12 April 2011

AD ORIENTEM, every morning

The common ancient tradition of the Universal Church was, until recently, to offer the Holy Eucharist facing towards the rising sun understood as as an an Ikon or Type of the rising Lord, the one who comes to us from the Beyond to give us his daily gift of newness. East and West have commonly interpreted psalm 19(MT)=18(Vg & LXX) verses 4-6, referring to the sun, as giving an image of our Lord as the Bridegroom leaving the chamber of his Mother's virginal womb like a strong man running his course with joy. And this insight is now tardily being reappropriated by Western Christendom.

I would like to suggest another application of these truths. Should not the normative time for celebrating the Holy Eucharist and receiving communion be at the beginning of the day, as the sun rises, as Christ, new every morning, comes to us from his Father's House and is given to us by that maternal womb which is the Mediatrix of all Graces? This has, of course, been historically the general custom in the Church (even if in fasting seasons vesperal masses sometimes concluded the day's fast). It coheres with the ancient Eucharistic Fast, from the night before. Everything here speaks of newness, of the Father's eternal gift of the Son; of the Bread of Life as the Fount of the graces and deeds of the day.

I am not suggesting a new burdensome rigidity. My own discipline is that whenever I celebrate Mass after Noon, and there can be few modern pastors who never do this, I avail myself of the newer discipline of the fast. And I applaud the modern provision of a Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday evening. We cannot afford to miss any opportunity of giving people the means of fulfilling their Sunday obligation, or of daily Mass and Communion. But there is a certain breathlessness about the modern arrangements, however splendid it is when an office worker gives up part of her lunch-break to go to a midday Mass. And the gathering on Saturday evening of those Getting It Out Of The Way so that they can sleep in on Sunday morning seems to me to lack the wholesomeness of a regular congregation meeting in the newness of Sunday Morning to consecrate the week to God: perhaps the Anglican Patrimony (not to mention Orthodoxy) has something that is of value to the whole Latin Church.

I affirm all the modern arrangements whereby modern Western Christendom makes our Eucharistic Lord available to a world in a hurry. I am simply suggesting that Mass before breakfast, and on weekdays as well as Sundays, is worth considering as an ideal; after all, it is a norm which most Christian cultures and most Christian generations have found normal.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is convenient to have the mass scattered at different times, but there is noting like the good early morning mass and fasting, something I try to encourage.

Becket said...

I think anyone will find it difficult to disagree with you, Father. I too, as far as possible, seek to get to Mass whenever possible in the morning. But you are right to commend the practice of numerous Masses on Sunday to allow the attendance of many: after all, I have found myself in the position of being unable to attend Sunday morning and have needed to fulfill my obligation at a different hour.

The issue, I think, is that people need to see those other hours as exceptions, rather than the norm. They are opportunities that Holy Mother Church, in her compassion for her busy children who don't always order their lives in an ideal way, has given so we might not fall into mortal sin. It has to be the exception because otherwise the sacredness of time is lost. The same applies to the transference of Ascension Day and Corpus Christi, amongst others, to the Sunday. Liturgical time is part of our heritage.

John F H H said...

A perspicacious post! I have long thought that the reduction of ther Eucharistic fast to one hour was two hours too far.

There are a couple of things I still cannot "get my head round".
One is Mass in the afternoon, the more so when it is say, a church organised conference, meeting or retreat and the timetanle runs something like
2pm Mass.

The other is the fondness of those who favour the TLM for an afternoon celebration. To be fair, I suspect that this is sometimes the only "slot" they are offered, but it smacks of wanting the beauty of the TLM woithout the accompanying discipline.

For myself, I concur with Fr.Hunwicke in observing the ancient Eucharist Fast for Masses which commence before 1pm.
For those in the evening, as a personal discipline I abstain from the meal that would not come before it, and similarly on the rare occasions of a Mass in the afternoon, abstain from lunch.

I cannot help thinking that the near abolition of the Eucharist Fast [remember, apparently, the one hour applies to the time of Communion, not the beginning of Mass - a polyphonic setting and a longish homily could easily take care of the hour]has much to answer for in a lessening of gretat regard for the Blessed Sacrament.

Kind regards,
John U.K.

Seth said...

Of course, if one wishes to attend a TLM, one gets little choice about the timing. If Sunday evening is all that's on offer, Sunday evening I'm afraid it is... and sadly this is the case in a great many parishes. But I see no reason why that should affect the fast: an early breakfast and no lunch seems to do just as well, even if missing Sunday lunch does not normally seem quite in the spirit of the day. One simply has to make do.

But in general I agree: morning Mass is how it should be, followed by a splendid breakfast.

GOR said...

