On December 17,  San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrated a Pontifical low Rorate Mass in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. The Mass began at 5:30 am. The music was provided by the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship. Rorate Masses are an ancient and beautiful Advent tradition of the Church, in which the Mass is begun before dawn and concludes as the sun begins to lighten the sky.

The name rorate (drip moisture) comes from Isaiah 45:8“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a savior.” During the Mass the church is illuminated only by candles. Such Masses are rare in San Francisco, or were until this year.


In his homily, the archbishop indicated the importance of the Rorate Mass as an Advent observance: “There was nothing accidental about the incarnation. Certainly not time and place. Born in the middle of the night.  The dew comes in the night. … He was born even during the night, at a quiet time, in darkness, at a time when people would least expect it and least notice it. He was born in a stable, in a manger, a manger which is a container for food for animals, because he came to be our food. He is our food. He nourishes us in the most Holy Eucharist. ‘Let the heavens rain down the just one like the dew from above’, the dew, that we discover in the morning that arrives during the night….

“He is our food. He nourishes us on the way to the promised land of God’s kingdom. But do we recognize him? Are we alert to His coming among us?

“Those who recognized him when he came in human flesh were the pastors, the shepherds out in the fields, the ones that the people of the time would least expect.  They were poor, they were dirty, they were uneducated. They also did not fit in to the company of polite society. They were, as it were, out on the fringes, literally, because they were out in the fields, but also socially. These were the ones to whom the angels announced the birth of Jesus. These were the first ones to go and worship him.  It is the lowly, those willing to be marginalized by the members of polite society because of their openness to the word of God.”


The archbishop’s Rorate Mass was not the only one celebrated in San Francisco. On Saturday, December 18, Father Joseph Illo, pastor of the city’s Star of the Sea Parish, celebrated a Rorate Low Mass at 5:00 am. The response was significant enough that Father Illo decided to celebrate a second Rorate Mass on Thursday, December 23 at 5:30 am. In his parish bulletin of the following week Father Illo described the effect of a church lit only by candles:  “A hundred flickering candles made the statues and icons, the stars on the ceiling and the golden tabernacle, move with the liturgical drama. After Mass, while it was still cold and dark outside, most of us just stayed in the gleaming church for an hour, to bask in the home that God has made for us by taking on our flesh. ‘The Word became Flesh,’ writes St. John, ‘and pitched his tent among us.’”

The archbishop’s Rorate Mass may be viewed here.