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The Vigil of Ss Peter and Paul

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In the Roman Rite, the term “vigilia – vigil” traditionally means a penitential day of preparation for a major feast. The Mass of a Saint’s vigil is celebrated after None, as are the Masses of the ferias of Lent or the Ember Days, and in violet vestments; however, the deacon and subdeacon do not wear folded chasubles, as they do in Lent, but the dalmatic and tunicle. The Mass has neither the Gloria nor the Creed, the Alleluja is simply omitted before the Gospel, not replaced with a Tract, and Benedicamus Domino is said at the end in place of Ite, missa est.

The vigil of Ss Peter and Paul is one of the oldest observances of the Roman Rite, attested in all pertinent liturgical books as far back as we have them. The Mass chants (except for the Communio) and the two Scriptural readings are the same in the most ancient sources as those in the Missal of St Pius V; the three prayers are the same in the earliest versions of the Gregorian Sacramentary, from the end of the 8th century.
It is one of the Church’s oldest and most universal customs to celebrate Ss Peter and Paul in a joint feast on June 29. However, the Roman liturgy naturally tends to lay greater emphasis on Peter as the one who knew the Lord personally in His earthly life, and in whom the primacy was conferred upon that church. Therefore, just as Peter figures more prominently than Paul in the main feast, so also in the vigil; the Introit, Epistle, and Gospel are all about him, as is the modern Communio is taken from the Gospel. This is balanced by the fact that Paul has a special feast of his own on June 30th, while at the vigil, the prayers all refer to “apostles” generically, without naming either one.
Collecta Præsta, quáesumus, omnípotens Deus: ut nullis nos permittas perturbatiónibus cóncuti; quos in apostólicae confessiónis petra solidasti. – Grant, we ask, almighty God, that Thou may not permit us to be shaken by an disturbances, whom Thou has strengthened on the rock of the apostolic confession. (Here, of course, the “rock” also refers more to Peter.)
Secreta Munus pópuli tui, quáesumus, Dómine, apostólica intercessióne sanctífica: nosque a peccatórum nostrórum máculis emunda. – Sanctify the service of Thy people, we ask, O Lord, by the intercession of the Apostles, and cleanse us from the stains of our sins.
Postcommunio Quos caelesti, Dómine, alimento satiasti: apostólicis intercessiónibus ab omni adversitáte custódi. – O Lord, by the intercession of Thy Apostles, defend from all adversity those whom Thou hast satisfied with heavenly food.
The Introit is taken from the Gospel, as it is some of the other very ancient Roman vigils, such as those of St John the Baptist and the Apostle St Andrew.
Introitus Dicit Dóminus Petro: Cum esses junior, cingébas te et ambulábas ubi volébas: cum autem senúeris, extendes manus tuas, et alius te cinget et ducet, quo tu non vis: hoc autem dixit, signíficans, qua morte clarificatúrus esset Deum. Ps 18 Caeli enarrant gloriam Dei: et ópera mánuum ejus annuntiat firmamentum. Gloria Patri. Dicit Dóminus Petro. ~ The Lord said to Peter, ‘When thou wert young, thou didst gird thyself and walk where thou would, but when thou shalt be old, thou wilt stretch forth thy hands, and another will gird thee, and lead thee where thou wouldst not. Now this He said to signify by what manner of death he should glorify God. Ps 18 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the works of His hands. Glory be. The Lord said to Peter.
The Epistle, Acts 3, 1-10, is chosen in part because it is the first miracle which Peter performs after Pentecost, the healing of the paralytic at the Beautiful Gate. This signifies his role as the head of the Church in the long period from the descent of the Holy Ghost (which is recounted in the previous chapter) to the end of the world, a period symbolized by the season between Pentecost and Advent. This miracle happened when Peter and John had gone up to the temple to pray “at the ninth hour”, which refers to the hour of the vigil’s celebration after None.
The psalm verse with which the Introit is sung is repeated in the Gradual, and was associated with the Apostles by from very ancient times. For example, a commentary on the Psalms written in the 4th century, and formerly attributed to a correspondent (and later disputant) of St Jerome, Rufinus of Aquileia, says “the Apostles and Evangelists … are rightly called ‘heavens’, because of the loftiness of their life, and the ‘firmament’ because of the solidity of their faith and charity; they declare the glory of (Christ’s) divinity, and proclaim to the works of (His) humanity.” (PL 21, 712B in fine) The first part of the Gradual, “Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world,” likewise refers to the Apostolic preaching of the Gospel to the whole world. (The exact same verses are also sung in the Byzantine Rite as the Prokimen, the chant before the Epistle at the Divine Liturgy.)
Since the Gospel of the feast is Matthew 16, 13-19, the conferral of the primacy of the Church upon Peter, that of the vigil is the prophecy of his death which Christ makes to Him at the end of the Gospel of St John.
“Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep. Amen, amen I say to thee, when thou wast younger, thou didst gird thyself, and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not. And this he said, signifying by what death he should glorify God.”
In the brief passage in the breviary in which St Augustine comments on this Gospel, he explains that Peter here makes a three-fold confession in place of his three-fold denial of Christ during the Passion.


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