Saturday, August 17, 2013

Holy Days of Obligation - What Obligation? What Holy Days?

As I understand it, the Vatican told the various Bishops’ Conferences that, while various Holy Days of Obligation could be moved to the nearest Sunday, or have the obligation to attend Mass on them suppressed “for pastoral reasons” (to be cynical, does that mean the “faithful” couldn’t be trusted to go to Mass on weekdays, since the bishops feared that even Sunday Mass-goers wouldn’t bother?), for some sort of largely symbolic reason – lest no Holy Days of Obligation remain, in which case it seems bizarre to have them mentioned in Canon Law at all – at least one solemnity of the Lord (i.e. Christmas) and one of Our Lady had to be retained as Holy Days of Obligation.

This thinking seems confused: if, out of fear for souls lest the lazy be damned for not going to a Mass on a weekday, all but two Holy Days of Obligation are either transferred or have the obligation suppressed, why then retain two? Even more confusingly, while the obligation to attend church on Good Friday was suppressed in the seventeenth century, it still remains far more well-attended than many a Sunday! Wouldn’t it be more rational to make Christmas and Good Friday the two remaining Holy Days of Obligation, since that is how what remains of popular piety regards them? After all, despite the importance of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, it is nowhere near as popular as those two days in terms of attendance at the Liturgy.

For the record, according to Canon Law (Can. 1246 §1) the following ten solemnities are the Holy Days of Obligation for the whole Roman Rite:
  1. Christmas
  2. Epiphany
  3. Ascension
  4. Corpus Christi
  5. Mary Mother of God (the Octave Day of Christmas)
  6. Immaculate Conception
  7. Assumption
  8. St Joseph
  9. SS Peter and Paul
  10. All Saints
In Australia, these three Holy Days, all solemnities of the Lord, have been transferred to the nearest Sunday, as provided for in Canon 1246 §2:
  • Epiphany
  • Ascension
  • Corpus Christi
And the obligation to attend Mass has been suppressed for these five solemnities of Our Lady and the Saints, here in Australia (as also allowed for in Can. 1246 §2):
  • Mary Mother of God (the Octave Day of Christmas)
  • Immaculate Conception
  • St Joseph
  • SS Peter and Paul
  • All Saints
Does not this send the dangerous message that devotion to the Saints is of little importance?

Here in Australia, therefore, Christmas and the Assumption as the only two Holy Days of Obligation remaining; just as, by a similar process of minimalization, not to say failure of nerve and dumbing-down, the days of fasting and abstinence also have been reduced to two: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (the minimum mandated by Canon Law – Can. 1251).

The bishops of England and Wales – not, as a body, known for their burning zeal in recent decades; so there is hope for us all – have restored the precept of abstaining from fleshmeat on all Fridays (excluding those falling on solemnities), which still is the norm throughout the Roman Church (Can. 1251), despite the perception in Australia, by those old enough to remember the former rule, that all that was abandoned as one of the “fruits” of Vatican II (the young, of course, have in many cases never even heard of it). It is wonderful to hear of bishops actually doing something for a change.

In recognizing the importance of reviving a custom that was once one of the universally known hallmarks of Catholic practice, the good bishops have imitated dear Fr Wells, a long-retired priest I remember from my university days, who told us at Mass one Sunday long ago that he had gone back to the discipline of meatless Fridays “Because I realized I was doing nothing instead”. It may be candidly admitted that few know, or care, that we are still meant to do some form of penance on Fridays – as usual, Paul VI’s efforts in that regard were singularly fruitless. Did he achieve anything?

If we are to start to rebuild, we need to restore disciplines – since the current drift into slackness and indifference simply indicates that Catholics have little commitment to anything, since they value the Faith so little. If we cared, if we actually believed, we would be willing to endure much. In the days of persecution, Catholics in England and Ireland stood firm in the face of adversity; these days, what firmness would be manifest? But I suppose if so few nominal Catholics even go to Sunday Mass, let alone bother with the occasional confession, let alone bother to get married before undertaking the marital act, let alone follow dear Paul VI's advice regarding that holy intimacy, well, no wonder even the bishops decided ditching a few more disciplines wouldn't matter.

In everything, we see the abandonment of the Catholic worldview, and a sort of play-acting in its place. We play children's games in the ruins.


Michael said...

But Joshua, this was all a part of inculturation! See we inculturated ourselves into the culture ... of secularism

Michael said...

But we engaged in the process of inculturation, see we Catholics are now truly a part of our culture ... secularised.

Joshua said...

According to the Constitution of Australia, "no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth" (section 116) - which is lucky, since these days, no one could pass any such test!

At least, by the same section, "The Commonwealth shall not make any law... for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion"...