Thursday, May 25, 2006

Will Holy Days of Obligation Disappear?

I wish we had more Holy Days of Obligation. I honestly can say that I miss Ascension Thursday. Catholicism in the United States has become all too complacent regarding Holy Days of Obligation. And hasn't it become confusing as well? Who can remember really when certain Holy Days are not Holy Days because they fall on certain days of the week? I have to go review the rules when I need to understand for what is considered a Holy Day of Obligation. For those who do not understand, the US Conference of Bishops received approval to abrogate the precept to attend Mass on certainly Holy Days if these solemnities fall on Monday or Saturday: these solemnities are Mary, Mother of God, January 1; the Assumption, August 15; and All Saints Day, November 1. You can review the relevant section of Canon Law regarding this issue here.

It seems that in order to accomodate more people attending certain solemnities, the US bishops thought it was wise to move these days to Sunday so more people could observe these Holy Days. It also seems that we are moving in the direction that more and more of these solemnities will end up on Sundays or with new rules to dispense the obligation of attending. Sunday, the Lord's Day, unfortunately has become the only "holy" day that most Catholics will attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I use "holy" in quotation marks in the previous sentence because I am not sure Sunday is an obvious Holy Day anymore either.

I want to offer a truly strong observation: Day after day Our Lord is neglected and abandoned by people who do not go to daily Mass. You may interject that daily Mass is not a requirement. But by bringing such an objection, you miss the point and show your bias by seeing your faith in the terms of obligations and law. The Holy Faith that we have received from Holy Mother Church is not one to be bound by rules and obligations. Sure, the laws and obligations are important, but they merely serve as a signt posts in the road of faith to help guide us. If you see yourself in this manner, saying I have to go to Church on Sunday because it is one of the Ten Commandments, then the faith which you practice is not a developed one. It is a child's view of the world. A more mature faith would attend to the Lord everyday possible. It should be our desire to go to Mass on Sunday and everyday because we come to participate in the Lord's sacrifice and receive Our Lord in His Most Precious Body and Blood. Should we not seek to adore Our Lord each and every day through this most supreme act of prayer with the WHOLE Church? Making such an effort is a sacrifice. You may have to get up early in the morning. You may have to go after work or during a lunch break to participate in Mass. But is not Our Lord worth it? I mean, we can find time to watch TV or read news or spend time on the internet but it seems Our Lord is a concern for Sunday alone or when we "really" need Him. If we practiced our faith with the devotion that we spend in other areas of our lives, then I think we would have a rich and life-giving faith.

I want to offer a few quotes I found in an old Adoremus Bulletin online. For those who do not know, Adoremus - Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, is "an association of Catholics ... to promote authentic reform of the Liturgy of the Roman Rite." You can find their website here. Adoremus Bulletin is their journal which covers the liturgical scene. In the online edition of Vol. IV, No. 8, December 1998/January 1999, the writers of Adoremus summarize the US bishops discussion concerning the transfer of Ascension to Sunday. I want to offer several quotes from bishops who spoke concerning this change. You can read the whole article here which has many more statements from various bishop. Bishop Alfred Hughes (now of New Orleans, but then of Baton Rouge), opposing the transfer said:
...[m]y continuing concern is accommodation to our culture, and the backing away from sacrifice, and the loss of a sense of transcendence. And these are issues that are recurring, and every time we take a step in the direction that's being proposed, it seems to me that we yield a little bit more about our identity in the culture that we want to transform as well as find ourselves incultured into.

I'm aware that the decisions that we've already made about holy days have introduced a lot of confusion in our faithful, and it seems to me that the uneven implementation of this is going to introduce further confusion. So I would rise to speak against this particular proposal.
Bishop Raymond Burke (now of St. Louis, but then of La Crosse) opposed the move as well:
First of all, from a theological and liturgical point of view the Ascension is central to the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, the most sacred time of year in our whole liturgical year. And its placement within the forty days after Easter and ten days before the coming of the Holy Spirit is a key to the whole observance of this time: Our Lord, at His Ascension, instructing His disciples to pray for the new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and then the observance of that first novena of prayer before the coming of the Spirit.

