Thus says the LORD: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. (Ez 33:7)
The Church offers “vigil” Mass because of the many duties and complications the modern world has imposed upon Sunday especially the requirement of work. Still, there was a time when the vigil was not the celebration itself, but the liturgical preparation with accompanying prayers and fasting for the celebration to follow the next day. The vigil was once the expectation; it was not the culmination.
In any case it is vital that the Church recapture the practice of keeping vigil especially in our trying times. The term “vigil” is of course closely related to its first cousin: vigilance. To be vigilant means to be “watchful”. This is why the vigil rite was once only preparative to the main celebration asking us to wait upon the Lord with alert anticipation like an eager child waits for Christmas morn.
Toward our culture we have not been vigilant. Over the long watch of decades or even centuries we have not kept vigil over the increasing secularization of daily life. Perhaps if Christians had peacefully but firmly refused the requirement to work on Sunday, we would not be so reliant now upon the vigil Mass, while certainly we would have shown our state authority that while we respect its administration of the work day, we reject its incursion on the Lord’s Day.
Yet, Catholics and other Christians are a compliant lot. We have been taught to respect authority and not to disobey unless in the case of great moral failing. The problem is that when great moral failing finally arrives it finds us comfortable and sleepy, unable to be roused to address injustices against religious liberty. Christians are not “of-the-world” hence we are the antithesis of the Marxist protestor who in succumbing to be reduced to an economic and political unit claims the world as his own. Yet, while the world may not be our destiny, Christians are still the stewards of the world for the Creator, still defenders of what is rightly God’s.
For this 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we place on our bulletin cover a work by Swedish painter August Jernberg entitled Night Watch (1885). Jernberg was an academic painter and practitioner of the Dusseldorf School which put forward genre and allegorical works. The Night Watch of Jernberg was itself an allegorical work which incorporated the original Night Watch of Rembrandt as the basis of its symbolic message.
Here we see visitors to Trippenhuis, the Netherlandish academy of arts, which houses the original Night Watch of Rembrandt situated on the large wall in Jernberg’s image. In this painting a militia captain and his civic guardsmen set out into the city to keep civil order. The ladies and gentleman standing near the painting represent society’s attachment to the comfort provided by this order. Only the young boy standing completely still facing the wall is thoroughly engrossed by the painting within the painting. It is as if he sees the inevitable discord that arises when pleasure replaces virtue as the culture’s primary motivation.
We are the Church Militant. We watch against sin and temptation and the injustice it incurs and we warn the world against these. The world may not listen, but this does not mean that we abandon our post. We keep up the watching and the warning for all those who will listen.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services