Well, we have unfortunately gotten away from Sunday as “The Lord’s Day” and keeping “Holy the Sabbath Day” – much less viewing it as a ‘day of rest’. Years ago in Ireland there was still some vestige of this observance. In addition to most commercial activity being embargoed and Masses on the hour from 7 am to Noon, we would have Evening Devotions – Exposition, Rosary and Benediction, etc.

In today’s frenetic world we barely have time to ‘squeeze in’ Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday morning – if it is not supplanted entirely by preparations for the sporting event du jour. While we cannot return to the past and reminiscences are the stuff of advancing years, we should at least be grateful that some still make the minimal effort, whether later on the day itself or on the vigil. Many do not.

Juventutem London said...


You have a point about being grateful people should go at all, but nonetheless I feel uncomfortable congratulating people for doing what is the duty of all men anyway.

It's like the Chris Rock sketch:

'"I look after my kids" What do you want, a cookie?! You're supposed to look after your kids!!!!!!!!!!'

RichardT said...

In theory I should like to agree. But sunrise is far too early in the morning for me, even at this time of year.

But before breakfast I agree with. An early afternoon Mass, followed by a Black Velvet breakfast, is the perfect beginning to the day for us late risers.

Anonymous said...

If memory serves, in the Eastern Catholic Churches those who are unable to attend the Divine Liturgy are able to fulfill their obligation at Vespers. I find this a rather better solution than having masses at all hours, which in my experience tends to cheapen the Holy Sacrifice. We need to get back to the pattern of daily offices, especially mattins and vespers, with attendance of all who can expected at the parish mass, with perhaps an early said celebration for those whocannot attend the chief mass, or wish to make their communion first thing in the morning.

Last Knight said...

In my city, younger parishioners who favour the Extraordinary Form invariably have to attend at 6pm or 7pm. We have asked for a Sunday morning celebration, but the clergy down here are just too kind-hearted. They can't bring themselves to disappoint the old-timers who are used to the old "Paul VI" Mass in English.

Gallery said...

I am surprised to hear Fr Hunwicke refer to the anticipated Sunday Mass on Saturday evening as a "Vigil" Mass. This term should be reserved for Masses which are, in fact, Vigil Masses, such as those of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost in the New Order. I am also surprised to hear Fr being so approving of these anticipated Sunday Masses. In my experience they are attended mainly by pensioners, the very people who least needed this innovation. One must also think of the disastrous effects of the practice on the life of priests, and in particular on their preaching. Saturday was a day of moderate rest (Shabbath!), with time to prepare the Sunday sermon (including the time sitting in the confessional). The anticipated Mass has ruined all this, and sermons have suffered as a result.

Священник села said...

Has the practice of attending Mass but not receiving Communion (for whatever reason, including not fasting) fallen away? Once upon a time this was not at all unusual, in fact it was very, very common, at least in the heavily Roman Catholic neighbourhood I grew up in. One had to go to Mass, period - even if one was not in a position to commune. But one made a 'spiritual communion' (not being Roman, I wasn't exactly sure what it meant, but I have always thought it entirely reasonable). What I sense is that now people only bother going to Mass if they plan to 'get' Communion. If not, they don't go to church. And when they do go they go without anything that might be called fasting (without smirking), without any real preparation, without a serious 'intentionality'.

Fr Herman said...

According to Byzantine practice, an evening Liturgy denotes a fast day. A Sunday evening Liturgy is unthinkable. For example, the Liturgy of Christmas Eve (a strict fast day) is always Vesperal -- except if it falls on Saturday or Sunday. The only Vesperal Liturgy on a Saturday is Holy Saturday (though it is more likely to be served late morning).

In Byzantine practice, celebrating the Liturgy is never convenient. It takes time. There are no low masses. I can't see the wisdom in the Church accommodating the schedules of people who do not order their lives according to a divine priority. This may sound harsh, but should it? Muslims and Orthodox Jews have no problem scheduling their lives around rigidly timed liturgical observances. Why can't Christians do the same?

For Byzantine practice a Saturday "Vigil" service is not the Eucharist but Vespers and Matins of the Resurrection -- an invaluable preparation for the Eucharistic celebration the following morning.

Hierodeacon Philip

GOR said...

Juventutem: You’re right. It wasn’t meant as a ‘pat on the back’ for doing the minimum required, but merely in reference to Father’s point about ‘early morning Mass’. Better that people go to any Mass - either on Saturday evening or later in the day on Sunday – than no Mass at all.

