VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI decried the increasing commercialization of Christmas as he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass on Saturday night, urging the faithful to look beyond the holiday's "superficial glitter" to discover its true meaning.
Benedict presided over the service in a packed St. Peter's Basilica, kicking off an intense two weeks of Christmas-related public appearances that will test the 84-year-old pontiff's stamina amid signs that fatigue is starting to slow him down.
The Christmas Eve Mass was moved up to 10 p.m. from midnight several years ago to spare the pope a late night that is followed by today's Christmas Day speech. In a new concession this year, Benedict moved down the basilica's central aisle on a moving platform to spare him the long walk.
Benedict appeared to hold up well during the Mass despite the late hour and a dry cough that interrupted his homily.
In his homily, Benedict lamented that Christmas has become an increasingly commercial celebration that obscures the simplicity of the message of Christ's birth.
"Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light," he said.
It was the second time in as many days that Benedict has pointed to the need to rediscover faith to confront the problems facing the world today. In his end-of-year meeting with Vatican officials on Thursday, Benedict said Europe's financial crisis was largely "based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent."
Benedict officially kicked off Christmas a few hours before the evening Mass, lighting a candle in his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square in a sign of peace, as crowds gathered to witness the unveiling of the Vatican's nativity scene.
Today, Benedict will deliver his traditional Urbi et Orbi speech, Latin for "to the city and the world," from the central loggia of St. Peter's overlooking the piazza. Usually, the speech is a survey of sorts of the hardships and wars confronting humanity. He's also due to deliver Christmas greetings in dozens of languages.
Next weekend, he'll preside over a New Year's Eve vespers service, followed by a New Year's Day Mass. A few days later he'll celebrate Epiphany Mass, followed by his traditional baptizing of babies in the Vatican's frescoed Sistine Chapel.