It was Christmas Eve morning in 1967 and a young Cardinal Dolan—then a senior in high school—had agreed to accompany a priest he highly respected in distributing Holy Communion to the sick, elderly and homebound.
The last stop was to visit a man named Hank at a small nursing home.
“I literally gagged on the smell,” the cardinal said as he recalled his reaction on first entering the man’s room.
But that was not the worst of it. On the floor, Hank lay helpless in his own waste.
Cardinal Dolan expected his priest companion—whom he described as a man who wore French cuffs and drank scotch in a neighborhood of beer drinkers—to leave the scene.
Instead, the priest bent down and knelt on the floor to help Hank to his feet. The priest proceeded to clean Hank up and put him in fresh pajamas he had brought as a gift, fitted new sheets on the mattress and situated the now-smiling man back in bed.
As the priest did this, he said, “It’s Christmas, I’m here with you,” the cardinal recalled.
By the time they left, Hank was “renewed,” said Cardinal Dolan to the faithful who filled the pews at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and to the thousands watching and listening to the broadcast of the Midnight Christmas Midnight Mass.
“My brothers and sisters, that’s what God did at Christmas,” the cardinal said.
God took on a human nature, he said, adding that God is not distant and aloof. “He is Emmanuel—God is with us,” Cardinal Dolan said.
The brightly shining and restored cathedral was set for the Christmas season with vibrant red poinsettia plants in front of the altar and in the evergreen wreaths with red bows hanging on the columns.
The Christmas crèche in front of the sacristy was completed at the beginning of Mass when the cardinal placed the figure of baby Jesus inside the manger and blessed it.
The spirit of joy was prevalent in the hymns and music throughout the Mass, including the Communion song, “O Holy Night,” performed by tenor Russell Thomas of the Metropolitan Opera. Offertory prayers were presented in Italian, German, Creole, Tagalog, Tigrinyan, Chinese and Spanish.
Mass ended with the triumphant sounds of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”