“Because of those feelings of isolation they want to be alone,” García said. “Many fear talking about it because of the misconception about what counseling is.”
It’s important for people to talk about their experiences. And it’s equally important for friends and family of those in grief to validate the experiences and support those who are suffering in a quiet and gentle way, she said.
“You don’t have to talk,” García said. “You can just sit and listen. That support and validation is powerful.”
Many of the 80 people who attended last year’s Blue Christmas Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Parish expressed their gratitude, Father Koharchik said.
“Some people shared that they were going through hard times. They didn’t want everyone telling them how they were supposed to feel,” he said.
Carrillo said he is glad he attended the Blue Mass because it made him realize that he shouldn’t beat himself up for the feelings he had, which would make him feel guilty and enter a vicious cycle of bad emotions.
“I realize it won’t always be this way,” he said. “Things can change, although slowly. Things are the way they need to be. But if you remain hopeful and set goals for good change, things will get better.”
Blue Christmas Masses will be offered at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, 9500 Neenah Ave. in Austin on Dec. 24 at 9 p.m. and at St. Martin de Porres Parish, 26160 RR 12 in Dripping Springs on Dec. 24 at 6:30 p.m. 
Counseling Services, a program of Catholic Charities of Central Texas, offers individual, couples and family counseling in English and Spanish on a sliding fee scale. For more information, call (512) 651-6150.