Sat 1st Nov 2014 | Last updated: Fri 31st Oct 2014 at 16:19pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

It is a great pity that holy days are fading from the popular mind

For the great majority of people tomorrow will be just another Friday and not the great solemnity of All Saints

By on Thursday, 31 October 2013

Mass attendance on Holy Days of Obligation seems to have declined (PA)

Mass attendance on Holy Days of Obligation seems to have declined (PA)

Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is getting harder and harder to remind people of the significance of holy days of obligation, and of the meaning of such days, in other words that people should go to Mass. I am sure the figures, if they exist anywhere, will tell their own story, but what I observe is that congregations are notably smaller on holy days, and that on such days their smallness may well be disguised by having few Masses than on a normal Sunday too.

One holy day retains its popularity, and that is Christmas. Oddly, Good Friday, which is not a holy day of obligation, is also popular. Both these days are of course public holidays, which makes it easier for people to go to church. All Saints this year falls tomorrow, a Friday, and a working day; given that those lucky enough to have a job these days work harder and longer than ever, it makes going to Mass hard.

It is a great pity that holy days are fading from the popular mind. I dare say that for the great majority of people tomorrow will be just another Friday and not the great solemnity of All Saints. This loss of popular understanding marks a creeping secularisation of time, time that has been made sacred by the Incarnation of Our Blessed Lord. He is the one who made holy the passage of months, years and days, by taking up the flesh. He is the one who made certain days particularly holy, for it is through Him and His grace that people can become holy, and that saints are made. But how many of the Saints do we remember in this country?

Our local national saints are remembered, and many could reel off the dates associated with Saints Patrick, Andrew, David and George, and in that order of importance too. Now it is true that these feasts are hardly religious occasions; but at the same time it is also true that their religious roots cannot be denied, and it is good that people should celebrate their religious roots. That All Saints has died in popular consciousness is a sign not just of the death of religion, but also the withering of the roots of religion, which is even more serious. It is a sign that culture and faith have definitively parted company. No wonder the Vatican talks of ‘new’ evangelisation: effectively one has to start again, as if from scratch, when announcing the Christian gospel.

Because All Saints may still be a faint shadow on the memory of some people, here in this quiet quarter of the suburbs we are not going down without a fight. As I write this, a children’s party is in preparation, its theme being the Light of the World; and tomorrow there will be Mass, of course, and a parish curry after it. At Mass we will sing the two hymns best associated with the feast: For all the Saints, and Faith of Our Fathers. This is very much ‘old’ evangelisation, I fear, which leads me to think that it might be a good idea to initiate a local Courtyard of the Gentiles initiative, that is, some sort of activity that could draw in all sorts of people and, in this dumbed down world of ours, enable people to begin conversations about serious subjects. But what sort of things could a local Courtyard of the Gentiles do? Any suggestions?

After all, this is the point of this great feast: why are we here? Is life just a meaningless interval between birth and death? Or are we here to love, serve and know God in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next? Is life a tale of sound and fury, or is it an experience in which we find meaning, and which leads to union with God?

  • Julian Lord

    Why have you posted a link to that vacuous pile of drivel ?

  • Karen Ercolani


    Because like I said it’s a damn interesting argument.

    From a straight dispassionate reading of life’s pleasure and pain balance sheet, as Benatar says, we see chronic pains, but pleasures are always fleeting; a lifetime’s learning can be wiped out in a second but we cannot gain a lifetime’s learning so easily. There are always an infinite number of ways in which things can go wrong, but very few in which they can go right. So, the observation that we mostly feel upbeat about life calls for an explanation I think.

    I think we all still carry some of that pre-Darwinian illusion about life being rosy in our heads. The universe is a chaotic place and as humans trying to create order out of chaos, we have the odds stacked against us from the outset. That we exist at all is highly improbable. What Benatar does in his piece is a little bit of telling it like it is, it cuts through our illusions, in the same way that an atheist cuts through theist illusions about a loving fatherly God and an afterlife in Paradise.

