9 January 2018

Sunday Mass

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?


RichardT said...

Father, I agree with your desires, but it only works if it really is the community going to church together. It doesn't need everyone in the area to be going to the same Mass, but it does need so many of them doing so that it is the norm.

The difference you point out between the Anglican and Catholic approaches in England came about, I think, because the Anglican status as the national default religion led them to assume that going to their village service was the norm. That approach persisted long after it ceased to be true. The Catholics in England, rebuilding after the Reformation, never had any expectation that anything like the whole local population would be going to their Masses.

Therefore the Anglicans took an idealistic approach, providing a Sunday service for all the village to attend, even though the village largely didn't; the Catholics adopted a pragmatic approach of trying to help as many Catholics as possible to keep coming to Mass.

What you want would only work if there is (or can be) that church-going community, with such a high proportion in the area going to Mass together that it is the norm in that place to do so. If you think that can happen, then go for it. But if not, trying will do more harm than good, because it means abandoning the pragmatic approach of keeping as many local Catholics as possible in the practice of their faith.

Joshua said...

You remind me of a friend's comment about "little old ladies, who go to Mass every day, and twice on Saturday - and NEVER on Sunday!"

In my experience, older and more devout folk often chose the Vigil Mass for no other reason than that there was little to no singing. Granted how bad church music can be, this is understandable; but the grimly self-perpetuating Low Mass culture is a bit odd...

A priest once told me of his experiences supplying Mass in a certain parish, where he reasonably often said the early Mass, which, like many Vigil Masses, was said with not a note sung. Upon suggesting in the sacristy before Mass on Christmas morning that perhaps they might sing a Christmas carol, he was met with a thin-lipped refusal from the locals: "We NEVER sing at the 8 am Mass, Father!" (If I had been there, I would have been tempted to reply, "Happy b****y Christmas!")

Unknown said...

It was assissting at a Sunday Mass in an obscure African village that I for the first time got a taste of what worshipping in community is. So rural Africa is another field of exploration for Sunday Community Mass...don't forget your machetes and G&T's

Claudio Salvucci said...

We get very close to it in our FSSP parish. People wearing their Sunday Best, the same familiar faces week after week, the kids all playing together outside while the adults catch up over lunch in the church basement.

What we don't have however--and this really can take a toll--is a "local" community. Most of us are driving to Mass from afar…an hour or more each way. I wish we could transplant the entire experience to a truly local parish.

The embers are there, still glowing, but we will need to slowly reconquer the territory held by Modernism before we get back to that ideal.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a "renewal" of the Vigil Mass on Saturday might be a good place to start.
First, of course, is the time: after sunset. Now, it has lost some of its convenience
Second, a new discussion of the Eucharistic Fast. If this is the Sunday Mass, when should the fast begin?
Third, the nature of the Mass. Rather than this being the Folk Mass, or, horrors, no music at all (on Sunday? Really?) a return to Plainchant or good polyphony might help. Of course, being a Sunday Mass it would never utilize anything but the Roman Canon. Perhaps a bit more Latin.
In other words, if it were truly the Mass of Sunday rather than a quickie convenience it might lose some of its attraction for those who easily could attend Mass on the Day itself.
Locking the exits until after the sanctuary party has processed out is probably as illegal in Britain as here in the US. Too bad, though

Ben of the Bayou said...

Dear Father,

I do think there is a way, but it does involve (I afraid) jettisoning but one of your premises. To wit, we must, must, must jettison the Saturday evening Mass that the authorities permit to fulfill the Sunday obligation. Given what you've written above, I find that to be very sufficient justification for this solution.

Sincere regards,


A Daughter of Mary said...

Yes, Father, if I may be so bold, there are ways to restore that sense of Catholic Community on SUNDAY. First, preach that the Commandment to "keep holy The Lord's Day" is to be obeyed, in full. This means that Sunday morning is to be dedicated to worship of God, in community. The rest of the day is to be used for 'holy' things. This does not include golf, shopping, "footie" or anything other than prayer, reflection, perhaps family Rosary, and even Vespers. Have the Commandments lost all their force? Of course, preaching and teaching the meaning of sin comes with the above.

Second, teach the real, traditional meaning of Vigils. Vigils, were to be periods of fasting, penance, etc. in preparation for the great feast the following day. So that takes care of Saturday. The Sunday is a FEAST day and we must be taught what that means.

Third, preach the importance of Tradition itself. We have robbed our children of any sense of the goodness of the past, because it is past.

