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Universae ecclesiae, Friday Penance, Feast Days

It’s a big news day for Catholic geeks with the publication of the Instruction Universae ecclesiae and in Britain the results of the Bishops’ plenary meeting

By on Friday, 13 May 2011

Pope Benedict with the Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland (Photo: Press Association)

Pope Benedict with the Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland (Photo: Press Association)

It’s been a big day for Catholic news, especially the kind favoured by Catholic nerds and anoraks like me, with the release of the long expected Instruction for the Motu Proprio Summorum pontificum. (The Church’s penchant for snappy titles means it’s called the Instruction Universae ecclesiae). Reactions from both sides of the liturgical spectrum can be found here and here .

Archbishop Vincent Nichols addressed Universae ecclesiae in the press conference covering the biannual Bishops’ Conference meeting, drawing attention to paragraphs 13, 15 and 19 of the document: which respectively assert the bishop’s authority, define that enigmatic “stable group” and spell out that the Mass in the Extraordinary Form cannot be requested by people who are against validity or legitimacy of the ordinary form or who suggest the Pope is not the Church’s supreme pastor.

When asked whether seminaries in England and Wales would teach the Extraordinary form as is recommended by the Vatican document, Archbishop Nichols answered that this depended on the phrase “where pastoral need suggests it” and said the requirement was “provisional” not “absolute”. He added that the document was the product of a “process of consultation conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in which every bishop around the world was asked, how this was going, and was asked to assess to the needs”. The diocese of Westminster, he continued, asked if any priests were willing to learn—and there were “plenty”—and therefore the needs were met.

He said: “Personally I don’t think it needs to be added to an already crowded seminary programme because it’s a skill that can be learned later in a priest’s life.”

Meanwhile there have been some interesting snippets of news for the local Church. As promised the Bishops have followed up their emphasis on Lent as the season of penitence by renewing emphasis on Friday penance. The practice, which was never abrogated—the faithful continue to have an obligation to do some sort of penance on Fridays—has fallen out of use since it was changed from abstinence from meat to any sort of penance. So the bishops hope to remind the faithful about their obligation by restoring the tradition of Friday fish days, to begin on September 16 in commemoration of the Holy Father’s visit last year. This certainly seemed to delight the mainstream hacks at the press conference.

Catholics in this country, who have bemoaned the feasts and Holy Days which have been transferred to the Sunday, will be pleased to learn that this was a topic of discussion during the bishops’ plenary meeting. According to Archbishop Nichols, the bishops discussed the merits of celebrating on the Sunday—allowing more people to take part in the celebration—or on the actual feast which allowed for the rhythm of the life of the Church. No body was pleased when the feasts were moved. Now it seems that bishops are going back to their dioceses to “reflect” on the merits of returning the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany and Ascension back to their proper days in the liturgical calendar. There is hope.

Another interesting aspect of the meeting was the General Secretary Fr Marcus Stock’s plan for the Bishops’ Conference. Looking at the Church documents which define the purpose of a bishops’ conference and the Holy Father’s talks during his visit to Britain, Fr Stock has listed the principle purposes and core objectives of such a structure. The bishops have agreed on the three priorities he has set “Proclaiming the universal call to holiness in Christ by promoting a culture of vocation in the Church”, “Proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom by supporting integrity in public life, cohesion and mutual respect in society and serving the marginalised an vulnerable people and lastly “Proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth by fostering and encouraging a culture of dialogue and solidarity”. Fr Stock has been tasked with now creating a practical framework, one which looks at the actual existing structures at Eccleston Square and examines whether they are fit for purpose. He will then propose budgets, allocate funding, set concrete targets and so on for the next three to five years at the November plenary session.

While the objectives are quite nebuolous at the moment it will be interesting to see how this develops. It appears to be the first time the bishops’ conference has gone about planning its objectives in such a structured and organised way. This is something to watch out for and could be very good.

It was Mgr Keith Newton’s first meeting of the Bishops’ Conference as the leader of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and he had to give the first report of the plenary session. He’s very British and funny about the situation. They still haven’t got a principal Church and are still looking to house all the clergy but he remains optimistic.

  • Et Expecto

    If it is true that the Archdiocese of Westminster has plenty of priests willing to learn to celebrate Mass in the usus antiquior, one is tempted to ask why there are so few traditional Masses in country’s largest diocese.  True, there are regular Sunday Masses in central London (The Oratory and Spanish Place), but precious little elsewhere.  Does the archbishop have any thought for the residents of North and West London?

  • Et Expecto

    If there are plenty of priests in the Westminster Archdiocese who are willing to learn to say Mass in the older form, why are they not being taught?

  • Frank-Murray

     SNAP – The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
    The online national support group for women and men abused by religious authority figures. Includes recent news, investigative reports, and self-help and information .www.snapnetwork.org/ - 

  • Frank-Murray
  • Frank-Murray

    This is Friday the 13th ………………………………………………………………………………………………..so why not?
    29 clergy suspended in Pa. abuse probe
    PHILADELPHIA (US) The Archdiocese of Philadelphia says it has placed two more clerics on administrative leave, making a total of 29 suspended for behavior involving children.