    Most people, for most of the time, feel good about their lives, but I think this feeling comes courtesy of a range of psychological strategies taken in combination with a finely tuned hormonal balance. Theism is the mother of all psychological strategies, a mindset that people cultivate to enable them to believe in an impossibly wonderful future, thus mitigating the harsh realities of their lives. But I think we all cultivate such delusions, on some scale or other; it’s all part and parcel of being human. These strategies combined with elevated endorphin levels keep us artificially happy when by rights we ought to feel wretched. In the end we all only take on as much reality as we can deal with comfortably.

    Looked at “neutrally” I think Benetar is mostly right. Life doesn’t seem worth the candle and, rationally, it would be difficult to justify bringing more children into it.

    However we don’t normally operate in that neutral fashion. Our hormones usually override actual experience and, at some point or other, most people feel that it’s a good idea to have children. In fact, we are evolved to have an optimistic bias and to experience things spiritually so that we feel that our lives are meaningful!

    There is no particular reason to think that life is going to teach you anything or should or will be an enjoyable experience, it’s only that if you do you might feel better about getting through it, and may have kids who will keep this pyramid scheme going.

  • Julian Lord

    it’s a damn interesting argument

    This is incorrect.

    It’s an intellectualised paraphrase of some adolescent angst that the man should have outgrown long ago. Either that, or it’s just yet another tedious mid-life crisis thingamajig. Or possibly both at the same time.

    It is intellectually worthless.

  • Karen Ercolani

    Sir, there is nothing ‘intellectually worthless’ about pessimism.

    We must distinguish between two kinds of pessimism which are often confused and conflated. Once you untwist these two concepts, then you can be at a better place to discern your opinion or position regarding the Pessimist worldview.

    The two kinds of pessimism is common pessimism and philosophical pessimism.

    Common pessimism is pretty much eqivalent to the idea of defeatism. That is the classic “glass is half empty” position regarding the outcome of one’s fortune or future fortunes. This is the most common type of pessimism people think about when they think of pessimism. This type is generally just saying to expect the worst, things will not be getting “better” (whatever subjective meaning we are using for better).

    Philosophical pessimism is on the whole related in its negative estimation of life events, but much broader and more complex than common pessimism (defeatism). Philosophical pessimism is the position generally outlined by Arthur Schopenhauer and states that the world in some fundamental metaphysical way, is “no good”. Similar to Buddhism, the idea is that when humans are born into existence, they suffer. Suffering occurs because of a pervasive restlessness in big-brained human animal. We are in constant need and want for reasons of survival, discomfort, and boredom. Boredom especially shows the negative quality that existence imposes on the human animal as it indicates that at the end of all the striving, there is simply a lack and feeling of worthlessness that leads us to go back on the “striving” merry-go-round. Schopenhauer specifically described this inner striving and restlessness as our “Will-to-live” which is constant and endless. According to his views (which have been labeled as Philosophical Pessimism by later philosophers), existence is really a seething, striving, force, or “Will” that manifests itself in representational form as the phenomena of the physical universe (see neutral monism). Schopenhauer’s claim is that the Will is categorically suffering for all living beings, and is especially so for human beings. The reason for the greater suffering in Humans is the assertion that Humans, can self-reflect on their own pain as well as feel pain more acutely (in the everyday strife of living, natural disasters, emotional anguish, boredom, and the ceaseless striving for goals). It seems that having goals itself, and the need to have to work towards something is a form of suffering. It seems being dissapointed if goals are not reached lead to suffering, it seems that boredom and restlessness continuing when one reaches goals, and has no task to accomplish is also suffering. In his work, Schopenhauer advocated aesthetic contemplation and compassion as two lower level ways to solve the problem of suffering. However, he wrote that the most fundamental way for the individual to end suffering is to retreat to living as a hermit or ascetic who cuts all physical relations with the world, therefore “ending the Will-to-Live”. Along with this, one should not act in the supreme Will’s command by procreating the will unto another individual and thus, giving into the ultimate demand of the Will-to-Live (procreating the Will and its suffering to a new individual human form).

