Solemnities and the many other liturgical feasts that fill our calendar are meant to be true celebrations. Our current Missal translation even uses the word “festival” in some of the prayers.
However, sometimes the added liturgical elements can provide a challenge to celebration. I remember as a seminarian, that when a solemnity added a third Scripture reading, a Gloria and a Creed to the Eucharist, meant that the little time that we had in the mornings between chapel and departure for class all but disappeared. Unfortunately, the most memorable element of many solemnities was that we would not have time for breakfast and that there would only be two or three minutes between the end of the Eucharist and our having to be in the van to go to class.
When you have time to spare, then the solemnity can be celebrated beautifully. Some institutions are fortunate enough to be able to modify their schedules and cancel class or work to allow for the fulness of worship options on these day. But when you do not control the rest of your schedule it can be a challenge. It would be hard to tell parishioners that the 7 AM Mass will be at 6:30 or 6:45 AM tomorrow because we are observing a particular solemnity.
I remembered these experiences from my seminary training last Saturday. We celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. This is truly a beautiful liturgical feast. But I had a group on campus for weekend classes. The Eucharist is usually offered for them 45 minutes before class begins. Some students do come, but it is a challenge to make it to the campus that early. They were not late for class, but there was a certain tension between the competing liturgical and time concerns.
This leads to some reflections. Ought we schedule the liturgy earlier when we have solemnity? I am not a morning person, and while I do value the additional elements in the liturgical celebration, I also find it hard to equate getting up earlier, even by 15 minutes, with celebration. Do we skip parts of the Eucharistic liturgy? This is against liturgical norms and rubrics, but I suspect that often the celebrant “forgets” the Gloria and especially the Creed. Or do we fast track the Mass, so that the Gloria and Creed are quickly recited in a scrupulous way, so that each and every word that is prescribed in the Missal is prayed albeit at breakneck speed?
Obviously, there must be some common sense and it is not always possible to sing the Misa Criolla at a regularly scheduled daily Eucharist, particularly in the early morning. But it is also true that we ought to make solemnities more festive. Extra liturgies could be scheduled later in the day to allow for proper celebration of these days, but the experience of the so-called Holy Days of Obligation, shows that these often have poor attendance.
But how ought we do justice to our rich liturgical heritage that expects longer celebrations on special days and the ancient principle that Sacramenta sunt propter homines (sacraments are for people)?
Cover art: Tower clock of Ss Peter and Paul’s Church, Old Brampton, Derbyshire, from Wikimedia Commons.