Friday, 14 July 2006

Holy Days

The front page of this week’s Catholic Herald reports that England and Wales may follow many other countries (including Italy) by transferring Holy Days of obligation to the nearest Sunday.

Of course, this might superficially seem tempting. I celebrated the ‘Solemn Evening Mass’ in my parish for the recent Holy Days of Corpus Christi and SS Peter and Paul and, out of nearly 900 Mass-goers, only about 60 or 70 turned up. Moving these beautiful feasts to Sunday would mean the whole Mass-going parish could join in the celebrations.

Commenting on this, Cally’s Kitchen admirably says: ‘the grounds for this is that people simply aren't attending Mass on those days, so there is no point in having them. Well, if I wanted an easy religion that pandered to my every want and desire I would become an atheist and start worshipping myself, or a liberal Christian, which would amount to the same thing. Catholicism is beautiful. It is bold and adventurous. But, to paraphrase Aslan, it is not easy.’ Amen to that.

Instead of resigning ourselves to failure, we should actively educate parishioners on the importance of Holy Days. Even John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet, admits that ‘Holy Days are very much part of the rhythm of the Catholic year.’ They also help form our identity as Catholics. The historian John Bossy, in looking at the distinctive feast days of English Catholics during the days of persecution, speaks of their ‘seasonal nonconformity.’ Likewise, as believers living in a secular world, I think we also need to build up our communal identity though our feasts, fasts and ‘seasonal nonconformity.’

I personally think that our Holy Days should be kept and, if possible, be either half-days or complete holidays in our Catholic schools. Those who can should be encouraged to take time off work, just to mark the day as special and to make going to Mass less burdensome. This used to be the case – the word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘Holy Day’ and in the thirteenth century there were as many as 85 Holy Days when no servile work was allowed. After all, our Holy Days are much more meaningful than Bank Holidays and celebrate key moments in our salvation history.

We often forget Canon 1247: ‘On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.’ A Holy Day is supposed to be an extra Sunday – and not just a case of fitting a Mass into an otherwise ordinary and busy weekday. Taking time off work may not be possible for many people but we should do something to rediscover the festivity of these Holy Days and not compromise by getting rid of them.


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