Practically, this transfer is not dictated by hardship or necessity. It has never been easier for our people to assist at Mass on Sunday or the holy days. [W]e are making the transfer in order to make it more convenient for people to observe the solemnity at the price of losing the sense of sacred time, and the sacrifice which we need to make in order to observe sacred times.

Practically, too, the possibility of the transfer will generate more confusion about the importance of this solemnity, as well as the other holy days of obligation, and with regard to the obligation to participate in the Eucharist on Sunday and on the holy days. With the mobility of our society and the ease of communications, this confusion is inevitable....
These questions and concerns found in these two statements continue to linger in my mind. Have we become too accomodating? Have we lost a sense of sacrifice? Have we lost a sense of transcendence? Have we confused the meaning of Holy Days of Obligations in general? I will leave these questions for you to ponder but you already should have an idea of where I sense we are heading.

Should not our hearts be burning within us in order that we may share the joy of the resurrected Lord and the faith which shapes and gives meaning to our lives? (see Luke 24:32-34)


Katherine said...

I found it disconcerting that it seems even among the dissenting comments you quote the primary copncern seems to be keeping everything as simple as possible to avoid any confusion. Certainly the laity shouldn't be confused, but shouldn't not offending God and doing whatever is necessary to polish the sancitiy of the people be the primary concerns? Aren't these reasons more than enough not to shrink the number of days the laity are "obligated" to attend Mass?

I also find it mildly amusing that not confusing the laity is such a concern considering how many priests choose to personally alter the liturgy of the Mass of the Universal Church because it suits them or they think more people will feel more warm fuzzies. Meanwhile whenever I go to a Catholic Church I have to wait to figure out all their little differences. If me not being confused is such a priority, how about forbiding masses where laity or even nonCatholics give "homilies" and other such nonsense?

Personally I think removing Holy Days of Obligation makes going to Church seem MORE like a burden to the laity than less because the Bishops themselves are treating it that way!

Kathy said...

Fortunately I live in a diocese where Ascension Thursday is still a Holy Day of Obligation, and all Masses are well attended. For those areas where the feast has been transferred, do we then change the tradition to say that Jesus reamined on Earth 43 days after His Resurrection?

Tim said...

I live in a part of the world where people have to travel for hours to get to the nearest church, and I can certainly understand the pastoral sensibilities behind transferring Holy Days of Obligation. The fact is that most people here would be excused from the obligation to assist at Mass on any weekday Holy Day because it would require "heroic virtue" for them to do so. So the bishops here have moved most of the moveable feasts to Sunday. This means that the majority of people can now celebrate the most important feasts of the Church. Sensible? Absolutely.
That said, is this same situation present in most of the diocese in America? No, and so the pastoral sensibilities of transferring the feasts is a little more questionable. A better way of dealing with the problem might be to ensure a flexible schedule of Masses so that everybody can fulfil his obligation.

James said...


It is understandable in certain places in the world and in the US where people must travel quite a distance to get to Mass on Sunday that they be excused from their obligation on holy days during the week because of the lengthy travel time and local situation. So for these people, they should offer a few prayers and make some sort of remembrance of the importance of the holy day, and still honor the day.

But why transfer the holy day of Ascension in this case, for most of the dioceses in the United States? The bulk of Catholics live near parishes within a reasonable driving distance. Living in Maryland, I am near atleast 5 different Catholic churches within a 15 minute drive. I should have no excuse for finding a mass on Ascension Thursday (if that was the case but not anymore since its on Sunday now). Surely parishes need to offer various times to accomodate more people on these holy days of obligation.

Finally, I'm curious, what do you to do on Holy Days of Obligation which have not be transferred, such as Jan 1, Mary Mother of God, August 15, the Assumption, or December 8, the Immaculate Conception? If "pastoral sensibilities" rule the day, then why haven't these solmenities been moved to a nearby Sunday? Should they be? If not, then why not?

boinky said...

Holy days were originally HOLIDAYS.
I once read a history that said, horrified, that there were 50 holy days in the church calander, which was inefficient, because that meant people didn't work.
Well in a world where poor people and peasants work every day, leting people rest on the sabbath was good for them and society. And a holyday means a chance for a day off and even a fiesta.
In the (protestant/secular) USA, however, it means an extra burden on people already quite busy.
So essentially it ends up being the exact opposite of what it started out as.