A Lament for Lost Liturgy

We celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary yesterday. At least some of us did. Not many of us did, actually.

It’s not always a holy day of obligation anymore.

When an obligatory holy day falls on Saturday or Monday in the U.S. it’s not obligatory, unless it’s the Immaculate Conception, which is a national patronal feast and thus obligatory, except when December 8 falls on a Sunday of Advent which supersedes it, in which case the feast day moves to Monday but the obligation does not transfer (unlike when December 8 falls on Saturday or Monday).

Got that?

Judging by the questions I keep hearing and the amount of confusion I see in the blogosphere, I don’t think Catholic have gotten that at all. Here’s what they have gotten, more or less: holy days aren’t that important anymore, and liturgical time should not interrupt real time, which is what happens in one’s real (and very busy) life in the secular world.

We still kept the holy days of obligation in the tiny parish where I grew up in southern Minnesota. There would be comments at home about “no servile work” and how it used to be that you didn’t do any farm work on a day like August 15 (except feeding the livestock and milking the cows), but that part of the feast day observance was starting to slide. But miss Mass? Not on your life.

The feast day liturgies on weekdays were hardly solemn High Mass. About a hundred people were there (which is to say, the whole parish), and if there was an organist we sang some Marian hymns and the Mass parts. Probably recited the Responsorial Psalm since cantors were rather scarce, and recited the Gloria too. It might have been a rather quick Mass on November 1 or December 8, fit in before the public school began classes.

But still, the liturgy on such days – with all its simplicity, and the quiet dignity of the steady and predictable reformed rite, had a formational impact on me. The holy day liturgy said, more than any religion class or episcopal statement could, something about the claim the church makes on us.

“We have our own schedule,” the liturgy was saying to us, “and it’s not the world’s schedule.” Just think for a moment what that said about Christian identity and the church’s relationship to broader society. It said it especially strongly when two obligatory days fell inconveniently a day apart, Saturday plus Sunday, or Sunday plus Monday.

The holy days of obligation are there to form us in an alternative narrative. The liturgy tells us that it has its own integrity on its own terms. The liturgy is countercultural, not by behaving like an obnoxious culture-warrior, but simply by being itself.

I don’t mean to be overly romantic about all this. I’m sure there was plenty of unhelpful legalism behind getting the obligation fulfilled. Nor am I unaware of why things changed – including a shortage of priests able to preside at all the Masses in the multiple parishes they oftentimes serve.

And at this point, it would be hard for church leaders to attempt to turn it around without appearing out of touch or nostalgic or controlling. Heaven knows the hierarchy does not have a lot of credibility chips ready to cash in for this.

That’s too bad. I wish we could put Ascension back on Thursday, and maybe even Epiphany back on the 12th day of Christmas. And tell everyone that God is still God, even on Saturdays and Mondays. With common sense, and lots of respect for the decisions priests and people make in the face of difficult schedules.

When it comes to being countercultural, and putting God before all things, here’s a thought: How about we forget the Fortnight for Freedom, and instead just let the liturgy be the liturgy?







43 responses to “A Lament for Lost Liturgy”

  1. Phillip Hadley Avatar
    Phillip Hadley

    In New Zealand the solemnity of Maria Assumpta is the Patronal Feast, so in 2015, and again in 2016 (where it falls to the Monday) it has been transfered to the Sunday. Catholics wherever hold this as a fundamental doctrine so letting it fall off the calendar unceremoniously would seem less than fitting.

  2. Sean Keeler Avatar
    Sean Keeler

    Why must the two sets of observances be exclusive of one another? The Fortnight of Freedom should not impinge on your celebration of The Circumcision. And the celebration of Catholic Social Services won’t stop anybody from attending the liturgy.

    Isn’t “both/and rather than either/or” the watchword around here?

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @Sean Keeler:
      There was a time when multiple collects were prayed… 😉

  3. Fergus Ryan Avatar
    Fergus Ryan

    In Ireland, most of the holydays have for historical reasons been most frequently on working days including Ascension and Corpus Christi, but we’ve only four such holydays left now (Epiphany, 15th August, 1st November, 8th December) – Christmas and St Patrick’s Day being public holidays also. Whether or not they are also public holidays, keeping holydays on their traditional dates and keeping the obligation to go to Mass means they’re on Church goers’ radars. If they’re dropped, we all forget about them easily enough. In Rome, all the holydays likely to be on a weekday (1st Jan, 6th Jan, 29th June, 15th August, 1st Nov, 8th Dec) are also public holidays, never transferred, which makes Mass attendance (and solemnization) easier and keeps them in Mass goers’ minds.

