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Bishops consider reinstating some Holy Days

By on Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Horsemen ride through St Peter’s Square on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. In England the feast was celebrated on January 2 (CNS)

Horsemen ride through St Peter’s Square on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. In England the feast was celebrated on January 2 (CNS)

Epiphany and Ascension may be brought back as Holy Days of Obligation, the English and Welsh bishops have said.

The bishops discussed the possibility of restoring two of the three Holy Days of Obligation, which were transferred to Sundays in 2006, at their first plenary meeting of the year.
They will spend the next six months in their dioceses “reflecting” about whether to celebrate the Holy Days on their customary days.

The days which were transferred were the Epiphany on January 6, the Ascension of Our Lord which is traditionally celebrated on a Thursday 40 days after Easter, and the Body and Blood of the Lord, known as Corpus Christi, celebrated after Pentecost.

Speaking after the bishops’ meeting in Leeds Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who leads the bishops’ conference, said: “We reflected about the two Holy Days that have such a traditional resonance about them, the Epiphany and the Ascension, and we as a bishops’ conference have determined to reflect a little bit more on this.

“We explored both sides of the aspect of what Holy Days mean in Catholic life. They are a point at which we concentrate and celebrate liturgically a particularly important part of the mystery of our salvation.

“And the placing of those Holy Days on a Sunday is to enable our participation and celebration of the holy day.

“On the other hand the Epiphany and the Ascension are still part of the rhythm of many people’s lives in this country and so we are weighing up how we stand on those two arguments and bishops have gone away ready to listen to their priests and their people as to what is to be best gained, either by marking those two days in the rhythm of the calendar or with the advantages of an easier and fuller liturgical celebration of them on a Sunday.”

A spokeswoman for the bishops explained that “each of the bishops will be reflecting about the pastoral needs within their dioceses, and the bishops’ conference collectively will return to the issue of celebrating these feast days at their next plenary meeting in November”.

When the bishops made the decision to move the Holy Days in 2006, Catholics protested against the move with a petition. Julia Ashenden, who launched the petition, said she managed to get over 500 signatures online.

She said she also received a number of emails saying that the petition had the support of parishioners who were unable to use computers.

An earlier attempt to move Holy Days in 1996 had been quashed after priests and lay people protested, but Mrs Ashenden’s petition did not seem to make a difference.

She said she was pleased to hear that the bishops were considering returning Holy Days to their original days.

Mrs Ashenden said: “I would be delighted if Epiphany and Ascension Day were restored to their proper days, especially as the Orthodox Church celebrates its Christmas on the Epiphany.

“This year was a nonsense, with Epiphany being kept by the Catholic Church on January 2. The Anglicans always keep Ascension Day on the Thursday, 40 days on from Easter of course.”

Fr Peter Newby, a priest in the City of London, said his church continued to be well attended on the days that the transferred Holy Days were originally celebrated.

He said he would be “delighted” if they restored the Holy Days because “it’s one of the ways this parish is made known throughout the City because people look for places to celebrate Mass on the Holy Days”.

“It’s good generally because I think all the reasons given for moving them were largely negative; that people don’t go to Mass on Holy Days and that sort of thing. It’s a bit like playing bridge, you play to strength rather than to weakness,” he added.

Fr Tim Finigan, the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, and a popular blogger, said that Ascension and Epiphany would be the obvious Holy Days to bring back because of their places in the liturgical calendar.

Fr Finigan said: “They form part of the complex structure of the liturgical year. Many people were disappointed when the days were transferred, especially the Epiphany.
“Here in Britain we still have the tradition of the 12 days of Christmas, it’s one of those things, like Christmas, which still have a cultural resonance. I’d be delighted if those Holy Days were restored.”

The Church in England and Wales has seven other days during the year on which Catholics are required to go to Mass, other than fulfilling their Sunday obligation. That is one more Holy Day than the United States, Ireland and Poland.

Australia and the Netherlands only observe two, while the Vatican City observes all 10 Holy Days.

  • Lindi

    I do hope that Epiphany and Ascension days are restored to the right time in the liturgical year. I think it is sad that Candlemas on February 2nd. has been  diminished , if that is the correct word.

  • Ken Purdie

    Its too late. People have got out of the habit. It was a very silly thing to do in the first place. But then, no surprises there. 

  • AgingPapist

    Most Catholics don’t even go to church on Sunday, let alone on holy days of obligation. One would think these old fools would have something better to do, such as tender their resignations and entering desert caves to do penance and to perform acts of self-denial, than to waste their time fretting over returning Epiphany to January 6th as a holy day.

  • Ken Purdie

    Indeed. A huge falling away in the last 30-40 years. Now I wonder what the factors at play here are…….???? 

