A Little Liturgical Rant

This year Catholics in England and Wales will be celebrating the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady on Sunday the 16th rather than the customary date of 15 August. That is in line with the decision of the Hierarchy of England and Wales regarding the transfer of certain feasts. At one level, one admits their arguments, though perhaps with a few reservations about whether it really does encourage more people to celebrate the feast or lift some of the burden from priests struggling to do the work of two or three. There is, after all, no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ day for a feast, only the one the Church chooses; but being out of step with the rest of the Church, both historically and geographically, does matter, perhaps more than our bishops concede.

Historically, the Church has always managed to be both centralised and localised. Take, for example, the existence of the many local calendars, or those particular to an Order or Congregation, which supplement the Universal calendar; or the way in which the Roman Rite has been enriched by lots of regional/religious variations (think Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Dominican, etc). It is, however, the Universal calendar which shapes the Church year and strengthens our sense of Catholic unity. When we all celebrate the Epiphany on 6 January, or the Ascension on the fortieth day after Easter, we are doing more than observing an old custom. We are affirming with one voice our united belief in the mystery that these feasts proclaim. In addition, there are often scriptural warrants for the choice of date (e.g. Ascension) that are lost when a feast is transferred. It is no accident, surely, that Rome herself always observes these feasts on the customary dates.

In England and Wales we have a further complication in that our sister Churches, by and large, stick to the traditional dates; so we end up out of step not only with Rome but also with our fellow Christians round about. You might guess that as a Benedictine, for whom the liturgy is a major influence on every day, I would be unsympathetic to the transfer of feasts, unless it were really necessary. But it isn’t just love of the familiar or theoretical notions about unity that drives my unease. One of the great achievements of Vatican II was to restore to the liturgy a clear sense of the importance of Sunday. By transferring feasts we are losing that, and I, for one, regret it.


12 thoughts on “A Little Liturgical Rant”

  1. This makes utter sense to me. The Assumption of Our Lady was always a major feast in my childhood, so even though I’m now an Anglican, I would prefer to celebrate the feast on the day that it falls. Unfortunately, there are no services locally today to permit this, and I will have to just use the readings prescribed in private prayer.

    And tomorrow, we celebrate Proper 15 or 11th After Trinity.
    So, no Eucharist for the Assumption. I note that in Anglican Calendar it’s the feast of Saint Mary, Ever Virgin today, so I will use those readings today.

    I do hope that you are able to celebrate the feast with a mass locally.

  2. The idea that it will help more people celebrate the feast is definitely questionable. Some years ago in my parish (a large one and something of a regional centre) parishioners voted something like 4 to 1 against the transfer of feasts to Sundays, and the general feeling seemed to be that one wouldn’t really be celebrating the feasts in question at all by doing this, merely submerging them in the usual Sunday attendance. The argument about helping priests would have some merit if it were properly evidenced but, if the bishops have ever troubled to bring that evidence forward, I haven’t come across it. Scripture warns us that we should “be not conformed to this world”. I fear the bishops have fallen into that trap on this issue.

  3. And yet even in Rome the traditional days are not always observed. Often the Vatican and the Diocese of Rome celebrate particular feasts on different days. Corpus Christi is a case in point.

  4. I always feel that a feast day is special – by combining it with Sunday Mass (Still special but in a regular more frequent sense) you diminish both celebrations. If one celebrates a feast by “accident” because it is on a day/at a time you were going to Mass anyway then what has been gained?
    If for no other reason than to keep Sunday special then this is misguided. I also feel that a universal calendar for such key dates makes sense and helps maintain the marking out of different time which is such a special concept in Christianity.

  5. Sister, I consider the Feast of the Assumption of Mary a very important feast day. I attended the noontime Mass at my church today and read, in the Seasonal missal, that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops does not consider it a day of obligation, in 2015. I imagine the explanation would be a shortage of priests, but the decision to ignore this feast felt disrespectful and inappropriate to me.

  6. I like knowing that I am celebrating a feast on the same day as other Catholics ( even though that celebration could be any thing between 2-20 hours after we celebrate on the Eastern seaboard of Australia!). In the Archdiocese of Brisbane we celebrate all the major feasts on the day of that feast. Sundays are sacrosanct.

  7. I entirely agree with Joseph. Fairly new to the Church myself, I do wish the Feast dates had never been changed: the old calendar seems far preferable. At St Birinus we seem to observe both! Anyway, yesterday it was wonderful to celebrate our Lady’s Assumption the TLM way

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