    So, with all this said, you must now try to evaluate the idea of pessimism with this understanding. If you are to examine philosophical pessimism, and its worldview, do you generally agree with this assessment of the world? I personally agree with much of the sentiment and would say it is most accurate to our situation. I cannot refute the fact that we are big-brained animals that are restless, and this restlessness leads to suffering due to our strivings and realization of worthlessness and incomprehensibility of existence through the experience of profound boredom. As stated in another post of mine: When our attention goes smoothly, we are very much “of the appearance of things” that everything is “all right” in our world. However, when our attention is not focused on a specific task, or is not consumed with something to take its mind off existence itself, boredom comes seeping in. The feeling of boredom may be analogous to Heiddger’s idea of “broken tool”. No longer does the world seem to run smoothly as it did in when our minds were focused or attentive to some task. Now the world itself seems to lack significance. The void of nothingness stares in our face and forces us to flee. The feeling of existential dread is that all consuming feeling that at the heart of the world there is nothingness, at the end of the day there is blankness. When we are focusing our attention we stay at the surface of things. Life makes sense.. things seem logical. Boredom breaks this barrier and shows it for what it is really. We cannot describe what the world is because there are no words. As stated before, it is ineffable. We can only describe the feeling, and that is one of existential dread.

  • Julian Lord

    Do you really think, in my description of it as a “vacuous pile of drivel“, that my use of the adjective “vacuous” was accidental ?

  • Cradle Catholic
  • Patrick J. Gray

    And indeed the entire conciliar Church. This miserable poky, banal, worldly sham commands neither devotion nor respect.

  • Benedict Carter

    Amen, Patrick.

  • Benedict Carter

    “Assist” goes back to my early childhood, along with “hear”. Mid to late 1960′s. Surely it was used before.

  • Benedict Carter

    A conservative Benedictine monk-priest. He gave way in the end.

  • Dave

    I gather that was cut-and-paste from somewhere without reading it through–as it still contains references to some other thread or work. It might not be a bad idea to provide a link or some indication to where you are taking things from.

    Aside from being pseudo-science, your accounts of hormones and psychological strategies are just a way to obfuscate the fact that your own (and Benatar’s) arguments assume a specious form of utilitarian ethics–which is not derived from a neutral observation–and sidesteps having to justify rationally those ethical assumptions.

  • Patrick J. Gray

    New Year’s Day is the Circumcision, surely?

  • $74497298

    As there are no replies to the above suggestion, perhaps somebody could relate the degree of success of Benedict XV1′s Courtyard (or was it “Court”) of the Gentiles.

  • $74497298

    “Tell Catholics they must attend Mass……… be saved”

    The final arrow left in the quiver!

  • $74497298


    …but none the worse for that – and certainly not vacuous.
    I recall being surprised that Schopenhauer got any votes – but things proved not to be as bad as I feared!

  • Dave

    It is true that same post does appear in that forum as well, but that is still not the original post, as it does not contain the references (such as ‘see neutral monism’) either. That post contains the same spelling errors, so at least no-one copying these things actually bothers to read them.

    If it is not vacuous, though it is a pretty worthless account of Schopenhauer at least. I do not understand what you mean by Schopenhauer getting votes.

  • Julian Lord

    As there are no replies to the above suggestion

    That’s because nobody cares about your latest juvenile attempt to spread propaganda of dissent, heresy, and rebellion.

  • Matthew Hazell

    @Patrick J. Gray: Jan 1 was the Feast of the Circumcision in the Latin Church until 1960, when the day became the Octave Day of the Nativity, and then (with the post-conciliar reform of the calendar) the feast of Mary, Mother of God.

    I find it interesting that the liturgical reformers of the 1960s fiddled around with this. (Jan 3 is the optional memorial of the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the closest day the post-conciliar calendar has to the Circumcision.) The Eastern Churches, and the Anglican and Lutheran communions all keep Jan 1 as the Circumcision. Why we felt the need to totally reorganise our liturgical year after Vatican II is something I don’t think I will ever fully understand.

  • $74497298

    I apologise for the unintentional confusion. There are two “Schopenhauers”.