The above is not hard, but it will not be popular. Who's going to go first? Parishioners will squawk no doubt. Many will leave the Church and go elsewhere. But what does this mean? It would be part of the winnowing, the separating of the sheep and the goats, the shucking of those who have no Faith. Souls fall into hell like snowflakes for a reason - they have not been taught, led, inspired, fed the truth and so much more.

Jon said...


It indeed exists in FSSP communities. My parish is in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, some 42 miles away. A round trip of 84 miles. My family and I have driven it each Sunday, and often enough several times a week since 2005. My local, Novus Ordo parish, a nightmare gymnasium in the round, is only a mile and a half from where I sit.

Despite the fact my parish isn't composed of my immediate neighbors, it's a close knit place, and my wife and I consider fellow parishioners family. We've had six pastors over 13 years, and the change at the top has made no difference in the vitality of the community. We have a thorough parish life, with regular devotions like Friday evening Exposition and Sunday evening Vespers. During Lent, that increases to Stations of the Cross and day retreats. We have all seven sacraments available, daily Mass, daily confession, and two Sunday Masses, a Low and a High, with sometimes 400 people attending between the two.

Now, nearby, only six miles from me in Lancaster City, there's a High Mass each Sunday, said by a devout, young, diocesan priest. The church is magnificent, the choir is good, and attendance is usually about 125. Why don't I go there? Because it's only a Mass. There's no parish life. What parish life is encouraged is integrated with the Novus Ordo host parish, which involves Alpha and other Novus Ordo banalities. We didn't want that for our children, two boys, btw, now in their twenties, who served the TLM since they were very young. Both still attend Mass devoutedly, and the older, who lives in faraway (lol) North Carolina is being married in a TLM to a wonderful Catholic girl in the fall. Both attribute their faith to serving the Mass, and traditional parish life.

There's a lesson for England here somewhere. It's the parish. The parish. The parish. The Traditional parish.

B flat said...

Would you consider bi- and trinating a surrender also, of Liturgy to convenience. As a boy I remember my parish church having three morning Masses at 7.30 (for those who HAD to work on a Sunday) 8.30 and the 10.30 sung Mass. All were well attended but the 8.30 was packed with over 400 people. the others, 250-350. The 8.30 was liked especially by those receiving Holy Communion. It required two priests to distribute in a timely manner.
Then the fasting rules changed, and Sunday evening service with Benediction was reduced to just under 30 minutes to allow the 7pm Mass to start on time. And that Mass became very popular too.
Now the New Order has a different form of Mass, and it is not popular. Those people who no longer attend, obviously don't care for it. The Lord taught as that the good shepherd leads His sheep. Our Shepherds drove us to the New Mass (this or nothing), but could not, as it turned out, keep us. It is their responsibility to learn what the Mass is. I doubt more than a few hundred people in the RC Church know what it is, and they particularly do not believe they know, but are still trying to learn and live up to this momentous Sacramental action. When the know-alls finally start to understand what Our Lord gave His Apostles saying "Do this in commemoration of me..." they might try to learn, and offer the Mass that the people found worthy; which will only be when they strive for it to be worthy of God.

ccc said...

They could do it by eliminating anticipated Masses.

When JP II issued Dies Domini, I thought that maybe the Bishops might take the time to make some practical changes, or even adjustments.

That Apostolic Letter landed like a dodo bird, dead the day it arrived.

And yet, with AL, there a sudden impetus to "DO SOMETHING".

Father, basically I have come to the conclusion that literally half the Priests and Bishops that we have in the Church are there, only to fill a seat. The Benefit we receive from them is the Sacraments, but that's about it, because most of this bunch - deep down - either don't believe in God, don't fear him, or are actually actively playing for the other side. One can smell the sulphur.

Paul Hellyer said...

Can we, Dare we, Abolish the vigil Mass? It's hardly keeping Sunday, the Lord's day holy is it?

Sunday Mass itself is sloppy with holy Communion in the hand. Lay people on the altar not wearing a tie in jeans etc. Where's the respect? Why don't women cover their hair like they used to do?
We must bring back Sunday observance. Priests should tell their flock not to shop on Sunday. Poland are bringing back Sunday closing gradually over some years.

Rick said...

Dear Father,
When the EF becomes once again the dominant rite, and there are not “vigil Masses to go to, wont that bring us back together on Sunday mornings?

tradgardmastare said...

