WelCom November 2017: Some readers may recall the unexpected and exciting days when a Church dignitary, perhaps a bishop or head of a Religious Order, came to visit your school. There was that anticipation marked by sweaty palms and racing pulse as you awaited the proclamation of a half holiday.
A shared history
We have left behind those days when the Church lived within its own culture. One of the victims of that shift has been the eclipse of Holy Days of obligation. As far back as the 13th century the Old English word haligdaey witnessed to the link between holy days and holidays. The two stems that made up the word tied worship and Sabbath rest together.
The recent code of Canon Law strives to maintain the holiness of Sunday as a time when Catholics should step back from the rush of their working lives to worship and even recreate together as a parish and individual families (Cn 1246).
“The provisions of canon 1246, #2 of the Code of Canon Law, states: ‘… the conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See’.”
While most of the emphasis is given to Sunday worship, there is also a list of ten major feasts, which should equally be celebrated. They are the Solemnity of the Mother of God (January 1), the Epiphany, the Ascension, Corpus Christi, the Assumption, St Joseph, Ss Peter and Paul, All Saints’ Day, the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and Christmas Day. However, the text then goes on to acknowledge the right of national groupings of bishops to alter these according to local needs (Cn 1246 no 2).
The Catholic Catechism has a parallel section in which it spells out the crucial role of common worship in parishes (CCC 2174-95).
Practice throughout the world-wide Church
Across the Catholic world there is wide variation as to the number of holy days to be observed. The USA tops the list with eight whereas Hong Kong has just one. Here in New Zealand we have two such days on which Catholics should strive to attend Mass: on Christmas Day; and on the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption (August 15), which was instituted by Bishop Pompallier as our national feast soon after his arrival.
Given that many Catholics will be working on days such as the Assumption, and the small number of Masses able to be provided in some areas, this obligation may not be achievable for many. Pope Francis in the last few years has been stressing how it is local communities that should be working together to protect and conserve the faith and values implicit in such observances.
An opening for local creativity
What a great demonstration of faith if a parish, or group of parishes, combined to provide something in the way of a prayer service, rosary or social gathering on or near the date of such feasts. How great if families could organise a get together to worship and celebrate together at a special meal garnered with special family prayers.
Such devotion could also grace the feasts of saints that are important for parishes named in honour of a particular saint or for immigrant groups and families – perhaps a chance for kiwis and migrants to get together to celebrate religious and national unity.
Because holy days of obligation are fewer and more difficult to observe, this should not hinder Catholics in finding home-grown ways of celebrating traditions and values that have stood for centuries.
Fr Neil Vaney sm
Neil Vaney sm is Director of the Catholic Enquiry Centre.
The Lord’s Day
The First and the Eighth (2174)
Jesus rose ‘on the first day of the week’ (Mk 16:2). This ‘first day’ recalls the first creation. As an ‘eighth day’, it symbolises the new creation begun by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians, Sunday has become the first of all days, the Lord’s Day. ‘We gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day when God made the world; on this same day Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead’ (St. Justin). – From the Catechism of the Catholic Church