  4. Allen F. Corrigan Avatar
    Allen F. Corrigan

    “When an obligatory holy day falls on Saturday or Monday in the U.S. it’s not obligatory, unless it’s the Immaculate Conception, which is a national patronal feast and thus obligatory, except when December 8 falls on a Sunday of Advent which supersedes it, in which case the feast day moves to Monday but the obligation does not transfer (unlike when December 8 falls on Saturday or Monday).”

    Or December 25th?

    1. Anthony Ruff Avatar
      Anthony Ruff

      @Allen F. Corrigan:
      Yes, Dec 25 stays on the 25th as an obligatory holy day!

  5. Gerard Flynn Avatar
    Gerard Flynn

    Thanks for a thought-provoking and interesting post, Anthony.

  6. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    In the US, I think the legalism works against observance, because Americans bristle against being mandated to do anything. And inasmuch as the church attaches the penalties of sin for flouting the obligation, it’s a genuine spiritual problem.

    As a parent, it’s not pleasant to force one’s children to go to church on New Year’s Day or All Saints Day, something in which their level of interest is less than zero and to which their resistance is considerably greater than zero. Parents also have a finite supply of “chips” to spend with their children. I really think it would be more merciful of the church to find a way of authorizing parents to exercise good judgment about the obligations.

    And some of us really are busy, and not with trivial matters. The workday no longer coincides with the rising and the setting of the sun for an increasing number of us.

    If a holy day is so important that it must be celebrated communally, then it’s worth transferring to a nearby Sunday in order to fulfill the obligation. Just a suggestion.

  7. Doug Cowling Avatar
    Doug Cowling

    When the new concordat with Italy was renegotiated a few years ago, the number of civil holidays was reduced, and the Holy See promptly allowed transference of Ascension and Corpus Chisti to the following Sunday. The real question here is should the church year be harmonized with the civil year? The two were concurrent for a millenia and a half: why not now? In Canada, Good Friday is a statutory holiday; in the States not. I don’t know how Americans manage the noon liturgy. Were not living in a 5th century Greek fishing village anymore. More troubling is the false dichotomy often raised between Church Time and Real Life Time. The advent of the Sat Vigil Mass was a huge pastoral advance that recognized that we live in a 24/7 world now. Why can’t we develop a parish calendar that reflects the changes? Goodness, even Cardinal Spellman at Vatican II came out in favour of the church and civil calendars being harmonized!

  8. Peter Kwasniewski Avatar
    Peter Kwasniewski

    Never thought I’d be able to say this, but… I agree 100% with you, Fr. Ruff!

    That the liturgy, i.e., our encounter with God in the sacramental mysteries, should sometimes break into our daily lives in such a way as to startle us and even incommode us, seems like an immediate and obvious corollary of the Incarnation. Jesus didn’t walk up to Matthew’s tax post and say: “Um, Levi, is now a good time to interrupt your work? I can always come back later.” No; he summoned him to follow, and Levi left everything and followed him.

  9. Alan Hommerding Avatar
    Alan Hommerding

    I didn’t find the post overly-romanticizing, but thought it put forth some clear realities. 1) In the US, we understand laws as things that must be observed and not broken – though there is usually some individual/social good that the law promotes (safety, health, order), it’s not our focus. So that’s the attitude that US Roman Catholics bring to church laws and regulations. 2) Since ecclesial law definitely exists to promote a value, the holydays are an opportunity to call the faithful to counter-culturalism in the allotment of time. God is still God and that’s true even on Wednesday, etc. When it truly IS your choice to make and an inconvenience to your life (as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be soon for observant Jews), it’s an opportunity to re-focus on the role your faith and its relationship to expenditure of time really play in your life. 3) From the Roman Catholic side of the equation, we suffer from monoeucharistitis – everything has to be Mass. The value of the community gathered as the Body (whether or not Eucharist is celebrated) really isn’t in our bones; another opportunity to be counter-cultural – gather the community for some sort of prayer (Assumption is probably NOT the time to introduce LOH): perhaps a Liturgy of the Word with rosary for the Assumption? An opportunity here to be counter-cultural against the “only Mass” culture of Roman Catholicism.