  • Anonymous

    This will upset the liberals. So it must be a good thing !!!!!!!

  • Lee

     makes perfect sense. When was the last time you heard a heretic like a Muslim transferring their holy days after consulting with their calenders. It’s about time that Catholics were given an absolute liturgical and moral kick to the past when every day meant something to a Catholic spiritually as opposed to being just ‘Sunday’ catholics or even worse ‘Cafeteria’ catholics. Nothing ‘universal’ about any of the two labels mentioned and thus we need to come away from them with things like this.

  • Chjklnps

    GapingApist – people don’t go to church on Sundays for the same reason that they don’t have time for their own families and neighbours, the needy and the victims of human atrocities. The fools have said in their hearts that there is no God – and the fools have said that because they have swallowed the nonsense called consumerism – the dogma that money, status, worldy power and the oursuit of pleasure can save them. Their idea of “something better to do” generally revolves around organising their own entertainment – while the rest of world dies or goes to hell. Reminding people about the reality of the Paschal Mystery offers them a way back, and that’s what timely celebration of key feast days does.

  • PhilipH

    Yes please, restore Ascension and Epiphany to the proper dates. They were well attended in my parish before the change. Moving them to the Sunday hasn’t done anything (except cutting the season of Christmas short.)

  • RobJ

     I wonder how the Bishops will convince people that, while sleeping in on Epiphany this year is a matter of religious indifference, next year the same action condemns your soul for all eternity.

    The inanity of this sort of thing is well reflected in the comment here that it must be good if it upsets liberals: a good measure of the idea of Christianity involved.

  • Noel

    If we bring back Orthodoxy to the Church, then maybe, just maybe, we will bring back the joy that was once ours. It will make those who do not regularly attend on the Sundays a little more aware of their responsibilities.
    The high holy days of New Year (The Feast of the Holy Family), Ascension Thursday, The Assumption and many others that have been dispensed in the name of modernity.

  • Dommiex2

    BRAVO for these bishops!!  too bad our wimpish American bishops have no backbone… 

  • Anonymous

    A marvelous development.  First they reinstate meatless Fridays and now this?  These are not just small things but are very important.  Kudos to the bishops of England and Wales.  They are doing a bit of trailblazing, it seems.  I hope the bishops here in the US follow suit.

  • Anonymous

     It’s a matter of obedience, Mr. RobJ.  The Catholic Church and only She has been granted by our Lord the power to bind and loose.  The bishops have the power to make changes in matters of discipline (not doctrine).  It is for us as faithful Catholics to then obey.  Obedience to pastoral discipline develops our faith and nurtures humility.

    As far as the liberals remark, since they are wrong about everything, particularly in matters of the Church, it’s not unfair to see their flailing and ranting as an affirmation that a particular instruction is on solid ground.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t wish to seem ungrateful, but I wonder why their Lordships have decided to consider the restoration of the feasts of the Epiphany and the Ascension, but not of Corpus Christi. It isn’t as if Corpus Christi was instituted on a Thursday because it happened to be early closing day in Rome:  it was intended to commemorate the day of the institution of the Eucharist.   

  • just passing through

    If you ask a lot from people there is some chance you will get a response; if you ask little you will get precisely that or less.  The celebration of Holy Days gave us a sense of Catholic identity.  That needs to be restored.  It does not mean that we are in a ghetto – it means that we need to stand up and acknowledge who we are.  Further, the re-introduction of the Friday Fast is to be welcomed. 
    If I may introduce, humbly I hope,  a personal story here – when I was a boy, a Protestant friend of my older brother took me to a variety store one afternoon and as we passed through the foodhall, the smell and sight of ‘new’ American Hot Dogs attracted my attention.  He noticed it.
    “Would you like one?”
    “Yes please.”
    The lady behind the counter was about to prepare one when I suddenly said, “Sorry, I forgot.  It’s Friday.”
    I still remember to this day, 50 years later, the look on both their faces.  My brother’s Protestant friend – intrigued (he shook his head) - and the woman – beaming with pride – she winked at me -  and the first awakening in the mind and heart of an 8 year old child, that we are all called in many ways to witness to our Faith.  Especially in these days, we need to keep the ‘rumour’ of God alive. 

