Thursday, September 26, 2019

Following Up on “Bible Vigils”

Earlier this month, I posted some photos which Dom Hugh Sommerville-Knapmen of Douai Abbey in England very kindly shared with us from a variety of liturgical publications, mostly from the 1960s. One of these was a book produced by the monks of Douai for the celebration of “Bible services”, as recommended by paragraph 35.4 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, during the brief period when the Church still held that the letter of a document promulgated by an ecumenical council is a thing to be taken seriously. A friend of mine then shared with us a story about how these Bible vigils popped up and disappeared within a very short time

Here is what some other readers very kindly shared with us, in response to our request for further information about their own experiences with Bible vigils, and the shift in devotional life in the post-Conciliar period.

Reader A.M. send in several items from British and Irish newspapers with “Bible vigils” listed among the church services in the mid-to-late ’60s.
– A Catholic Youth Day held at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland lists among the events “Concelebrated Mass with full liturgical participation by the Youth ... Bible vigils (readings by teenagers)”, followed by “the usual Pilgrimage Devotions.” It does not appear that this event is held at all any longer.
– Another article states that “In order to make the liturgy of Holy Week more meaningful, Fr B. began ‘Easter and You’ weeks... they involve bringing mime (!), drama and Bible vigils into the churches in preparation for the liturgy.” Should this be taken as a confession that the reformed Holy Week of 1955 failed to achieve its stated goal of bringing the services closer to the faithful?
– Dr John Barkley, Professor of Church History at Assembly College in Belfast, a theological college of the Irish Presbyterian Church, in an article titled “What is happening in Rome”, with the subheader “Wyclif would have welcomed this move to Bible study”, writes with approbation of “the introduction, instead of evening services (my emphasis), of Bible Vigils based on Scripture, and meditation thereon.” The cathedral of the Roman Catholic prelate named in the article does not currently list anything like a “Bible vigil” on its schedule of services, nor any kind of evening devotions, or a single Hour of the Divine Office.

M.F.: In the late 1960s we used a book for these services called The Liturgy and the Laity, produced by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. It provided services for seasons, feasts and devotions like First Fridays. We used to dress these up with a procession with the Bible, candles and incense,  and those participating wore surplices. There was a short homily by a friar, sometimes a priest was present and vested. On the night before Thanksgiving, a priest or a new reader would bless bread wine and fruit for dinner; in Lent we had veneration of a relic of the cross. At the church of — in , we transformed the devotion of the 13 Tuesdays in honor of St Anthony into a Bible vigil,  with the better elements of the devotion, the singing of (the miraculous responsory) Si quaeris Miracula, the blessing with the relic and the veneration of the relic at the altar rail. The prayers were edited carefully.” The church currently lists devotions on its regular schedule (Adoration on First Friday, Rosary before every Mass, etc.), and a twice monthly Bible study, but no Bible vigil.

C.O. wrotes in to note that this book is still available; here is part of the description. “Liturgy and Laity is a prayer book designed to help average Catholics share deeply in the Church’s rich, liturgical life. (It) offers a series of reflections on the doctrines underlying the Liturgy as outlined in the Constitution on the Liturgy, and a series of prayer exercises known as Bible Vigils, which are meant to increase our knowledge and love of the Word of God. Liturgy and Laity is a complete guide to the liturgy of the Church offering both the theological basis of the liturgy as well as liturgical devotions. This book is perfect for use in group prayer among the family, study groups, and parish life.”

B.D.: I remember attending a Bible vigil service once during my freshman year at — seminary. It was celebrated on a Friday afternoon with music and a touch of ceremony. The lector was a senior, attired in cassock and surplice, hymns were sung, but I don’t recall Benediction being celebrated. I do recall that the next vigil was canceled and never heard of again. We had a perfectly horrid prayer book with ugly drawings and uglier hymns. The 1964/65 Missal was used during two years of my time there. I can still hear the pronunciation of various celebrants of the Latin Canon amongst other prayers. No attempt was made at celebrating the Office.

The following comments originally appeared on the post requesting people to share their experiences with Bible vigils.

D.V.: I received my First Holy Communion in 1968. I remember that on the Friday evening before that Sunday we had a ‘Bible Vigil”. It was a Liturgy of the Word and we were, at the conclusion, enrolled in the Brown Scapular. There was no Benediction as I recall.

S.M.: Bible Vigils in Baltimore were usually synaxes of the Word with 3 lessons, hymns, and intercessions. They were frequently followed by Benediction or some other devotion, e.g., Stations.

S.F.: Bible services were all the rage in the 1960s. Essentially, from the examples that I have seen, they were what became the Liturgy of the Word in the Novus Ordo Missae. There was an introduction, first OT reading, psalm, NT reading, Gospel, homily and prayers.

D.A.: I was in the parish grade school through the 1960s, and I do remember seeing "Bible vigils" published, but I do remember a desire to become more aware of the Bible. Looking back, that makes little sense. There was always a bible in our home, and obviously the Scriptures were read at Mass, and repeated in the vernacular during the homily. And at my parish, it was generally about the Epistle and/or Gospel reading for that day, as opposed to whatever was on the pastor's mind.

On the subject of devotional life in general:

D.P.F.: I’m happy to share that Rosary continues to be said daily in our parish church every day at 4 am, followed by a 5 a.m. Mass. Devotion to Our Lady Perpetual Help is said every Wednesday, and occasional vigil and procession of St Peregrine whenever there is a pandemic of anything. Lenten Stations of the Cross are an annual thing for each community and villages, same thing for visiting 7 churches during Maundy Thursday, attending siete palabras or communal reflection on the 7 last words of Christ lead by the parish vicar or an assistant priest.

What is lamentable is the gradual disappearance of domestic devotions. Until the late 90s, it was not uncommon for grandparents to call us kids who were still playing in the streets in for the evening Rosary, lead by them or our parents. A picture or statue of Christ the King was displayed in front of our houses during last Sunday of October, even though the feast is now celebrated in November. Every kid in my generation learned the Spanish prayer Bendito (de Altar) before any other prayer, since it is still said every after Rosary or novenas. Friday meat abstinence was still a common practice for most Catholic families until the mid ’90s; the Holy Saturday night vigil at homes to anticipate the Easter Mass by the whole family is practiced by very few families today.

Basically, Catholic kids in the Philippines still experienced in the 1990s a kind of domestic church, where parents and grandparents observed the changing of the liturgical season and major feasts of the Church.

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