  10. Terri Miyamoto Avatar
    Terri Miyamoto

    But compare to Ash Wednesday — piles of people, lots of whom don’t often come to Sunday Mass, some of whom aren’t even Catholic, show up at some time on a work day for ashes, even without the obligation. There’s a reason to come; there’s something that’s attractive to them, that’s meaningful to them. That meaning has been drained from most of the (other) holy days, so they don’t attract.

    And, yes, Anthony, you forgot Christmas. I always say that the Saturday/Monday no-obligation rule holds except in December.

  11. Shannon O'Donnell Avatar
    Shannon O’Donnell

    The US stock market is closed on Good Friday, even if nothing else is.

    People come to Ash Wednesday services because they can be found at all hours of the day and sometimes in the context of prayer-not-Mass.

  12. Chuck Middendorf Avatar
    Chuck Middendorf

    Thank you for a lovely post. I’m only in my late 30’s but I remember Holy Days in the same way as well. But especially because my Catholic elementary school was closed on those days. What a treat! I got to stay home, as my older siblings in the public high school had to go to school. Nov. 1, Dec. 8, Ascension: I knew them all by heart!

    Nowadays, I guarantee that very same Catholic school has school those days. And I bet 99.9% of Catholic schools in the US are open on those days, with a full cohort of teachers and staff laboring. So even Catholic institutions don’t model any witness for the world that these days are special.

    Not to mention chanceries, parish offices, seminaries and universities, etc.!

    1. Bruce Janiga Avatar
      Bruce Janiga

      @Chuck Middendorf:
      One reason Catholic schools stay open on Holy Days of Obligation is so that the children can attend Mass. If the schools were closed many of them would not attend. This is something we see on Sundays. It is a debatable point as the primary responsibility rests with the parents, but some feel that this is a good way to foster their faith; you can also include some catechesis on the feast in the classroom that day. It doesn’t have to be a regular school day.
      Also, with both parents working outside the home in many cases another day off becomes a burden.

    2. Timothy Gray Avatar
      Timothy Gray

      @Chuck Middendorf:

      Just a little clarification, Chuck, from a parish priest:
      1) having school on a holy day gives us a “significant mass” of students, parents, together, with music, etc. so the celebration is truly meaningful. Kids dress up as saints on Nov 1, and understand at their level why this “devolved” into Halloween. Like you, I loved teasing the “publics” about having a day off. However, as an adult, I don’t know what it is about that that you find spiritually enriching. 2) The diocese DID close their offices on feast days; which for them was logical. In a parish, I found that totally useless. The feast days was when people (especially Mexican-Americans) CAME to church (and to the offices, and the religious goods store). I asked the staff to work on the holy days, and transfer their day off to a day they needed.
      3) And of course, in immigrant parishes, the holy days do not correspond to the national calendar. Should we sit home watching soap operas as a way to celebrate the day, or put in 10, 12, 15 hours doing what we feel in our hearts is TRUE ministry?

  13. joseph mangone Avatar
    joseph mangone

    First of all, we need to keep in mind that all our “holy days of obligations” are man-made, and not Scriptural based. The important feast is Sundays, the day of Resurrection.
    With that being said, people in the pews over time seem to have decided what days are “holy” and thus attend liturgy: the Triduum, Ash Wednesday, Christmas, Thanksgiving Day among others.
    The traditional holy days of obligation including Marian Feasts, all should be moved to a Sunday when the community will be there.

  14. Alan Hommerding Avatar
    Alan Hommerding

    Chuck Middendorf : my Catholic elementary school was closed on those days.

    As was mine – so, of course, we all went to the playground outside the public school to taunt our counterparts! We also had the pastor’s name day as a holiday; one pastor was nice enough to transfer his name day from July (Thomas) to February.

  15. Joseph Villecco Avatar

    There is much to agree with here.

    BUT…there is also a critical question to ask in response.

    What does the Church or Christianity offer in the post-modern secular world to merit sacred time occasionally trump that of secular time?

    Christianity is already in a tough spot. It has to make the case why it should demand anyone’s adherence in the midst of an open religious market place with number of options, including atheism and general spirituality or new age.