Father, I have felt this about vigil masses almost since becoming a Catholic. I am glad to read that others feel the same.
I am enough of an old ex Presbyterian ( which is what I am) to feel the need for the Catholic church to be the Lord's People meeting on the Lord's Day to be fed by Word and Sacrament.

vetusta ecclesia said...

As I understand it the Easterns have one Liturgy each Sunday. Compare that with the West. I have seen churches in Poland, in towns with multiple churches, advertising 9 Sunday Masses. In my diocese, where, apparently there is a crisis of priestly numbers, an urban PP told me there were 13 Masses within a mile available each w/end to his flock. I also know of a chapel-of-ease where there is no longer a regular Sunday Mass, at which the congregation gather on Sunday for a lay-led "Communion" service rather than driving to Mass. It would seem that community is now the driving force and each Mass, vigil, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, is its own hermetically sealed community.

Michael Ortiz said...

I now and then go to a Vigil Mass in my NO parish, and it's almost inevitably dreary. Many older folk there, with their care-takers, admirably, as you say, fulfilling their obligation. The only bright side, aside from the presence of the Lord, is there are a few families with adult children with special needs, and it is truly beautiful to behold the patience and love these parents give their children, especially as the world at large would hunt them down in utero.

Anita Moore said...

I would say this. I'm glad there is the option of a vigil Mass for the sake of those whose obligations would otherwise prevent them from attending Mass altogether. But even if we didn't have the vigil Mass, given the current state of the liturgy, we would still have a widespread "getting Mass out of the way" mentality. This mentality is indeed partly accounted for by the atomization of society, but it is also accounted for by the sheer awfulness of the liturgy as currently still celebrated in too many places. This is admittedly a different kind of wanting to get Mass "out of the way" -- getting it out of the way the same way you want to get a tooth extraction or a dose of castor oil or an electric shock out of the way -- but still unfortunate.

Father Stephen Schumacher said...

I wonder whether making vigil Masses true vigils might clear up some of this uneasiness. Say, e.g., holding the vigil Mass at 9 pm, so that it has the character of a "night watch". This would allow those who truly have difficulty finding a Sunday Mass to fulfil the precept (and I suspect that this number is relatively small), as well as making a "sacrifice" appropriate to a Christian who should really wish to be attending on the Lord's day. It would probably gently urge those who treat Mass as if it is a matter of convenience to return to the suddenly more "convenient" option of Sunday morning Mass. And it would be an opportunity to teach Christians about the nature of Christian worship, which has long held vigil in high regard.

Anonymous said...

It is common in smaller ethnic parishes with only 1 or 2 Masses to share a common meal each Sunday after the 10:30 or 11:00. Perhaps not quite the same with the demise of the midnight fast, but a good step.

But even aside from the vigil Mass, it is a significant challenge for a larger parish with 5 Sunday Masses, one in Spanish (or Polish, or Vietnamese), for the fortunate or persevering one also in Latin, for the unlucky a Teen Mass or a Contemporary, to maintain any sort of unity -- or coinherence. Maybe those few staying late to pray after one Mass could hand ceremonial batons - candles - missals - to those few arriving early to pray before the next? Otherwise, interaction between most parishioners is limited to a quick word in the parking lot.

The option sometimes employed is to bring a modest subset of the parish together for a Mass or devotion and meal one morning or (usually) evening during the week.

Nahbdy said...

I am an American and my wife from a small town in Poland. In Poland, rural communal Catholicism is alive (at least where she is from). The larger town (call it a "hub") which the other villages are nearest to (call them "spokes") has a single, large Parish church; each village, or cluster of villages, has one or shares a chapel, where Sunday mass is celebrated. One September day we walked the 700 feet to the chapel from her home and I heard the most beautiful noise I ever heard, which was all the women of the parish chanting the divine mercy chaplet in a form I had never heard before. The experience was as transformative to me as the first time I attended the EF mass when I was in college; and as with my experience of the EF, this occasion also gave me the same incredible sorrow of what has been lost in the modern church.

Clare said...