    In addition to Arthur Schopenhauer there is a moderately prolific poster on the Philosophy Forums using the name “Schopenhauer 1″. His post in question is number 10 down, on this list – he received 11 votes of appreciation:

    A response from him, to this, is here (post No. 6):

    Original material is possibly somewhere here:

  • $74497298

    I’m quite convinced that the Alpha Course would be a help to some Catholics and could stimulate the minds of others who reject/dismiss the idea of God.

  • $74497298

    Yes Cradle, compounds such as this bring home to us the fact that all our experiences of the physical world are biochemical events taking place in our brains.

  • Julian Lord

    It’s downplayed in the Novus Ordo in favour of some other aspects, including the religious naming of the Christ as Jesus and His religious entry into the People of God, but it’s still the Feast of the Circumcision regardless of the fact that it’s also been made the Feast of Mary, Mother of God.

    January 1st Gospel, years ABC :

    Luke 2: 13-21 : {2:16} And they went quickly. And they found Mary and Joseph; and the infant was lying in a manger.
    {2:17} Then, upon seeing this, they understood the word that had been spoken to them about this boy.
    {2:18} And all who heard it were amazed by this, and by those things which were told to them by the shepherds.
    {2:19} But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.
    {2:20} And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, just as it was told to them.
    {2:21} And after eight days were ended, so that the boy would be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, just as he was called by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb.

  • Julian Lord

    You have no understanding of the Christian Faith, nor of the proper relationship between knowledge, reason, and understanding ; mind, body, and soul.

  • Julian Lord

    One is unsurprised to discover that you are appreciative of this sort of adolescent rubbish.

    Looking at that forum thread is a lot like being stuck inside a bus with a group of overenthusiastic and untalented 1st year Undergraduates ; or being in a crowd of people just coming out of their first viewing of The Matrix.

    That the post in question received 11 “up-votes” is certainly depressing, but this does not validate any of the nonsense contained therein.

    The transcendental nature of reality is intrinsically and extrinsically incompatible with the philosophical stance informing that content, which is inherently self-defeating.

    If the position were correct, there could be no mind capable of conceiving it in the first place.

  • Patrick J. Gray

    Ah well – I checked and I use a missal with an imprimatur of 1957, so that explains the confusion.

  • Dave

    Right, thank you.

  • Dave

    To be fair, I think those forums are largely the product of 1st year undergraduates and adolescent philosophers. Yet I wonder if their enthusiasm for Schopenhauer extends to embracing the life of asceticism he argues for.

  • Dave

    [EDIT: In response to your post, which appears to have been deleted.]

    No, if you followed that rationally and consistently it would either lead to suicide (a point Benatar pitifully equivocates on) or adopting the ascetic lifestyle Schopenhauer recommends.

    It seems your idea of happiness is merely based on a feeling of contentment, or on experiencing more pleasure than pain, which expresses the limitations of a utilitarian ethic but not much else. I live by choice with far less certainty than I could otherwise have, and I am sometimes in very considerable pain, but I am virtually never unhappy. Limiting the value of life to a balance or pain/pleasure is arbitrary, and in my mind, not worth offering a ‘satisfactory meta-justification’ in the first place.

  • $74497298

    There is an element of this, but professional philosophers also post.
    S’s own life fell well-short of the ascetic one for which he argued – but he admitted even that was dependant on his private fortune (from the collapsed family business).

  • $74497298

    “One is unsurprised to discover……”.
    In Lady Bracknell mode again I see. You do it so well.
    Please accept an up-vote for your imperious tone.

  • Irenaeus of New York

    Or you can just go here for free:

    I know, it’s a shameless plug :)

  • cjkeeffe

    “Mass attendance on Holy Days of Obligation seems to have declined” and “It is a great pity that holy days are fading from the popular mind.” These are the quotes that struck me, and you need go no furtehr then Eccleston Sq to find the problem, our glourious bishops conference has dumbed down the faith so much with its impotent catehcism course in schools which bear no relevenace to the CCC and have abolished holy days to the nearest sunday. Why I should I bother about a Holy Day when I don’t know for sure until a sunday before hand if the bishops have not waved the magic wand of transferring to move it from its proper day to the bank holiday for conveniance. Our beloved martyrs must be crying in Our Lady’s arms with the modern betrayal of the faith.