Home >> Chamber's Encyclopedia, Volume 15 >> Vendee La to Viviparous Fish >> Vigil

Vigil

festivals, vigils and christmas

VIGIL (Lat. Fr. riggo, I watch), a preparatory time of devotion, which, by very ancient Christian usage, went before the more solemn festivals, and especially Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and the principal martyrs' days. In English, it was called " eve or "even," a name which is still retained in relation to several festivals, as Christmas eve, Hallow-e'en, etc. The observance is traceable in the very earliest centuries, and was established everywhere in the 4th and 5th centuries. It is one of the usages of his time against which Vigilantius inveighs, and which Jerome vindicates in his celebrated Let ter against Vigilantius. On the day before the great festivals, which seems from the first to have been held as a fasting-day, the people assembled in great multitudes. The ser vices proper to the vigil, but having a certain bearing on the coming festival, were cele brated; the night was spent chiefly in the church 'and in prayer, and other devotional exercises; but abuses arose out of these night-watches, which led to their suppression, as well as to the abolition of tertian festivities which grew up in connection either with the vigil or with the feast itself. The observance of vigils is still retained in the Roman

Catholic church, and with it all the ecclesiastical offices, together with the fast, at least in the great vigils of Christmas, Easter, Pentecest, Saints Peter and Paul, Assumption, All-Saints, etc.; but all the other details of the celebration have gone into disuse. In the English prayer-book, the " vigils or evens" of the chief festivals of our Lord, of the blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Apostles are retained in the calendar; but they have !no special services appointed for them, nor any other celebration. See Blunt's Annotated Common Prayer, p. 28.