The Lord Jesus gave us a Divine Imperative: Watch! Wait! You know not the hour. And
this is exactly what we do when we keep vigil. It is an ancient Christian practice which has been lost in the contemporary Church. Yet it is so vital for the life of Christian culture. The monastery always stood as a witness to the world of men and women dedicated keeping vigil
against the devil, the flesh and the world. It stood as an exhortation to praying unceasingly. Christians saw the monastery and were reminded of their sacred duty to pray constantly.
The saints were masters of keeping vigil. We can look to
the Desert Fathers like St. Anthony and the scholastics like St. Thomas
Aquinas. Then of course there is St. John of the Cross. All of these of course
are modeled after the Divine Master Himself who went alone in the early morning to pray. (cf. Mark 1:35)
In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church has retained the
custom of keeping vigil. That is the original nature of the Office of Readings,
traditionally called Matins. In fact the General Instructions of the Liturgy of
the Hours maintains this tradition stating, praise is therefore due to all who maintain the character of the Office of Readings as a night office.
The Instruction goes on to state the it was customary to begin certain solemnities with a vigil. Among these solemnities Christmas and Pentecost are preeminent. This custom should be maintained and fostered according to the particular usage of each Church.
There is a custom that myself
and many of my brother seminarians have developed. On the eve of all Sundays
and feasts we gather around 9 or 10 in the evening to pray Office of Readings,
those keeping the tradition of keeping vigil. This is a spiritual practice I
highly encourage. In fact the canticle that is prayed in the extended vigil in
the Office of Readings is from the Prophet Isaiah. There the prophet says, My souls yearns for you in the night, yes, my spirit within me keeps vigil for you.
As we enter into the Christmas season there are many feasts
and opportunities to consider taking up this wonderful custom.
- The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
- Feast of St. Stephen, the First Martyr
- Feast of St. John the Evangelist
- Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
- Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
- Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
The Church maintains the practice of observing an Octave
for both Easter and Christmas. And Octave is a series of 8 days starting on the
feast in which the days following are treated as the feast itself. So the
Church actually celebrates 8 days of Christmas. As she does 8 days of Easter.
It is way of joyfully entering into the feast celebrated.
Vigils are made up of:
- A Hymn
- 3 Psalms
- 2 Readings (Biblical and Patristic)
- Holy Gospel
- Hymn, Te Deum
The season is also a great time to take walks under the
stars. Particularly keeping in mind Bishop Conley’s reflection To Wonder at the Stars.
May Christ who is the true
light shine brightly in our hearts and give us peace, joy and love as we await in vigil for His coming. Amen.