Imagine: you’re a Catholic living in the 3rd century. It’s the night before a big feast day. The Church is relatively young, so there aren’t many feast days. Whenever a feast approaches, then, it’s a big and special affair.
Christians want to enter the feast in a spirit prepared for rejoicing and celebration. In order to get ready, you spend the evening and night of the day before in expectation and prayer.
All the Catholics in your town—yourself included, of course—go to the church. There you fast, pray, and listen to readings from the Scriptures and occasionally a sermon.
At dawn, you exit the church for a brief period to rest and wait for Mass time. The rest of the day, you celebrate the feast or the great Mystery or saint with joy and festivities.
That’s what “vigils” are. The word comes from the Latin vigilia, meaning a “watch”—a time of expectation or alertness.
The early Church kept a vigil of fasting and prayer the night before every feast. As the number of feasts increased over the centuries, this practice became difficult to maintain, and most vigils were dropped. The greatest feasts only retained their vigils—for example, important events such as Christmas and Easter have vigils.
Vigils are just one of a myriad of ways to show devotion which the Church has treasured throughout her history. Catholic Traditions and Treasures: An Illustrated Encyclopedia can give you so many fascinating explanations, in addition to a host of other fascinating, humorous, and touching facts about the Church. This coffee-table style book is one that won’t gather a particle of dust! Get your copy today at The Catholic Company!