On a visit to the British Museum this week I found myself, not for the first time, gazing on the remains of Lindow Man. I was transfixed by the crushed, leathery remains of this two-thousand year old man when I first visited on a school trip and I never miss the chance to look in each time I’m passing.
The undeniably gruesome and faintly voyeuristic act of staring at a dead person notwithstanding, it’s always interesting. As I ponder the simple existence of someone living in the peat bogs of England as the Romans arrived, I can’t help imagining that life moved more slowly then. I also find myself wondering what he’d make of us if for a brief while, he were able to stare out of his glass box existence rather than we in. Racing from experience to experience, defying distances, communicating without pause for thought and taking in more information in a day than he may have seen in his entire life, we must look utterly out of control.
A life based on daylight and darkness, phases of the moon and changing seasons must have been reassuringly regular. Everything from work to rest, eating to leisure in its regular, unchanging slot. Worship too.
But our daily lives are chaotic now. It never stops - and the 24-hour shops, night buses, overnight production and on-demand culture reflects this. Small wonder that many churches find it hard to pull in the punters when the traditional Sunday slot is now prime time working or leisure or just being busy for so many.
It wouldn’t be strictly accurate to call the vigil mass a direct response to this pressure on the set timetable, but it is a helpful indicator of the way things probably have to change. The vigil mass takes place the Saturday evening before the Sunday mass and gives those who can’t go on Sunday the chance to fulfil their weekly obligation.
St Mary Immaculate is Warwick is surprisingly full for this Saturday mass - no hint of a few people making up for Sunday absences. It’s also apparent that there are people of all ages here and a clear sense, although I couldn’t say where it stems from, that this is a regular and popular service not a stopgap.
Inside it’s a fine-looking church with a splendid mixture of gold circle icons, stained glass and dark wooden painted panels. It has a claim to fame among Lord of the Rings fans as being the setting for JRR Tolkein’s wedding back in 1916.
The readings both touch on the theme of not taking things for granted but being thankful for all the blessings we have. One of the hymns, it is noted in the homily, was written by a man witnessing the worst of war’s atrocities around his city. Rather than railing against a neglectful God he chose to count all the blessings he had. It’s a theme worth pausing to ponder in this current time when everything seems so close to being taken away from us.
Interestingly it’s a point which will be made again tomorrow morning as Sunday’s mass follows the same format, readings and content as this. It’s a bit like multiple showings of the same film.
Some point to vigil masses having their roots in the time when days were measured from sundown to sundown, making it effectively the first mass of the Sunday; cynics have always branded it a soft option for those who can’t face getting out of bed for an early start in the morning. Either way, it’s a long-established part of the timetable and, with online churches now offering on-demand, pray-as-you-go services delivered right to your personal device, it may well have a role to play.