Monday, June 16, 2008

Should I be going to Saturday "evening" Mass?

It struck me one Saturday afternoon, as I drove past several churches, that there are a lot of people who attend Saturday "evening" Mass.

As an aside, I put "evening" in parentheses because that's the actual word used in Canon 1248 where we find the permission for this "evening" Mass. However, as I drove around in very broad daylight, it was certainly not "evening".

In justifying Saturday night Mass, there is a common appeal made to the "Jewish day" (sundown to sundown) when finding justification for the Saturday "evening" Mass. (1)

The appeal is understandable but then what about actually waiting until "sundown". A literal interpretation would also negate any Mass on Sunday after sundown which would mean most Sunday evening Masses.

Actually, the Church did not make this appeal to the "Jewish day" when making the concession for the fulfillment of the obligation on the previous evening.

Here is what the Church actually said:

Where permission has been granted by the Apostolic See to fulfill the Sunday obligation on the preceding Saturday evening, pastors should explain the meaning of this permission carefully to the faithful and should ensure that the significance of Sunday is not thereby obscured. The purpose of this concession is in fact to enable the Christians of today to celebrate more easily the day of the resurrection of the Lord. (Eucharisticum Mysterium, Sacred Congregation of Rites, May 25, 1967)

There are a couple things to note:

1. There is a singular emphasis on the significance of Sunday and the fulfillment of the "Sunday obligation".

2. The allowance for the Saturday evening fulfillment of that obligation is in fact only a "concession".

"Concession". That means that it is not the desire of the Church that the faithful fulfill the Sunday obligation on Saturday but only an allowance. But an allowance for what?

The key is in the words "Christians of today". The Church recognizes that the modern world is not a Christian world and that we nevertheless have to live in it. Work responsibilities on Sunday make it difficult for some to attend Mass on Sunday. The Church, in her charity and desire that all the faithful assist at Holy Mass admits a concession for the fulfillment of the obligation on Saturday evening.

In other words, you should NOT be going to Saturday "evening" Mass, unless for reasons beyond your control, you cannot attend Sunday Mass.

In the same document we find this unswerving emphasis on Sunday:

Whenever the community gathers to celebrate the Eucharist, it announces the death and resurrection of the Lord, in the hope of His glorious return. The supreme manifestation of this is the Sunday assembly. This is the day of the week on which, by apostolic tradition, the Paschal Mystery is celebrated in the Eucharist in a special way.75

In order that the faithful may willingly fulfill the precept to sanctify this day and understand why the Church calls them together to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, from the very outset of their Christian formation "Sunday should be presented to them as the primordial feast day,"76 on which, assembled together, they are to hear the Word of God and take part in the Paschal Mystery.

This portion of the document is presented before the "concession" so that there can be no mistake that Saturday evening Mass is in fact a "concession".

And there is also the additional appeal to pastors to safeguard Sunday:

...pastors should explain the meaning of this permission carefully to the faithful and should ensure that the significance of Sunday is not thereby obscured.

Should there be any doubt over the concessionary nature of the Saturday evening Mass consider Cardinal Arinze's recent (December 1, 2005) directive to the leaders of the Neocatechumenal Way requiring that:

”at least one Sunday per month, the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way must participate in the Holy Mass of the parish community

In addition to the problem presented by the Neocatechumenal Way celebrating Holy Mass apart from the parish community, the NCW also had been celebrating exclusively on Saturday evening.

I am not challenging the practices of the NCW, I am pointing out a contemporary application of how the Church views the Saturday evening Mass as only a concession.

If the Church at the highest levels has restated its desire that Sunday Mass remain paramount or the "primordial feast day" as the document states in regards to the practices of this one ecclesial community, then should not this desire be applicable to all of us?

Of course.

Given the actual words of the Church herself:

1. Catholics must reexamine their reasons for attending a Saturday evening Mass and must assure themselves that attendance at this Mass in lieu of Sunday is for reasons beyond their control.

2. Pastors must "explain the meaning of this permission carefully to the faithful and should ensure that the significance of Sunday is not thereby obscured." And they must periodically remind the faithful of the nature of this permission.

One final note on the time of the Saturday "Evening" Mass. While the biblical definition of "evening" varied, the contemporary definition of "evening" is normally considered that period which is "just before twilight" until "astronomical sunset" or the time when the sun no longer illuminates the sky.

Because the Church authorized the "evening" Mass for the "Christians of today" we should assume the contemporary usage of the word "evening". But as you can well see, the majority of Saturday "evening" Masses do not occur in the "evening". There is one Mass I know of that occurs as early at 3:30pm

However, Eucharisticum Mysterium gives the authority to the local ordinary to determine the allowable times for Saturday evening Masses.

(1). It's interesting to note that Canon Law actually defines a day as follows: In law, a day is understood as a period consisting of 24 continuous hours and begins at midnight unless other provision is expressly made... (Can. 202 §1.) Obviously, the Church does not consider the day to start the evening before.
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