Father Antony Conlon, LMS National Chaplain, writes:
It may have come as a shock to you – as it did to me – to learn that our bishops had effectively abolished three weekday Holydays of Obligation. The fact that they were all Feasts of Our Blessed Lord made it seem all the more strange.
It was also so un-expected. None of us was aware of any great clamour for this change. Were those bishops who voted for this abandonment of millennial tradition ill-informed and so out of touch? Rapid enquiry among fellow priests and conversations with lay people made me conclude that there was actually little support or desire for this change. How then could it be claimed to have been done after consultation? It may have been through some of the higher bureaucratic organs of clerical representation that meet and deliberate from time to time. It is conceivable that in some dioceses there would be just enough advocates for radical change to win a vote. If so, I would venture to suppose that the margin of support would not be great. It surely came about by the narrowest of majorities in favour, overall.
There is, of course, the added factor that this policy was some years ago adopted in other European countries. I would venture to ask, however, what benefit this has brought them or what greater dignity or awareness has been added to the feasts by the Sunday celebration? I am sure that anyone who has any connection at all with the continent could answer that question as well as I! In Rome, for example, there is the odd situation that the Holy See celebrates the feasts on the traditional day, while outside the Vatican they are kept on the following Sunday. Confusing? Almost certainly it is, and hardly a sign of unity and much less of witness to an increasingly secular and hostile society. Irreligious humanists rejoice in every sign that religious people are losing ground, backing down and seeking accommodation with perceived notions of difficulty in religious observance. Unfortunately, they have something to celebrate now.
The impact of this change on religion in this country – if it continues for long – will, I predict, be nothing less than baleful. We could just about cope with the weekend transfer of Solemnities to the Sunday but the removal of the Epiphany and Ascension and Corpus Christi to the Sunday will further erode the significance of these days and render it less likely that people will regard the remaining Holydays as either important or obligatory. It would be fanciful to think that in the current condition of change and the general trend of Catholics to anticipate more and more lenity of obligation and sacrifice in regard to duty as a necessary concomitant to rights, that these latest alterations would achieve a heightened sense of devotion. Will Catholics evince a greater appreciation of the Feast of the Assumption now that Ascension Thursday has been abolished? I don’t think so. I cannot but conclude that the bishops who voted for this change have made a monumental blunder. I hope that even now they will reconsider what they have done. My reasons? Well they are simple but they reflect the seriousness of the current situation in education, evangelisation and mission.
I am Chaplain to two independent Catholic schools, preparatory and senior, the continuity of foundations by John Henry Cardinal Newman. The schools embrace around 800 pupils with an additional 200 or more staff. The celebration of Mass in these schools on Holydays is a priceless opportunity for mission, evangelisation and catechesis. At least half of my congregation is non-Catholic. The attendance and participation of the whole school communities is understood and an accepted feature of school routine. On Corpus Christi, for example, there are most impressive preparations which include the decoration of the outdoor altar, the formation of a Cadet Force guard of honour for the procession and an impressive seventy-strong schola cantorum with an additional team of severs. It is this active and vibrant participation unique to schools such as these and the all-important visual memory of school day religious tradition which are being imperilled.
Before coming to these schools in 2001, I passed most of my previous twenty-two years of priesthood in central London parishes. There one saw regular and edifying testimony of the large number of Catholics – many of them young – who took time off from lunch to attend Mass on Holydays. Nobody with any real faith, or hope in the future of the Church, who has seen the crowds at London churches like Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, St James’s, Spanish Place or St Mary Moorfield’s on these days can have felt other than gladness at these signs of continuing fidelity. I am sure that other city churches throughout the country rejoiced in comparable attendance. What is to become of all this now if we are to lose most of our weekday Holydays?
It is just not to be contemplated that we do nothing to respectfully bring to the attention of our bishops the deep-seated and continuing concern that we feel at the loss of our ancient Holydays. They are the custodians of what has been handed on to them and us, and I am sure that they would not wish to be kept in ignorance of the genuine anxiety we feel about this recent change. The late Cardinal Hume was opposed to the transfer of Holydays to Sunday and it is to his eternal credit that he persevered in that view till the end. These feasts are the patrimony and the heritage of centuries of faith and tradition. They are occasions of witness. They are opportunities to reach and catechise thousands of young people in schools. They are festivals which enliven and enhance the religious atmosphere of Catholic education at every level and among staff and pupils alike. We need them now more than ever.
Lastly, their appearance among the days of note in diaries and calendars are a subtle but constant reminder of the underpinning of our society with a once-powerful Christian culture which the festivals of Our Lord denote.
Is it too much to ask that our bishops look again and without delay at a decision about which there is great disquiet and even more anguish at a further depletion of opportunities to reverse the tide of secularism and the too hasty endorsement of the retreat of Christianity in this nation?
[Taken from "Mass of Ages" November 2006, The Latin Mass Society's quarterly magazine]