    Now we go a little further. What does the Church or the Church’s liturgy have to offer that merits adherence to sacred time over secular time? The Monday-Friday work week, if you will. In our contemporary context, what does it offer?

    This is a crucial question. A counter-cultural response does not suffice if it is mere opposition. The response must offer something in replacement of whatever it seeks to disestablish.

    So what does the Church or the liturgy have, what does it offer? Pious responses about “graces,” “redemption,” “Communion,” and the “Son of God” no longer suffice for a culture steeped in literacy and the concept of self-determination. Post-Vatican II proposals about “community,” “love,” and “encountering the other,” come across as the ramblings of religious fantasy…maybe pop-psychology or pop-sociology at best. So what is it? What gets brought to the table that makes exchanging the concerns, thoughts, and activities of the secular world in favor of those of the Church worth it?

    Again, it’s a question, one whose relevance shows no signs of declining.

    1. Scott Pluff Avatar
      Scott Pluff

      @Joseph Villecco:
      Excellent question, and well-stated. The church, especially at the level of the local parish, may seem to offer nothing to people of a secular orientation, whether un-churched or de-churched. This is not a failure of the Gospel, but of its presentation.

      God, scripture, the sacraments, and by extension the church can offer answers to life’s questions. Does my life have meaning and purpose? How can I find true joy? How can I achieve my greatest potential? How can I strengthen my relationships? Does God really want a personal relationship with me? How can I arrange my priorities including time and money to live according to God’s plan for my life? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow suffering? On and on. Church can offer a clear path to discipleship and the support of a community along the way.

      Unfortunately, in many parishes you’re more likely to hear a detailed explanation of why are are or are not observing some obscure feast day than you are to hear answers to the questions above. We are adept at answering questions no one is asking.

      1. Joseph Villecco Avatar

        @Scott Pluff:
        The points you mentioned are valid, however, it should be noted that these same questions are answered in a variety of secular venues. Psychology, self-help, self-improvement, philosophy, and (for the more spiritually inclined) general new age all provide some perspective on the same issues. As an aside, it doesn’t take much time in a general bookstore (or just about any other venue of popular culture) to recognize how well placed and apparently profitable the secular alternatives are.

        Praxis, I suppose, is the issue. Does the Church (however one wishes to define it) offer a clear praxis of life in place of or distinct from the secular world/mindset, such that it can credibly demand the observance of sacred time/liturgy when it interrupts secular time? Is there also a strong enough ecclesiastical social support network to encourage the growth of such observance and application of praxis?

        Has the Gospel failed? It depends who you ask, I guess. Certainly, it is preferable to think it is a matter of presentation and that we need a re-evaluation of what is emphasized and what is neglected. Perhaps the praxis of Christianity is more a case of going stagnate than going moribund.

  16. Joseph Villecco Avatar

    “When it comes to being countercultural, and putting God before all things, here’s a thought: How about we forget the Fortnight for Freedom, and instead just let the liturgy be the liturgy?”

    To what end? The sad fact is that Western Christianity finds itself in a position where the only thing it seems to offer is the ability to be used as political leverage. You can see it on the right and on the left.

    Let the liturgy be the liturgy? Fair enough – and a good idea! God knows the Roman Church would be in a better place if the ideological spectrum would simply step back and let the liturgy (new or old, it doesn’t matter) speak for itself.

    But then what? Is the liturgy itself going to offer a real counter cultural response sufficient enough to sway the allegiance (and practice) of men and women? Probably not – and contrary to the fantasies of Traditionalists, not even the “Tridentine” liturgy is capable of offering a sufficient counter-cultural response. It takes more than that, it takes concrete evidence that demonstrates the benefits, things that really impact someone’s life. The liturgy, the sacred, whatever you want to call it, what does it offer that is unique in the secular world? And can it demonstrate it?

    1. Peter Rehwaldt Avatar
      Peter Rehwaldt

      @Joseph Villecco:
      What gets brought to the table that makes exchanging the concerns, thoughts, and activities of the secular world in favor of those of the Church worth it?

      In the secular world, one’s value and worth is often measured by wealth, education, social status, weaponry, physical beauty, and other markers that put some at the top of a pyramid of power with everyone else arrayed beneath them, fighting to claw their way higher.

