Growing Up Catholic: PART FOUR "How the Saturday 'evening' 4:00 VIGIL to the VIGIL Changed My Life"

Stephen Arch                        


Please Note:  I encourage you to read the following as it appeared in BuzzFeed written by Norberto Briceno, BuzzFeed Staff Writer.  It states some of the things I thought about while attending mass as a young child.

"23 Things People Who Grew Up Going To Catholic Church Will Understand"

This is where the fun actually begins, and where I began to see "the light" of the strategies of the Church Ladies.  The 4:00 pm Saturday Evening Vigil Vigil Mass, how it came about, and how it changed my life.  You see, Catholics go to church.  That's what they do.  And, apparently, to those people who really wanted to deliver on their promise to honor the Lord's day, they found an option that would make them extremely happy.   

The 4 pm Saturday mass was actually instituted quite some time ago.  

"Back in 1953, Pope Pius XII offered the possibility for evening Masses with the following norm of the apostolic constitution Christus Dominus:

'Rule VI. If the circumstance calls for it as necessary, we grant to the local ordinaries the right to permit the celebration of Mass in the evening, as we said, but in such wise that the Mass shall not begin before four o’clock in the afternoon, on holy days of obligation still observed, on those which formerly were observed, on the first Friday of every month, and also on those days on which solemn celebrations are held with a large attendance, and also, in addition to these days, on one day a week; with the requirement that the priest observe a fast of three hours from solid food and alcoholic beverages, and of one hour from nonalcoholic beverages. At these Masses the faithful may approach the Holy Table, observing the same rule as regards the Eucharistic fast, the presumption of Canon 857 remaining in force.'"  (Fr. Francis Hoffman.  Our Sunday Visitor.  

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So, the 4 pm Saturday Vigil Roman Catholic Mass came to us as sort of an anomaly.  Again, this is not a scholarly work, and I might be taking a bit of poetic license here, but it appears to me that the edict listed above wasn't designed to make going to church that easy - there had to be some sort of obligation and some sort of sacrifice to the equation.  It seemed to me that Pope Pius XII was attempting to help Catholics attend mass when and wherever they could whenever there was an extremely important conflict - illness, work, etc. which I feel is unbelievably reasonable, considering Catholics (as portrayed in my work) seemed to me as a young person so strict.  

I think back of the first masses celebrated with gatherings in caves and hidden out of the way of angry Jewish leadership and the Roman empire.  I feel that God has made it easy for any of us to attend mass, and that mass, now an extremely solemn occasion,was first meant to be a gathering of like-minded followers of Christ (Christians) to give praise and to celebrate Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection.  

But that is common knowledge.  If one were to read Pope Pius' mandate closely, he made sure to state that  "we grant to the local ordinaries the right to permit the celebration of Mass in the evening."  In my world, that opened up the floodgates.  Heck, if mass was already being celebrated (with the Vatican's permission), then why not go back into the record books and find the loophole that gives people a chance to fulfill their SUNDAY obligation even earlier on Saturday.  So, we move from only Sunday, to 7 pm Saturday, and on to 4 pm Saturday AFTERNOON.  I feel obligated to mention this following point for just a moment.  Please take the time to read Pope Pius' "requirements" for mass attendance:  fasting three hours before mass, no alcohol consumption..."  This somehow got lost in translation somewhere.  

Of course, growing up in Catholic grade school, I knew (still do) know all the rules.  I learned the lass in Latin - as an alter boy, I had to memorize the entire mass in Latin, and then, when it was switched to English, had to relearn the entire mass in English (at least now I knew what I was saying).  

My point is and has always been that people are people - people have flaws, have emotions, and have needs.  I also know that most human beings, whenever they can skirt a rule or two and get away with it, they will.  It's human nature.  What ever happened to fasting before mass?  Don't hear too much of that lately.  What about not receiving communion without first going to confession?  No judgements here, please, but I doubt at all of the masses I attended throughout my entire life, all of the long, long lines leading up to the communion reception, I hardly believe that  each and every one of the people went to confession prior to receiving communion.  But I am getting off point a bit.