  • Anonymous

       Not only are UK bishops going to re-impose the obligation of meatless Fridays for some unreal reason, they are talking about the compulsion of attending Mass on weekdays of certain feasts (apparently 2 of them) contrary to earlier decisions of celebrating them on Sundays. Now I don’t know what influence Rome has on these bishops but it seems that the strong hand of control and is what UK bishops want to exert. How about they instead spend extra effort bringing people into or back to the fold. 
    Benedict sneezes and some people  turn somersaults. Seems English bishops like many elsewhere are totally out of touch with the practicality of daily lives of God’s people, carrying their own crosses daily without the need for added imposed burdens. When will these so called leaders realise that it is what comes from the heart that is most important rather than these old pharisaic impositions that are more about suppression and control of the faithful – the exertion of power! Voluntary form of Mass attendance on those days or voluntary penance at will – yes maybe, but this compulsion is disgraceful humbug. Better to encourage the faithful to do things to thank the Lord for His goodness and passion rather than people just following a precept to avoid sin. This is another step in winding back the fruits of Vatican 2. Wait for the next move back – banning Catholics from attending non-Catholic weddings & funerals??? I fear for the health of the church. It’s the old “hang a mortal sin on on them so they will toe the line” stuff. Not a great way to win back people on the fringes of the Church. By the way it’s interesting to note the meatless Friday thing is being done on the anniversary of Pope Benedict’s visit to UK. Seems an element of doing something here to please Benedict 16th. Many people are now regarding church leaders as a laughingstock. Where are the real shepherds? Is this an English thing where they love tradition and anachronisms, ow what?

  • Paul

     Mrs Ashenden makes two small mistakes in her argument.  Firstly, the Orthodox Churches, which use the Gregorian calendar, also celebrate Epiphany (Theophany) not Christmas on January 6th.  Those using the Julian calendar celebrate Christmas on January 7th.  Secondly, the Church of England often transfers Ascension and Epiphany to the nearest Sunday.  Having said this I am in full support of putting the Holy days back to where they belong.  In transferring them to Sundays we lose the liturgy of the Word assigned to those Sundays, thereby disrupting, or in the case of after Easter losing the pattern of the Church’s celebration of the Word.

  • Janet Baker

     Oh please restore everything! Restore the Restoration! Stop the talking in church, stop the eucharistic ministers and the babbling mc’s. Just throw out the horrible new mass, throw out all of Vatican II, sweep it clean. Our problems began there, the whole thing is tainted with the sixties-speak do-your-own-thing-follow-your-own-conscience-freedom-dreedom-greedom euphoria that at base denies original sin. It ruined the Church. We’d ought to admit it. But instead, Benedict wants to kidnap the old mass in service to the lie.

  • Anonymous

    Your first sentence is so correct, path of least resistance and all that.  A little discipline can be nourishing to the soul.

    I enjoyed your story as well.

  • Rich

    Off to the desert caves, AgingPapist? Good plan, you go first we’ll follow. Don’t worry, we’re right behind you.

  • Rich

    Great idea, if the Bishop of Clifton is listening to his diocese, we fully support this.

  • Parasum

    And canonise that great man of God, Archbishop Lefebvre of holy and glorious memory :)

  • Decimus

    The Good Lord deliver us from the bad administration by our Bishops. 
    I was incensed by the first to be dropped which was the dropping of the Immaculate Conception as an obligation I feared that this was the start of the rot and sadly my fear was justified as the years past.
    It is just now too too late to turn the clock back ………in very common parlance….you collectively screwed up.If our Bishops and Priests were at all in touch with the world i.e. walked about in the streets and market places and actually interfaced with the people , like Our Lord did, they would know but they are never seen other than at mass, baptisms, weddings and funerals.Once the Obligation is released it will now be impossible to re-instate it. Or if it will be re-instated the vast majority of Catholics will ignore it.I will of course continue to honour these days be they imposed obligations by our Hierarchy or not but the vast majority of the Catholic population will not do this in this age.So can I plead that the Hierarchy just stop tinkering with the faith and I pray that the Bishops get out of their Ivory Towers and spread the Gospel and use their authority to manage the majority of priests to do this too as my experience is sadly that the vast majority are lazy or leaderless……you decide.The Good Shepherd gospel when read by our clergy seems not to be acted on by the reader as time and time again the priest fail to go after the Catholics who have fallen away. In fact they do not even know them!!Since Vatican II when the clergy were given the task of engaging the laity more through Eucharist, The Word etc what actually happened was that rather than take a step forward they took a step back and the usual “few old faithful” parishioners including me, who were always there took these duties up and the net result was no additional souls/helpers were won from the pews or wider to the faith and the priests did less and also have forsaken their leadership role. Wake up……………..Europe does not have to be lost and decadent if we all spread the Gospel but with lazy clergy and without Good Shepherds the Flock is scattered and being picked of by the wolves in this materialistic society of today. If the fire in peoples hearts is re-ignited then honouring these Feast Days will be natural and notneed any Obligation to be imposed.I pray for our Church Leaders to take charge of their priests and be visible in the streets and market place once more. My parish priest shops in M&S in civilian clothes in case he is stopped to talk………….I have many many more examples of lack of service but I hope you understand and for the Love of God take action now.Yours in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary,Decimus