      In the Church, one’s value is a gift from God, where all are equal, all are accepted, and all are loved. We may not be perfect — indeed, we are often quite vile toward one another — and yet God loves us just the same. God loves those most prized by secular society, and God loves those most despised by secular society.

      To borrow from St. Paul, the liturgy proclaims that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and thus nothing that can truly separate us from one another.

      As for demonstrating that . . .

      Does the liturgy as it is practiced reflect that same unconditional divine love, unconditional divine welcome, and divine proclamation of unconditional worth? For all our imperfections, it clearly does — imperfectly, irregularly, and inelegantly, to be sure. But it does nonetheless.

      Mark Searle once remarked to a conference on children and the liturgy that his young daughter (five years old at the time?) stopped him as the two of them were approaching the doors of the chapel at Notre Dame and told him (paraphrasing from memory here), “When we go in there, you are my brother, not my father.”

      Out in the world, we make all kinds of distinctions that fall away in the context of the liturgy. Somewhere, that little girl came to understand what the liturgy offers that the world does not. My guess is that she picked it up from the community that welcomed her as God does — not based on her height or age or education or wealth or . . . or . . . or . . . but on the basis of the title they share: child of God.

      1. Joseph Villecco Avatar

        @Peter Rehwaldt:
        The picture you present between the values of the secular world vs., the Church is distorted – romance at best, dualism at worst.

        Past and present argue in favor of a confluence of the values you described as being part of the secular world and the values of the Church. The description of the Church’s values (as distinct from the secular world’s) could be easily charged with anachronism. So far as the historical record is concerned, secular society is the source for unambiguously claiming equality (ref., “all men are created equal). This is a product of the enlightenment. Although apologists frequently take the secular ideal and try reading it back into religious sources (Scripture, liturgy, Tradition), we have to be honest with ourselves (if only to have credibility) that equality (as it permeates our cultural atmosphere) is a new idea that, all things considered, can be read into Christianity but, objectively speaking, is not inherent to it. Plainly, here is an example where the values of the secular world have been assimilated into the Church.

        No amount of proof texting changes that, and, frankly, we gain more credibility by admitting it. Similarly with liturgy, it manifests values that, arguably, have been based upon a re-reading of the sources under the influence of secular values.

        The secular world has imparted much of its once historically unique values into the Church. Much of our contemporary reading of the sources and interpretation of the religion is a product of this. In some ways, the secular world lives those values better and takes them to their logical conclusions.

        So the question still stands; what does the Church offer that the secular world does not or cannot? We still need an answer, and the answer must have a concrete dimension to it.

      2. Peter Rehwaldt Avatar
        Peter Rehwaldt

        @Joseph Villecco:
        In seminary years ago, I had a church history prof who set up his course into weekly segments covering particular historical eras. On Tuesdays, he would explore how the church influenced society, and on Fridays he explore how society influenced the church. By the end of the term, it was clear to me that the influence clearly works in both directions.

        When I spoke of secular society’s values, I was not thinking of the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, or other documents and laws, but how our North American society actually operates.

        Praise for the wealthy and contempt for the poor.
        A love of guns that approaches idolatry.
        A creed of individualism that preaches “I’ve got mine, and to hell with anyone else.” No new taxes, and let’s cut the old ones so that none of ‘my’ money goes to help ‘those’ people.
        A deep resistance to provide for the health care needs of those on the margins.
        A view of bodies — especially women’s bodies — that is not only unrealistic but dangerous. “Are you the right shape and the right color, with the right overall appearance? We can fix that with cosmetics, extreme exercise/diets, and surgery . . .”
        A desire to live in the right neighborhood, drive the right car, and have the right friends, while keeping the less desirable folks out of sight and thus out of mind.
        Gated communities, admission restrictions, and dress codes, making sure that only the right people can get in.

        Secular society celebrates making distinctions, in order to praise those at the top and inspire those lower down to climb over others to get to the top themselves. The church, on the other hand, laments the making of such distinctions, and celebrates the vision of the kingdom of God where we have been made brothers and sisters of Christ and of each other.

      3. Joseph Villecco Avatar

        @Peter Rehwaldt:
        With all due respect, I think this is a very romantic notion of the Church, and how it actually operates, and a very skewed vision of secular society and how it actually operates.