We have experienced great parish life at our SSPX chapel, both now and at the one we attended before we moved. When we were still attending Novus Ordo, there was nothing like it. I was happy if I could get through a parking lot without liberal bumper stickers and immodest clothes depressing me. Trying to help by hosting study groups and teaching catechism only gave us the boot. The Traditional Mass and learning and living the true Faith unite us. I am not surprised that people are finding this in FSSP too. If some people travel a bit, it just keeps us together longer for catechism classes and eating, since most of us are very hungry after fasting! Today more than ever we need each other to stay strong in this world, but modernism has invited the world and its sins into the very places that are supposed to be holy

Josh Hood said...

vetusta ecclesia,

It is certainly the Eastern tradition that there only be one Divine Liturgy per altar each day (though some larger churches will have chapels with another altar where another Liturgy can be said). In practice, especially among Eastern Catholics, there are often two Liturgies, often in different languages. Sadly, and perhaps predictably, this is usually accompanied by a loss of Vespers and Matins before the Sunday Liturgy. The Orthodox generally are better about keeping the one-Liturgy rule and at least celebrating Vespers on Saturday evening.

Riddley said...

So much comes down to practicalities. My wife and I drive to an FSSP "Mass centre" once a month for their monthly Sung Mass, and the rest of the time we go to a Low Mass at a much closer parish.

The FSSP Mass is at 8am and we typically spend a good 30-45mins chatting to people afterwards over coffee and biscuits, but our local Low Mass is at 5pm and people rush home straight afterwards. There's no coffee etc., and the priest (understandably) locks up shortly afterwards. We see the same people there week in, week out, but we haven't exchanged a word with most of them.

The FSSP seem to be encouraging families to move to Reading and Warrington so as to have a better sense of community, and there's a lot of sense in that, but it's not feasible (or right) if it means leaving elderly relatives and so on.

Savonarola said...

The late bishop of East Anglia, Michael Evans, once suggested that there should be just one Sunday Mass (on Sunday!) in each parish, and only when the church was bursting at the seams should another Mass be considered. Our plethora of Sunday Masses at various times, including Saturday evening, very much detract from any sense of the community as the body of Christ. So also does the understanding of Mass as an obligation, an external duty, rather than an inner necessity to worship. When all Catholics in one place really want to join together for Mass on Sunday the Church will come alive again. How to get there I don't profess to know.

Dymphna said...

If there were no vigil Mass then people like my husband who works on Sunday wouldn't be able to go to Mass.

CE User said...

I would say that the number of doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, EMTs etc. who frequently need to work on Sunday for the public good is not insignificant. If we drop the vigil mass, they simply no longer have the obligation. However, that in itself seems to reinforce the obligation mentality.

Anonymous said...

The Ordinariate should start the restoration of the Sunday morning mass as the one common mass for the parish to join together, by abandoning all so-called Saturday evening "vigil" masses, and celebrating instead only the real vigils, e.g. those of Easter, Pentecost and Christmass, and if you like also the other ancient, actual vigils, observing fast and helding mass after the None and prior the celebration of the - of course sung - 1st vespers of the following feast day.
I remember from my last trip to Oxford, there was a small, modern church, close to a folly bridge, with a Solemn Mass on Saturday evening, but no Vespers at all! This Saturday evening mass should be given up first of all, and Vespers sung instead. Please convince your fellow Ordinariate priests in Oxford, so that next time when I can visit your beautiful country there will be two Sung Vespers at Folly Bridge(Saturday the 1st and Sunday the 2nd) and Solemn Holy Mass in traditional language every Sunday morning.

Banshee said...

Here in the US, a lot of times the church _is_ bursting at the seams at every Mass, or at least at a lot of them. It depends where you go, of course.

The amount of reverence at a Vigil Mass is directly proportional to how seriously the priests, readers, music ministers, etc., all take it. Reverence begets reverence. (Although it also works the same way -- a pious congregation encourages the priest and all his helpers to be reverent, too.)

Obviously, most daily Masses are reverent. Partly, that is because a lot of serious Catholics are everyday attendees. It's sad that this sensible attitude is not always seen at Sunday Masses, much less Vigil Masses.

And obviously it would be good if Sundays were kept more holy. But we live in a world where a lot of Catholics can't find jobs that don't mean working all weekend, or where many can't support life and attend any Mass. Working hours are totally messed up for many, including for me, and yet I'm lucky to have any job. (I hope the improving economy will help me find a better job -- but I'm almost 50, so I'm not holding my breath. At least I'm able to attend Mass on part of Sunday.)

Banshee said...

I forgot to say that, in the past, parish unity was built on things like guilds and clubs, often supporting devotion to particular saints or to certain titles of the Lord. Necessarily, Father and the parish council were not running everything. (Which probably made life easier for both Father and the parish council.)