The 4:00 Saturday mass opened up a massive can of worms, and this is how I get back to my favorite Church Ladies on Steroids.  As they would always say "God bless 'em."  So, God bless them.  The Saturday 4:00 mass meant quickly spread to another unwritten rule.  Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there happened to be a wedding taking place "around" 4:00.  At St, Mary's, and I know at other churches, a couple could have a 2:00 marriage mass.  That meant, then, that if another couple wanted to married that same day, they could be married at 4:00. My wife and I were married at a 4:00 wedding. 

It might be too much to ask if you are following my line of thinking.  Let's say, for example, that a certain couple wanted to be married at 4:00 in the afternoon.  And, as you can see in the photos I have supplied, St. Mary's was THE place for weddings - huge, gothic, gorgeous cathedral style church.  If young brides had their choice of churches, they would most certainly want to be married in the most beautiful of all the other Catholic churches in the area.  

And St. Mary's had A LOT OF wedding masses, most of the time, one on Friday evening, one at 2:00 Saturday and one at 4:00 Saturday.  But, you might be asking yourself at this juncture, how did the 4:00 Saturday wedding mass have any effect on the 4:00 Saturday Vigil Mass.  

The church ladies were not going to let a wedding deter them.  It was simple.  They went to the wedding.  No one, not even the brightest cardinals at the Vatican, could have figured that loophole out before it was opened.  It became common as word spread through the neighborhood that there was going to be a wedding at 4:00 that Saturday.  

Everyone was abuzz. "Hey Anne, did you hear about the Smith's wedding on Saturday.  It's a 4:00 wedding.  That can count as our obligation for the weekend."  I hate to even bring this up, but at times, for some reasons, a funeral took place at that time on Saturday.  Did the funeral deter the church ladies.  Heavens no.  Four o'clock mass was 4:00, and 4:00 was legal by the Pope's own words.  So, regardless of the event - weddings, funerals, baptism (when I was growing up, baptisms were not conducted during the Sunday mass.  They were usually held at different times on Saturday or Sunday).  

Now, imagine a young, impressionable youth watching this happen.  First, Saturday?  Next, no fasting?  Next 4:00?  Next funerals, weddings, baptisms?  This was cool, and really getting out of hand.

Another extraordinary event right after the 4:00 Vigil, Wedding, Funeral, Baptism Mass, the church ladies would usually send their husbands to the local White Front Market to purchase, you guessed it, the Saturday evening edition of the Sunday paper!  I was a paper boy with a huge route, and I hated the "bulldog" Sunday evening Saturday edition.  It didn't make sense. As a 10 year old, how could the Pittsburgh Press know the news ahead of time. It was a mystery to me. That was the life of the church ladies - Sunday mass on Saturday afternoon followed by the Sunday news on Saturday evening.  (Of course, I knew it was only for the pull out sections - the coupons, the grocery store deals).  But it just seemed so odd, and that oddity helped define me.

This is where I learned that I could be Catholic and could still the rules and still skirt the rules to get into heaven.  What a lesson!  What a tool! 

And believe me, realizing what for 8 years, I was beaten, bruised, degraded, embarrassed by nuns was the one way I could still be Catholic, still be me, and still get to heaven!  Imagine the possibilities!

PLEASE NOTE:  While writing this, I was listening to my wife speak with her mother on the phone about going to church on Saturday night.  Now because of what happened years ago as a result of the Church ladies, Catholics have a chance to go to a 4:00 Saturday mass, a 4:30 Saturday mass, a 5:00 Saturday mass, a 6:00 Saturday mass, and a 7:00 Saturday mass. They couldn't decide which mass to go to.  Usually, the result is "let's just go to mass tomorrow, on Sunday."  Too many choices.  Imagine that - going to mass on Sunday?