        Fair enough. For my own part, when I think of the history of extreme Southern Italy, I thank God for secular society. It provided my bloodline something the Church simply couldn’t – a way out of poverty.

        Reality, history, life, it isn’t as easy as straight dualism – that’s why dualism, although fashionable, never really works. Whether it is the Church or the secular world, reality doesn’t have such neat dividing lines.

        The contemporary resistance to stepping back and applying some serious institutional reflection on the secular world and why the Church loses ground to it among individuals, and the tendency to go on the defensive and denounce the secular world, these trends will only help contribute (in the West at least) to the continued shuttering parishes.

        The important question remains unaddressed: what is it that the secular world provides post-modern Western humanity that Church fails to fulfill? One can of course take a defensive stance and denounce the secular world. Certainly that has become trendy as of late. One could also pause to consider that perhaps the secular world succeeds in providing something crucially important that the Christianity has simply missed…in spite of all its practical problems.

      4. Peter Rehwaldt Avatar
        Peter Rehwaldt

        @Joseph Villecco:
        The important question remains unaddressed: what is it that the secular world provides post-modern Western humanity that Church fails to fulfill?

        I’m struck by how this question differs from the one you posed earlier:

        So the question still stands; what does the Church offer that the secular world does not or cannot?

        These are two very different questions.

        In reply to the question at #39, two things come to mind.

        1. Secular society possesses a greater willingness to re-examine its beliefs in light of new data, new circumstances, and new insights. The length of time it took the Roman Catholic Church to admit that maybe Galileo was right does not serve the church well. Francis, in this regard, serves the Church well — but the Church has a lot of ground to make up.

        2. As imperfect as secular systems of justice can be, the child abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church has made the Church’s pronouncements on a whole host of subjects much less credible. Every time a bishop tried to sweep a priest’s abuse of a child under a rug, for fear that it would hurt the reputation of the church, the bishops accomplished that which they wanted to avoid. When a bishop today says “Every child is sacred and deserves protection,” secular society says “Funny, that’s not what Cardinal Bernard Law, Cardinal Anthony Bevilaqua, Bishop Robert Finn, and other bishops seemed to think, when they protected priests at the expense of children.” When the diocese of Lincoln NE can get away with refusing to comply with the Dallas Charter, it says that there is no true accountability in the Church. When a whistleblower like Fr Thomas Doyle can be sidelined and marginalized for decades, secular society takes notice.

        It was the secular world that threw light on the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors, and not the leadership of the Church. In light of this, the word I hear again and again from my secular friends to describe the Church is “hypocrisy.”

      5. Joseph Villecco Avatar

        @Peter Rehwaldt:
        The two questions are admittedly different, however, they provide two different angles from which to look at the same problem – the impact of secularization on religion, in our case, the Church.

        What you described is a good way of approaching the question posed in #39. After the Church has reflected on this question, we can look further, with honest introspection, into the original question: What does the Church offer that secular does not?

        Secularism has been with us for a long time. Culturally, we can see its embryonic stages in the Renaissance. It grows from there until we’ve reached the position we are in now.

        I would argue that both the previous pontiff and the current one have increased the critique of secularism from different angles, and thereby cultivated an anti-secularism sentiment in many sectors of the Church. The reaction is understandable – secularism is eroding institutional religion….but not all religion. The active interest in religion or a more or less unrestricted spirituality is there and strict atheism remains a minority opinion (the insurgent category seems to “unaffiliated” but not “atheist).

        People leaving more institutional forms of Christianity tend to either switch Christian denominations (often times favoring independent evangelical or Pentecostal movements), other religions (Islam and Buddhism come to mind) or (less frequently but still there) new age or occultism. Secularism certainly makes disestablishment of institutional churches possible, in so far as it does not value cultural adherence to an established religion. There is also a sort of general secularist approach to established religion – formal membership, but observance of said religion is limited to the degree that the religion can be assimilated into a secular worldview and practice. This, I think, is perhaps the dominant category.

        Ultimately though, the two questions are useful – we need to understand our context.

  17. Lee Bacchi Avatar
    Lee Bacchi

    I find that part of the problem is that parishes do not place much importance on holy days. There may be one more Mass on the holyday itself, yet nothing in the late afternoon-evening on the Vigil. You have to give people the opportunity to attend when they can during the work week.