It has always been my conviction that when people start missing Sunday Mass for slight reasons it becomes a slippery slope. It starts out slowly (“just this once…”) then becomes more frequent and soon one loses the ‘habit’ entirely. There are many reasons why someone may not receive Holy Communion at Mass (irregular marriages, mortal sin, etc.), but as long as they continue to go to Mass at least on Sundays and Holydays I feel there’s hope for a complete return to the Faith. But if they stop doing that, coming back is much more difficult.

Canterbury Anglican said...

What do folk think of celebrating an early Mass before saying Mattins? I believe Blessed Edward King used to say Mass early and then to say Mattins after 10am or even on the train.

Canterbury Anglican

Michael said...

Sunday begins at 0001hrs. I have never been able to understand how churches can have Mass at 6 p.m. Saturday and call it fulfilling a Sunday obligation and then having a Mass at 6 p.m. on Sunday, and still claim it fulfills the Sunday obligation. Surely this would be a Monday Mass? The Mass in the village where I live is celebrated at 4 p.m. Saturday. Isn't this stretching things a little too far? We have to have out TLM at 6 p.m. Why? One priest 10 a.m. Glasgow, 1.30 p.m. Edinburgh, 6 p.m. Gateshead. and I think everyone fasts from at least 3 p.m. onwards if not before. Now you know where I am from.

Michael said...

Moi encore! I really do appreciate the TLM Mass I attend being at 6 p.m. because it is a round trip of 220 miles each Sunday to get to Mass.

Victor said...

I suspect Hierodeacon Philip is describing the theory rather than the facts. I know for a fact that in at least one parish in L'viv, Ukraine, "vigil" liturgies are celebrated every Saturday and Sunday evening. This parish is very big and has another three liturgies every Sunday morning; the additional vigil liturgies are simply needed for pastoral reasons. The Basilians even had "Low liturgies", i.e. mainly spoken (but the Basilians are very much latinized, and those "low liturgies" were regarded as quite odd by most people there.

Little Black Sambo said...

"Sunday begins at 0001hrs."
I thought it began with Saturday evensong.

RichardT said...

Michael, regarding a Mass at 4 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, I once asked an expert in canon law about this.

His reply was that since 'evening' is not defined in law, and that the only thing we know for certain about evening is that it does not start in the morning, anything after noon qualifies.

Further, he said that we should use local time. With 'Summer Time' and standardised time zones, "noon" by the clock (and so qualifying as an 'evening Mass') could be as early as 10:30 by the sun.

On the plus side, it does sometimes allow wedding guests to fulfil their Sunday obligation at a Saturday Nuptial Mass!

GE said...

Of course, one might also consider the incongruousness of ostensibly celebrating towards the Sun even though the Sun is in the West and thus behind you.

Of course, on one level it is all very simple: if it is not possible for people to fulfill their Sunday obligation, there is no Sunday obligation. Then again, for the spiritual welfare of the people it is good that they be offered rich opportunities for attending the Sacrifice. This is what the Latin Church has traditionally been good at emphasising and I see no problem with this - nor do I see a problem with the Orientals keeping the more ancient practice.

As for the Saturday 'vigil' Mass - I don't approve, because it inevitably detracts from the solemnity of the coming day. It is true that the Roman Rite has long had vigil Masses for great feasts (a praiseworthy tradition) but they were never intended to supplant the liturgy of the coming day, but rather to provide the feast with a solemn and sombre introduction (all vigils are penitential in character). We need more real vigils, thank you.

George Carmody said...

A lady at my parish attends a Novus Ordo Mass every weekday, but always 'fulfils' her Sunday obligation by going to a Saturday evening Mass. So, ironically, the only day this apparently pious lady never attends Mass is on Sunday!

Saturday evening masses - there's absolutely no excuse. Anyone ever heard of self-sacrifice?

Arthur Rusdell-Wilson said...

Little Black Sambo is, of course right. That all 'great days' in the liturgical year begin at first vespers is a survival of the Church's roots in Judaism, where every day begins in the evening. (The evening and the morning were the first day, etc. in Genesis 1, for example, and the celebration of the beginning of the weekly Sabbath on Friday evening.) This is particularly important in understanding the Triduum Sacrum.

big benny said...

I take issue Father with your suggestion that only lazy people attend saturday evening anticipated masses. Many people attending them have working or caring responsibilities where such attendance is a necessity. I myself work for the emergency services and have to work 2 out of every 4 weekends - this kind of working arrangement if not that uncommon in the modern world, and is becoming increasingly so!

big benny said...

I take issue with your suggestion Father that only lazy people attend saturday evening anticipated masses. In this modern world many people have caring or working commitments (particuarly in the service or medical professions). I myself work for the emergency services and am obliged to work 2 out of every 4 sundays. These lind of situations are becoming increasingly common in this 24/7 age.