Sundays Masses held on Saturday Evening

Sundays Masses held on Saturday Evening

I received a letter saying: “A nearby parish has a Mass at 4.30pm on Saturday. This is a very attractive time for me. However, I am concerned as to whether I am fulfilling my Sunday obligation by going to Mass this early. I would appreciate your clarification on this issue.”

In the early 1950s Pope Pius XII authorised miners who had to work every Sunday to attend Mass on Saturday evening. Previously, those who were legitimately impeded from going to Mass on Sunday were freed from their obligation. The 1983 Code of Canon Law permitted the faithful to satisfy their obligation of assisting at Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day either on the day itself or the afternoon or evening beforehand (canon 1248, §1).
Scheduling Sunday Masses on Saturday evening follows the ancient Hebrew practice of counting the new day as beginning at sundown rather than at sunrise, or at midnight as we do now.

No definitive indication as to how early on Saturday a Sunday Mass can be scheduled is given in the liturgical documents. The norms permitting the celebration of Sunday Mass on a Saturday evening are not overly detailed and thus different practices and notions have arisen around the world.

Many priests now serve more than one parish, so they sometimes find themselves having to celebrate two Masses on a Saturday evening, meaning that the time of one needs to be made earlier than has been the norm in the past.

The question to ask is “How early on Saturday can a Mass be held before it loses its meaning as a Sunday Mass and becomes clearly a liturgy scheduled on Saturday for the purpose of convenience? “
It is Sunday that is the Lord’s Day. While the liturgical day can be reckoned to begin on Saturday evening, and while the Church permits Masses of precept on Saturdays, it is not appropriate to see this as a way of avoiding having to go to church on Sunday and leaving Sunday open for entirely worldly pursuits.
The character of Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” should be fostered at all times. The Saturday evening Masses can at times erode this important dimension of Sunday. As John Paul II explained in his 1998 Letter Dies Domini (The Day of the Lord), there should be a well-considered balance between the Sunday as Dies Domini and Dies Hominis, a balance between what we owe to God and resting in God, and what we owe to ourselves and our neighbor and resting for our well-being.
Of course the reality in many places is that people have little if any choice when it comes to when they attend Mass. Others may argue that, with declining church attendance, we should be glad that people are going to Mass and not worry about what time they come!

Sunday Masses held on Saturday evening are often incorrectly termed ‘Vigil’ Masses. The term ‘Vigil’ is reserved for those feasts where a different Mass is provided for the eve of the feast, as happens for Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and the Assumption. Sunday Masses held on Saturday evening should be described as just that, “Sunday Masses held on Saturday evening “, or as “Masses in Anticipation of Sunday”.

Elizabeth Harrington