    I also wish Ascension had remained on a Thursday, because of the novena of prayer starting on the day after and leading to Pentecost. However, I must admit that most Ascension Sunday preaching (mine included) needs to be much more rousing.

    And while I am a big fan of the 12 days of Christmas, most Catholics would miss the Epiphany liturgy on Jan. 6, unless it happened to fall on Sunday. At least now we celebrate it on a Sunday, when many, many more people are in attendance. Keep January 6 in families and homes and schools as best you can.

  18. Andrew rex Avatar
    Andrew rex

    Comment 18…

    I would agree that most people in the anglo-world would be happy to give up the ephiany holiday of obligation because it does not translate into our culture, but…

    most people in Spanish speaking countries would not be so complacent because ephiany is still an important day in their culture. it is equivalent to Christmas day when presents are exchanged. Christmas day in Spanish speaking countries is a bit of a non-event, the family meal usually takes place on Christmas eve evening.

    I guess what I’m saying is that local solutions are to be preferred.

  19. Tom Piatak Avatar
    Tom Piatak

    An excellent post.

  20. Pastor Dave Poedel Avatar

    The Lutheran (LCMS) 3 Year Lectionary has “Mary, Mother of Our Lord” on August 15 on our calendar. I bet I am in the distinct minority in that I bumped the 12th Sunday after Pentecost in favor of Our Lady, and the Feast was well received by our parishioners….sermon is posted on the parish website.

    Just saying….

  21. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    We had a lovely observance of the Assumption on Saturday evening. There were a few more people present than usual.
    I have a radical proposal regarding Holy Days: inaugurate a Feast of Our Lady of Liberty on July 4th on which we celebrate the meaning of true freedom. On Labor Day we should celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. On Thanksgiving Eve and Day we celebrate the Feast of the Table of Plenty. Perhaps you have a suggestion for holy days that make a connection with the real world calendar.

    1. Ren Aguila Avatar
      Ren Aguila

      @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      Where we come from, May Day (observed as Labor Day) is already the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. It’s the feast of title of a Jesuit parish in a formerly largely industrial area in a suburb of Manila.

      1. Jim Pauwels Avatar
        Jim Pauwels

        @Ren Aguila:

        Re: Labor Day being in September in the US: from the Wikipedia page:

        “After the Haymarket Massacre, which occurred in Chicago on May 4, 1886, U.S. President Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the affair. Thus, in 1887, it was established as an official holiday in September to support the Labor Day that the Knights favored.”


        The “Knights” mentioned in this passage were the Knights of Labor, which I believe was sort of a precursor to the American labor union movement.

      2. Ren Aguila Avatar
        Ren Aguila

        @Jim Pauwels:
        Interesting. So that explains the September timing in the US. Thanks for this.

  22. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    My parents said: “In the old days, we used to celebrate Epiphany on January 6. Go to Mass, have some special food. Now the church doesn’t celebrate it any more. It just does the readings on the following Sunday, but on January 6, there is nothing special any more. It’s just an ordinary day. It’s too bad. We used to like Epiphany!”

    In other words, moving a feast day to Sunday is almost the same as getting rid of it.

  23. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
    Jordan Zarembo

    I grew up on heavily Catholic Long Island. Not unusually, my village had two Catholic churches. Unlike Fr. Ruff’s beautifully sung holy day Masses of his childhood, mine were frequent, rushed, and matter-of-fact. Even my Catholic boys’ school did not convene for Mass on Assumption day or another holy day, perhaps not only because of logistics but also perhaps also from the tacit understanding that the observant students would attend holy day Mass before or after school. This tacit understanding was generous.

    Many Catholics, even those who live in micro-societies where Catholicism is prevalent or even predominate, have little catechesis about the twin dogmas of dormition and assumption. For the reason of Mary’s special role in salvation, and also for our salvation, the Assumption day is inextricably linked with the Mass. It is unfortunate that relatively few priests link together Mary’s death and ours with the theology of the Holy Sacrifice, in even a brief homily.

    In my childhood, holy day Masses had to be no more than thirty minutes sharp. Sadly, there was little time for the poor priest to breathe the words in and out.

