Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Sacred Time

"I miss all the Vigils. Why on earth were they suddenly suppressed?” lamented Thomas Merton in his monastic diary on December 7, 1959. Given the date, Merton was obviously lamenting the loss of the liturgical Vigil of the Immaculate Conception. Today's much more ancient Vigil of the Assumption survived the 1950s, only to be swept away in 1969. By then, Merton had died and so missed the complete extermination of all the ancient vigils in the 1969 calendar. Originally, of course, a vigil was a nocturnal preparation for a festival, but as the liturgy evolved over the centuries, the vigil Mass came to be celebrated on the previous morning of what came to be considered a penitential day.

As Pius Parsch put it, "vigils are days of penance, days of interior purification. They provide for the penitential implications of the feast. If in spirit we are to ascend heavenwards with the Blessed Virgin tomorrow, we should today loosen ourselves from the earthly bonds that chain us to this world."     

Of course, apart from those traditionally Catholic countries where the Assumption is still a legal holiday, this great ancient festival itself likely gets lost in the ordinariness of a secular work day. So why worry about its lost vigil, which at best might be barely noticed at all, and largely only by a tiny part of the population? Fair enough, but, of course, the entire calendar is largely irrelevant to the patterns and preoccupations of ordinary daily life. Liturgical and secular timetable have long since parted ways, and there is little doubt which actually matters more in real life.

So any lament for our lost vigils really reflects a lament for our loss of sacred time, such as it once was, such as it conceivably could be, but most certainly isn't now.

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