In April, in a clumsy move and without consultation with the LMS, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales sought a ruling from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei aimed at harmonising the celebration of certain Holy Days of Obligation in the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Roman Rite. The Bishops’ Conference has declined to release the full text of the dubium or of Ecclesia Dei’s reply. Gordon Dimon, Senior MC of the LMS, here gives his own understanding of the current situation.
I hope the following notes will indicate that until the full text of the English and Welsh bishops’ dubium to, and reply from, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has been made public by the bishops, together with some clarifications, it would be unwise to make any change to the Latin Mass Society’s existing arrangements concerning transferred Holy Days of Obligation.
According to the Code of Canon Law, Canon 1246 §2, “the Episcopal Conference may, with the prior permission of the Apostolic See, suppress certain holidays of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday”.
The bishops of England and Wales have in the case of the Epiphany, the Ascension and Corpus Christi transferred these to specific Sundays and in the case of all other Holy Days of Obligation, that are kept in England and Wales, with the exception of Christmas, transferred these also to specific Sundays, whenever they fall on a Saturday or a Monday. The obligation to hear Mass on these days is thus suppressed: it is not transferred with the feast. In any case, there is an obligation to hear Mass on every Sunday, which is of Divine Law, and hence a further (second) obligation could not be added to it. This Sunday obligation is fulfilled by hearing Mass in any Catholic Rite, (Canon 1248 §1). Until relatively recently, certain limitations were set on this, mostly to do with the status of the place where Mass was celebrated, but this is no longer the case. Hence, it is not in doubt, for instance, that the faithful hearing a Requiem Mass on Remembrance Sunday fulfil their obligation.
The practice of the Church is not to transfer the obligation where the Holy Day itself must, for some reason, such as the simultaneous occurrence of a day of higher rank, be moved, the obligation remaining fixed on the original day even though another Mass will be celebrated. (See Henry Davis SJ, Moral and Pastoral Theology, 1952, Chapter VIII 2d for the case of a Holy Day of Obligation falling on Maundy Thursday.)
Seeing that the permission graciously granted by the Holy Father in ‘Summorum Pontificum’ to make use of all the 1962 liturgical books includes the Roman Breviary (1961), and hence the calendar common to it, and the Roman Missal (1962), any decision or clarification concerning the transference of a former Holy Day of Obligation would need to be harmonised with the rubrics and norms of that calendar rather than be in contradiction to them. Without this, the equality between the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, which the Holy Father desires, would be impaired.
There has always been a fundamental principle that the Mass and Divine Office for any day should normally correspond. In the case of a feast of the highest rank, such as the Ascension, such a lack of correspondence would be troubling. It would be impossible for Ascension Thursday to be reduced to a feria since the scripture readings at Matins refer explicitly to the Lord’s Ascension (Acts 1, 1-14) and, of course, no other readings are available. If this office were used on the following Sunday it would lead to the omission of that Sunday’s office, where the scripture is the first in a series of readings from St John’s Epistles which end on the following Thursday (the former octave day of the Ascension). There would be innumerable other similar problems with the Divine Office.
It seems likely that the Ecclesia Dei reply to the original dubium does not envisage any change to the Calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite but that simply, for example, the Mass of the Ascension be said on the Thursday (without any obligation to hear Mass) and again on the Sunday (with the existing obligation to hear Mass on a Sunday). A partial solution to the problem of the repetition of the Mass of the feast could be found from the General Rubrics of the Missal 358 i. From this the Sunday Mass could be considered as an External Solemnity. This is the celebration, as a Votive Mass of the Second Class, of a feast repeated for the good of the Faithful. However, an external solemnity is not meant totally to replace the celebration of the occurring Sunday, being normally limited to two celebrations in any church. However, no such provision is available for the Divine Office, leading to a lack of correspondence between Mass and Office.
A further problem would occur if the Sunday on which the External Solemnity were to be celebrated were of the First Class, on which day any Votive Mass of the Second Class could not be celebrated. For example in 2010, All Saints’ Day will fall on a Monday and hence the External Solemnity would be kept on the preceding Sunday, which will be the last Sunday in October, the Feast of Christ the King. According to the table of precedence in the General Rubrics, this feast is (with certain others) third in order with All Saints’ being eleventh. The suggestion that such a feast be suppressed even for one year, to the impoverishment of the liturgical and devotional life of the faithful, seems unbelievable.
Clearly a further elucidation from Ecclesia Dei is required to solve these several problems.
Note: Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, President of Ecclesia Dei, confirmed in his recent address to the LMS AGM that “When the Holy See has given the Episcopal Conference of a given country permission to move certain Holy Days to the following Sunday, this should be observed by all Catholics in that country. Nothing prevents the celebration of the Feast of the Ascension, for example, on the prior Thursday, but it should be clear that this is not a Mass of obligation and that the Mass of the Ascension should also be celebrated on the following Sunday.”
Problems remain regarding the precedence of certain feasts and the harmonising of the Divine Office with the Mass.
[Taken from "Mass of Ages" August 2008, The Latin Mass Society's quarterly magazine]
The Latin Mass Society submitted its own dubium to Ecclesia Dei and received the following reply.