  24. Aaron Sanders Avatar
    Aaron Sanders

    Well said, Father Anthony, though I would challenge your defeatism in regard to restoring our holy days to their proper dates of obligation. It would indeed be hard to do so, there I agree, but if it is sufficiently worth doing the difficulty ought not to deter us. Granted, if past failures have degraded one’s moral authority it may indeed require serpentine cunning and a gradualistic approach (I suggest starting with the abolition of Ascension Thursday Sunday), but to simply punt due to that lessened respect among one’s flock (or the world) would be somewhat akin to claiming “I’ve been doing such a bad job for so long that it would be positively harmful for me to do something good now;” it’s a sort of fatalism that declares that we’ve been so successful at promoting accommodationism that we no longer have any choice but to accommodate, even when we think that accommodation is not pastorally beneficial. ARE holy days of obligation sufficiently important to warrant imposition against resistance? Further arguments would have to be made and we could disagree in good conscience; but if we do conclude that their abolition has been a failure we ought to own up to it and change course, not let past error deny us future benefit.

    1. Jim Pauwels Avatar
      Jim Pauwels

      @Aaron Sanders:

      “I would challenge your defeatism in regard to restoring our holy days to their proper dates of obligation. It would indeed be hard to do so, there I agree, but if it is sufficiently worth doing the difficulty ought not to deter us. Granted, if past failures have degraded one’s moral authority it may indeed require serpentine cunning and a gradualistic approach (I suggest starting with the abolition of Ascension Thursday Sunday)”

      I guess my view is that, before we can get to the question of ‘holy days of obligation’, we need a fresh approach and new energy for things deeper and more basic than that relatively legal question.

      Before we start reimposing obligations and making things harder, I believe we need to spend some time (as in, several generations) on the basics: proclaiming the Good News, initiating people into Christian discipleship, and catechizing the disciples. If we can leaven the culture, perhaps giving people time off work and school won’t have to be counter-cultural anymore. Before we make the Ascension a Thursday obligation, let’s ensure that people know what the Ascension is – and even more so, believe that it happened and has important implications for us and all of humanity. Maybe they’ll want to gather even without the obligation. If it can be done for Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, why not for other holy days?

  25. Todd Orbitz Avatar
    Todd Orbitz

    The loss of Holy Days is just another cultural differentiator for Catholics that has been lost to the ash-heap of history.

    Living in the secular society where the Church largely aligns to it, it amazes me that Sunday Mass is even considered an obligation at this point.

    I am under no illusion that the 1940’s or 50’s can be recaptured, as some have incorrectly suggested about me. I am, however, convinced that when we consistently set aside the liturgical praxis developed over the centuries, we should not be surprised to see the general collapse of Mass attendance.

    If the liturgy is truly the source and summit the calendar goes with that. But, I have a hard time believing that many truly consider what it means for the liturgy to be the source and summit.

    Christ let Judas leave, and in some sense, aren’t we all Judas?

    I would restore all ten Holy Days to the calender and let the people choose what they wish to do.

    For those worried about the “obligation” imposed and how sin might attach to this, the people skipping these Masses are unlikely concerned with that attachment anyway, probably due to poor catechesis, or simply a soulless parish. My guess is their culpability will be limited in any case.

    “Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.”

  26. Jack Wayne Avatar
    Jack Wayne

    I hope this doesn’t stray off topic, but I wanted to praise Fr Ruff for this article, particularly his reference to what the reformed rite meant to him growing up and how it formed him. While I wouldn’t describe the OF as simple, quiet, or steady, it was refreshing to see someone praise it for actually having meaning and relevance in and of itself (as opposed to just putting down the EF). I often get the impression from its strong defenders that the OF is only good and preferable for purely cold legalistic reasons (Vatican II demanded a reform, thus we should love whatever reform came about).

    This post more than any other I have read gave me a better understanding of why Fr Ruff actually likes the reformed rite.

  27. Halbert Weidner Avatar
    Halbert Weidner

    In the 1960s, I went to my parish church thinking it was Ascension Day. There was hardly anyone there. I had a daily Missal and the propers were the same length as those for Ascension Day. The vestments were white but of course not only was the Mass in Latin it was silent. It turned out that I got the day wrong. I was a week ahead of time. So the new rite has had a lot of ground to recover from those days. I think Ash Wednesday where people receive ashes and leave before Holy Communion tells us something about this issue.

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