For a century and more, life in our society has become more atomised and individualistic. We no longer live in integrated communities in which different people fulfil different and complementary roles for the common good. Millions live in dormitory suburbs, have no common interests with their neighbours, and few common activities. I do.
This has inevitably had an effect upon the liturgical community. Particularly in Northern Europe and particularly among Catholics, the Church has operated an efficient system based upon optimum use of plant and personel. One priest with one Church and a decently sized carpark and faculties to trinate can serve a large area, and do so economically. Rural Anglicanism, on the other hand, often functions with one priest serving six or more congregations the size of which may vary; in Devon I had congregations of ten to twenty five, with just one Church among the six gathering about forty. Anglican and ex-Anglican clergy will recall the the difficulty of persuading people to unite, even just once a month, in a 'United Benefice Service'. In my experience, about 50% of those nominally on the roll never went to Church on those Sundays when 'the Service' was not at 'their' Church.
The Catholic model has a resilience which the Anglican lacks; I have little doubt that, in a generation, Rural Anglicanism will be as dead as Inner City Anglicanism (leaving just Prosperous Suburb Anglicanism). But the Catholic model has weaknesses too. It means that you might well not know the worshippers with whom you so cheerfully 'exchange the peace'. You are an aggregation of individuals (laudably) fulfilling your obligation, but with an enervated sense of coinherence. How alive can the phrase 'The Body of Christ' be in such a context?
The old culture of the community church, the Church of a community which worshipped regularly together, had a beauty as well as a theological strength to it. And one of the things which has weakened it is the Vigil Mass.
Only God knows the tally; how many people the Vigil Mass culture has retained in the practice of the Faith; how many it has lost because of the weakening of communal links. No sane person would want to step back from it, however much we may sense a certain dreariness in the sight of all those people 'getting it out of the way' so that they can be 'free' on Sunday. And, however much we explain to ourselves and to others that the Liturgical Day begins with the Eve, we all sense that Saturday Evening is not ... really ... instinctively ... Sunday. And let us admit it: the Vigil Mass constitutes a surrender to the life-style of the zeitgeist. What father could face explaining to his sons that they cannot take part in the local footie culture which invariably situates its practice sessions ... on Sunday morning?
The experience of a whole community, wearing 'Sunday Best', strolling down in families to their Parish Church as the bells ring on a Sunday morning in which secular pursuits have been set aside has, I am convinced, much more value to it than mere romanticism, or (as you are probably intending to explain to me) nostalgia for an irrecoverable social order.
Is there really no way in which we can move back in the direction of a Sunday Community Mass? Does it still survive anywhere other than in rural Greece?