Thursday, August 11, 2011

Holy Day Restoration 2011, please God: Part 1

It is difficult to know what the majority of English and Welsh Catholics really felt when in 2006 their bishops reduced the list of weekdays on which they were obligated to attend Mass. This was done by moving the celebration of three of the most important Feasts of Our Lord from their proper days to the nearest Sunday, namely Epiphany, Ascension and Corpus Christi.

The poll had a very small sample of 700 of their readers. Even so, the results showed that nearly 60% of English and Welsh Catholics disapproved of the episcopal decision. Well over 60% of respondents in Ireland and Scotland, where the days had been 'lost' several years previously, also registered disapproval. That is an interesting feature of the results because it could show that the Irish and Scots, had had time to assess the change and to register their awareness that it had had no effect on the relevant Sunday Mass attendance and/or that it had further weakened a sense of Catholic identity. Only when the responses from other parts of the world are taken into account do the figures move in the direction of approval. A straw poll conducted in the same week at the meeting of the National Conference of Priests was predictably in favour of the change. I've no doubt that readers are familiar with this body and what has happened to it since, but you can see relevant backgroud  here and here .

For full Tablet report and the results of poll see here

UK ONLINE PETITION (Mid-Aprilto Mid-May 2009)
The petition was mounted by Mrs Julia Ashenden and asks the recently installed Archbishop Nichols of Westminster to reinstate the lost Holy days of Obligation. It raised over 500 signatures and Mrs Ashenden has recently told me that she delivered the results with a letter to Archbishop's house 'somewhere around the end of May'. On June 29 she sent a copy of the Archbishop's reply to all signatories of the petition. Here is the text of his letter dated June 17th 2009, ref. B51516
"Dear Mrs Ashenden,

Thank you for your kind and gracious letter of 12 June.

Thank you for your kind wishes.

Thank you for sending me the results of your on line petition concerning the possible reinstatement of the three holy days of the Epiphany, the Ascension and Corpus Christi on their correct dates. The changes made to these three feasts were made after considerable reflection and some consultation, not least with the Holy See. the changes bring the practice in England and Wales nucg nire in line with most European countries. But that, I agree, is not a major argument.

One of the questions we explored was whether it was possible to keep the feasts on their customary days while releasing people from the obligation to attend Mass, as increasingly this is very difficultfor large numbers of people, given both the pressures of economic life and pressures on the clergy. However we were told that it was not possible to separate the feast from the obligation in a formal way.

Schools are encouraged to celebrate the mystery of faith of each of the feasts in the course of the week running up to its celebration on the Sunday and thereby they prepare the children for the Sunday celebration, indeed encouraging them to go with their families to church.

Thank you for writing to me. No doubt we Bishops will continue to reflact on these matters.

With every good wish,
Yours sincerely,

Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster

Without wishing to be disrespectful, or critical of the Bishops themselsves, the letter seems to demonstrate  a negative, weak and therefore unconvincing approach to the whole matter. No really sound or forceful argument is presented in defence of the change. (More of that in the next post.)

Over a year passed and then thanks be to God we had the visit of Pope Benedict to the UK and there is now some reason to hope that he may have galvanised the bishops into considering more robust action.
In May this year the BCEW had the first of its two annual meetings. Anna Arco reported for the Catholic Herald here

The bishops are now back in their dioceses reflecting on what they should do, and how, whatever that may be, it should be in response to the pastoral need of their flocks. Their next meeting is in November.

Julia and I have agreed that there should be strong representation to their Lordships from those in favour of reinstatement, but we tend to think that another online petition may not be the answer. Rather, between now and the end of October each bishop should receive a steady stream of letters asking for reinstatement of all three Holy Days. Yes, it takes more of an effort to write a letter than it does to support an online petition, but if this matter is important to you, you will write that letter, and gladly.

In my next post (on Saturday DV) I hope to concentrate on the very positive arguments for the reinstatement of our Holy Days, particularly of Corpus Christi. I close now with a quote from my own entry for the Feast from 'Crown of the Year' (copyright Jane Mossendew 2005)

"In 1246 the bishop of Liege instituted the celebration of Corpus Christi for his diocese at the urgent request of St. Juliana , prioress of a convent on Mount Cornillon near the city. Pope Urban IV, a former archdeacon of Liege, later established it for the universal Church, probably in part because of his knowledge of Juliana, but also because of a current heresy that denied transubstantiation. Added to this the laity had been showing signs of indifference to the Blessed Sacrament and It was being neglected. "

Mmmmmm. Sounds horribly familiar..................................

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