Dear Father | When does Saturday Mass 'count' for our obligation?
My parents were married on a steamy Saturday afternoon in May 1977. Toward the end of the ceremony, the priest stopped and said, "People often ask me does this count. Count for what?" The priest went on to explain the idea of going to Sunday Mass and how and why the Nuptial Mass did not fulfill the obligation and how they would all need to go to another Mass later on that day or the next day to fulfill the obligation.
Having a Mass on the evening before Sunday or the holy day goes back to Jewish traditions. In the first creation story in the Book of Genesis, the days of creation are described in this way, "Evening came, and morning followed -- the third day" (Genesis 1:13). The day began with sunset, not the sunrise of the day. This is why in the crucifixion stories, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the women are described burying Jesus, "in haste," because they were trying to complete the task before the Sabbath came with the sun setting that evening.
The Church for centuries limited the vigil Masses to being celebrated after special times of preparation. Most notably, the highest vigil was the Easter Vigil, where a longer series of readings was proclaimed, which meditated upon the whole of salvation history. Also this vigil would include the reception of new members into the Church. The other major vigil was Pentecost, the last day of the Easter Season, which would also feature more readings to meditate on the gift of the Spirit.
In 1953, Pope Pius XII expanded the option of celebrating the vigil Mass to Sundays, holy days of obligation and special local celebrations to the Church. In his Encyclical "Christus Dominus," the Holy Father declared that such a celebration should not begin before 4 p.m. While some places celebrate the vigil at 4 p.m., most follow the custom of the Diocese of Rome, which begins the vigil Mass at 5 p.m.
If you are at a Mass before 4 p.m. on a Saturday, plan on going later that day or on Sunday. If it is after 4 p.m., the priest likely will announce if that Mass will fulfill the obligation or not. If he does not, feel free to stop and ask him if it does. If in doubt, feel free to go again. Perhaps it is a prompting of the Spirit for you to go to another Mass to receive more graces for yourself or for another.
Father Mayo is associate pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in St. Charles. Send questions for a priest to: St. Louis Review, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119 or email email@example.com.
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