  • Parasum

    I wonder whether the Pope has told the bishops off for teaching that the Bible contains errors ?

    As for ““Proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth by fostering and encouraging a culture of dialogue and solidarity”.” – the usual ManFromTheMinistryspeak will sink the Church. Thank goodness St. Paul did waste time on “initiatives”, “workshops”, or burble endlessly about “acculturation”, “solidarity”, & other tripe.

    This “Elephantiasis of the Word” (as Fr Deryck Hanshell [R.I.P.] called it), is a waste of trees.

  • Parasum

    did waste = did not waste

  • Mark Higgins

    I hope that all the Catholic schools in England lead the way and no loner serve meat on Fridays, the same goes for all other Church run institutions. Pray God this important and symbolic gesture is implemented with obedience to our Bishops.

  • Simon Platt

    Of course the same thing applies all over the county.  I hope that Universae Ecclesiae will make it clear to our bishops that the extraordinary form should not merely be tolerated but promoted.

  • Uhogb

     First of ALL Catholic Church in England MUST come back to more reverent masses.Stop communion in hand and don’t forget that use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion is only in lack of priests or any emergency.This is liturgical abuse that even Holy See was always against it.Do You know that to receive Holy Communion one must be in the state of grace ? How many people go to confess nowadays ? That is the problem today not Mass and which form we use.I am from Poland and I was brought up in eighties and it was Novus Ordo mass and it was so reverent . I remember priest started mass sprinkling everyone with Holy water, incensing altar, always kneeling when was Sanctus, Agnus Dei.How many people believe now in real presence in Eucharist ? reverent . I remember priest started mass sprinkling everyone with Holy water, incensing altar, always kneeling when was Sanctus, Agnus Dei.How many people believe now in real presence in Eucharist ? 

  • Ratbag

    About flaming time!

    No meat on Fridays. I’d include Wednesdays, too! Not only would our physical bodies benefit, this spiritual exercise would be good for our souls. It would teach us temperance in our food and drink. It would enable us to think more about those who are physically and spiritually starving and less about ‘me-me-me’.

    It gives an opportunity for children to enjoy, say, fish fingers, fish and chips from the chippy or oven or a veggie alternative.

    The reasons for obesity is, more often than not, lack of discipline – unless a serious medical reason can be found, which a doctor would be happy to investigate.

    Although I am from the kum-ba-yah generation, I was never comfortable with meat on Fridays. I stopped eating meat on Friday ages ago and I extended it to Wednesdays. I don’t pretend it is not a struggle because it is. People don’t notice I do it and that’s the way I like it to be.

    The question, however, is how does the fish lover find a fish-only Friday a penance? Go veggie. Simples!

  • Ratbag

    The very question! 

  • Ratbag

    I often wonder why the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8th December) is not a holy day of obligation in England and Wales but it is in Ireland and other parts of Europe and the world.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder why their Lordships decided to go back to their dioceses and reflect on the transfer of the Epiphany and the Ascension back to their proper days, but not Corpus Christi.  There is a reason why the proper day for the latter is a Thursday:  it is the day of the institution of the Eucharist.

    Still, we must be grateful for small mercies. 

  • Nat_ons

    I wonder how many offer the Mass in Latin (Greek and Hebrew) under the Ordinary Form, or, indeed, bother to ensure that their congregations are able to participate in Latin (Greek and Hebrew) in the respective parts (as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council required)? I know of none in here in N. Ireland. Indeed, I nearly fell off my perch, when – year or two ago - a priest at a local church started entoning Kyrie and the dared further with Credo III .. what surprised most was not that us grey hairs sang up but that real, live, young people did so, with a great deal more conviction and familiarity than us .. but then it was an English/ American/ German group (over for a trip)! So a wee drop of loyalty to the actual Roman Rite whether in Irish or English let alone Latin (or the Extra-ordinary Rite) would be welcome to me; but even so much as having a crucifix centrally placed on the altar as symbolic focus to all our offerings with the priest (not stuck off in a corner) seems far beyond one’s meagerest hope .. at the moment.

  • Michael H

    I am generally in favour of the reintroduction of Friday Abstinence. It will make minimal difference to me as I keep it anyway. However I would like to know if special allowances will be made for those in hospitals or care homes where no fish or vegetarian alternatives are offered to their patients, also children attending non-Catholic schools, prisoners and others who would find it difficult or impossible to observe. Also will occasional general exceptions be made for Holy Days of Obligation – currently SS Peter and Paul; the Assuption; All Saints and Christmas. I do believe that Holy Days were exempted before: and abstinence on  Boxing Day and New Years Day falling on Friday was dispensed as a special concession.