Sunday, 17 May 2015

An aside on transferred days of obligation

Since the Bishops Conference of England and Wales decided to move the celebration of the Solemnities of the Ascension of the Lord and the Body and Blood of the Lord from their previously-customary Thursdays to the following Sundays, I have not had a particularly strong feeling one way or the other about the change.

I do have some sympathy for the reasoning of their Lordships at the time that, with a low adherence of the faithful to the practice of the obligations on a Thursday, the transfer to the Sunday would make it easier for the faithful to celebrate these Solemnities. There appears to me to be some analogy between this motivation and one expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum:
One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden.  This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. 
But, if I remember correctly, the Bishops Conference also intended that, in making the change, the faithful would celebrate the two Solemnities with a much greater appreciation of the mysteries that they celebrate. That requires that the Solemnities are celebrated at parish level in a way that makes rather more of them than the adjacent Sundays of Eastertide or of Ordinary Time.

In the parish where I most often go to Mass, though, today's celebration of the Ascension has been overwhelmed by the fact that young people in the parish are receiving Holy Communion for the first time at the principle Mass - and the same will happen again next Sunday on the Solemnity of Pentecost. I suspect that this is not unusual around the parishes of England and Wales during the "First Communion season". It does mean that the intention that a celebration of the Ascension on a Sunday would lead to a greater appreciation of the mystery being celebrated has somewhat gone by the board. The association of First Communions with the Solemnity of Corpus Christi works, as does the celebration of Confirmation on the Sunday of Pentecost, though an attentive linking of them to the mystery marked by the Church's liturgy of that day is required if the Bishops' intentions with regard to the faithful as a whole are to be met. The Sundays of the Ascension and the Trinity, though, are not the right days to use. There appears to me to be a significant discordance between Episcopal intention and parochial practice.

As the conundrums represented by the move of the Solemnities to their nearby Sundays comes round each year, I have reflected, too, on the way in which those with attachment to the Extraordinary Form have continued to celebrate the two Solemnities on Thursdays, almost as a way of getting round the Bishops' decision in this matter. Until such time as the calendars according to which celebrations in the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms are determined are brought together, it would be a gesture in favour of ecclesial communion if celebrations in the Extraordinary Form complied with the calendar being observed in the Ordinary Form in so far as these two Solemnities are concerned.


Rita said...

I know that you are more than a little familiar with the crazy town where I go to Mass. I have found myself in the perplexing situation of having attended Mass both on Thursday and Sunday, but not having actually celebrated the Ascension at all.

Thursday was my birthday and I wished to go to Mass after work. I am not well enough for High Mass and the only Low Mass on offer was a Conventual NO for St Mathias. It was beatuiful. I had said the Office for the Ascension that day and can actually see no problems with transferring the feasts to Sundays but keeping the Office in tune with the rest of the Church.

Somewhat innocently I assumed that my regular EF Mass today (Sunday) would be for the Ascension. It wasn't. No publicity, no warning, simply following the old calendar in disobedience to the CCBEW... I'm rather uncomfortable about it all. I worry about the level of disobedience amongst the more trad minded clergy.

I was not the only person caught out by this. One expects the Sunday feasts to be as the local Bishop has decreed.

Patricius said...

"There appears to me to be a significant discordance between Episcopal intention and parochial practice."

I am not sure that the bishops themselves were altogether clear on what they were doing. In appearing to subsume the particular solemnity in the following Sunday have they not given the impression that it is no longer considered as important as once it was? These solemnities of the Lord which once merited a special weekday mass attendance appear to me compromised in comparison with those of Our Lady's Assumption and Saints Peter and Paul. To be fair to our bishops, however, they were by no means among the first to adopt this option.

Joe said...

Rita: Back in the days before our Bishops had moved them, I recall being on holiday on an occasion when a "Thursday" feast day was celebrated in our host country on the Sunday. We returned home on the Saturday in between ... and so missed the celebration altogether.

Patricius: I suspect you may be right in suggesting that most people have an impression of the feasts being downgraded and subsumed into the Sunday ... but a rational pastoral intention is the opposite: to upgrade and definitely not to subsume. It doesn't really seem to have worked ..