Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ask Tony: Why do Saturday evening Masses count for Sunday?—UPDATED

Easter Vigil, Cathedral Shrine of St. Paul, MN
A blogger friend of mine was posting tongue-in-cheek blessings upon the Lord for Saturday vigil Masses.  Another person cracked, "I love how the vigil Mass can begin at 3:30 on Saturday and the 'last chance" Mass end at 6:00 on Sunday. Apparently, we Catholics have 26½ hour days."

Sometimes it would help to have a 26½-hour day ... haven't we all felt like that?  But what's really going on with this wide range of times?  And why should a Saturday Mass count for Sunday at all?

Strictly speaking, Saturday evening Masses aren't "Vigils"; rather, they are anticipated Masses.  Vigil Masses, while a long-standing custom (defended and recommended, according to the old Catholic Encyclopedia, by no lesser lights than Ss. Augustine and Jerome), attach now only to specific feast days: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension (where celebrated on the Thursday after the Sixth Sunday after Easter), Pentecost, St. John the Baptist, Ss. Peter and Paul, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mother.  What's the difference, you ask?  Vigil Masses have propers associated with them, while anticipated Masses use the propers of the next day's Masses.  (See my post on parts of the Mass for a refresher on propers.)

According to the Roman Missal, "Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar" I:I:3 (p. 110), "The liturgical day runs from midnight to midnight. However, the celebration of Sunday and of Solemnities begins already on the evening of the previous day."  (You can access a .pdf of the entire Missal through this link to Minus.com here; H/T to Jeffrey Tucker @ The Chant Café!)  These norms were promulgated by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1969, shortly before the Novus Ordo hit the parishes.

Although the Church Fathers seem to have observed a "liturgical day" similar to Jewish practice (sunset to sunset), and this practice held on through the Middle Ages, eventually the Roman practice of reckoning from midnight to midnight — aided by the perfection of the mechanical clock — squeezed out the old practice, surviving in the names of the minor hours of the Divine Office.  Midnight-to-midnight was finally established by Benedict XV in the 1917 Code of Canon Law.  Nor were vigil Masses considered to fulfill festal obligations until 1969; in the Tridentine Mass, vigils were in some cases obligatory, with the feast days themselves requiring not only Mass participation but rest from labor.  (Prior to St. Pius X's reform of 1911, the calendar had 36 such major feasts!)

While the "anticipated Mass" hearkens back to ancient Jewish and Christian traditions of reckoning time for its justification, it still remains that the practice is a new one adopted to allow Catholics, who are now often forced by circumstances to work or travel on Sundays and holy days of obligation, the opportunity to fulfill the precepts of the Church in good conscience.  The Church's preference is still for Sunday worship; however, one point that seems to get lost, especially in fights with Seventh-Day Adventists, is the need to set apart a sacred time and place one can use to worship the Lord and give rest to himself from the slavery of the body.  All days are appropriate days to give glory to God; therefore Jesus taught us to always pray without faintness of heart (Lk 18:1).  If your employer can't work with you to allow you the time off necessary to make Sunday your day of rest and worship, then, as what the CIA calls a "field expedient", take a day you are given and dedicate it to worship and rest until you have the opportunity to return to Sundays.  (If your employer won't work with you, then perhaps you should find another employer.)

Having said all that, though, you should worship and rest from work on Sunday whenever you are not otherwise unavoidably prevented.  For a really good drilling into Sunday worship, read Bl. John Paul's apostolic letter Dies Domini.  The Saturday Mass is much like an EMHC: not intended for ordinary use but rather for out-of-the-ordinary circumstances.

Update: January 18, 2012
I re-wrote the last two paragraphs to erase some confusion I created by saying, "any day will do"  As Philip Mayer indirectly pointed out below, it almost appeared as if I were saying that keeping Sunday holy was an arbitrary requirement, which was most certainly not my intention and is a position that can't be backed up by any magisterial document.