Sustaining Our Faith: Saturday Vigil Mass

Finding new ways to connect with and meet the needs of church communities is increasingly important when it comes to sustaining our faith and wellbeing as Christians.

For the last 18 months, St Andrew’s Church in Leicester has been offering daily Mass during the week, alongside its Sunday morning service. This has been timed deliberately, starting before the beginning of university lectures and work, and attracts a number of people every day.

However, as a parish in where relatively few people live, but many people work - with its large number of students and high proportion of nurses - more and more people have to work on a Sunday, or find the timing inconvenient, when it’s actually the day they feel they would most like to attend church.  

With this in mind, St Andrew’s has introduced the Saturday Vigil Mass – an early evening, short service at 6pm, to meet the needs of its growing church community.

“With the change of the size and the circumstances of the congregation of St Andrew’s come different needs in terms of worship,” explains Fr Johannes Arens. “For many it is important to attend church on Sundays - and not just on any day. It is part of our Jewish heritage that liturgically the day begins with sunset, Christians start major feasts like Christmas and Easter the evening before, and since the late 1960s there has been a renewed awareness that Saturday evening after sunset is indeed liturgically Sunday. Therefore, a Mass on Saturday evening counts as having been to church on Sunday.”

St Andrew’s has decided to experiment with the Vigil Mass over a six-month period and held its first Saturday service during the first weekend of Lent.

“Though it was a small start, there is an obvious need as lots of people here work shifts on Sundays,” says Fr Johannes. “One of the issues we discussed together afterwards is how to make this feel properly Sunday without the resources we use on a Sunday, such as the music, organist and serving team.”

Over the coming weeks, Fr Johannes says they will adapt things slightly, using incense and chant to distinguish it further from a weekday service, while continuing to get feedback about what is needed.

He says: “Some smaller children were present, and obviously we want the time to accessible for families and the bedtime routines, as well as being early enough that people can ‘go out’ afterwards.”

While clergy are required to pray the Daily Office for themselves and on behalf of their parishioners, as Christians we also acknowledge that a Sunday service alone is insufficient in sustaining our faith and wellbeing.

Having reinstated daily Mass at St Andrew’s, Fr Johannes says: “We all need daily routines of prayer, silence or meditation and it gives the whole parish a sense of vigour and purpose that the Eucharist is celebrated every single day. It is irrelevant to some extent how many people attend these services - I did start them on my own during the pandemic. However, usually about three to 10 people now attend these daily services, and these intimate gatherings are a huge source of support for my own ministry and wellbeing.”

Fr Johannes believes serving the community in which St Andrew’s is placed means ‘adjusting’ what the church offers to fit in with the patterns-of-life of those around it. “As university lectures usually start at 9am, the daily services mostly happens at 8am - that gives ample time for a shared coffee and a biscuit after Mass before people have to leave,” he explains.

“A lot of hospital staff work changing shifts and for them both the Saturday evening and the daily services offer opportunities outside Sunday morning. It is not enough to maintain a vigorous and lively faith with occasional visits on a Sunday.”

St Andrew’s is working hard to navigate the needs of its church community and offers a welcoming space, extending an invitation to anyone who may be in the city on a Saturday evening, or any other day, to come and worship.

Its congregation is very diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, and first language, and Fr Johannes believes that the liturgy helps everyone find a common ground amidst their differences. “Our very formal and kinaesthetic way of worship does help as it is possible to properly participate without understanding every word,” he says.

Many of the church family are also struggling with the challenges of poverty, but “what is incredibly heartening to see is how people here help each other,” says Fr Johannes.

First published on: 11th March 2024
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