Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The same mindset

I just received an email from our choir director with a list of the hymns we'll be singing this coming Sunday--Ascension Thursday Sunday. Oh, I know--it's technically called the "Feast of the Ascension" when it's moved from Thursday to Sunday--but I prefer the title Father Z. usually gives it, because it reflects the confusion which results when you relocate an ancient feast on the grounds that modern-day corporate employers won't let their Catholic employees attend Mass on a workday, and thus too many Catholics would miss out on a feast day of great importance to the Church.

(I've always wondered a little about the wording of that explanation. Are we saying that other Holy Days of Obligation just aren't that important, and that while it's worthwhile to move Ascension Thursday to Sunday, we can't be bothered to do the same with, say, All Saints' Day or the Feast of the Immaculate Conception? No, I know that's not the point--but I wouldn't be surprised if the regular cancellation of the obligation for these feasts--if they fall on certain days of the week--didn't lead more than one Catholic to draw that conclusion.)

Anyway, here's some of what Father Z. has to say:
The liturgical celebration of Ascension by the Latin Church has become a little confused in recent years. In the post-Conciliar calendar used with the Novus Ordo editions of the Missale Romanum for this Sunday we ought to be observing the 7th Sunday of Easter. Ascension Thursday was a few days back, appropriate on Thursday. However, by the same logical that dislocated Epiphany from its proper place twelve days after Christmas (“Twelfth Night”), some years ago the Holy See allowed conferences of bishops to transfer the celebration of Ascension Thursday to the following Sunday. I call this liturgical quirk “Ascension Thursday Sunday”.

Those who are participating at Holy Mass with the 1962MR avoid this folderol.

Folks, I know the argument. The bishops hope to expose more people to the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord. Because it is too hard to go to Mass also on Thursday, they moved the feast to Sunday. Well… in most places they moved it to Sunday. What is even more confusing is that it isn’t transferred in some dioceses. In the 1983 Code of Canon Law c. 1246, Ascension Thursday is indicated as one of the few Holy Days of Obligation. Again, I know the laudable reason for moving the feast.

However, perhaps it is the influence of reading so much St. Augustine over the years, but my present view of human nature suggests to me that when Holy Mother Church’s pastors lower expectations regarding the liturgy, people get the hint: it just isn’t that important. Maybe none of it is important.

Thus, I am left with the opinion that the option to dislocate such an important and ancient feast is an arrogant novelty.

The celebration of Ascension on a particular Thursday is rooted in Scripture and reflects the ancient practice of the Church in East and West alike. We read in Holy Scripture that nine days, not six, intervened between the Lord’s physical ascent to the Father’s right hand and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Ascension Thursday was fixed at the 40th day after Easter from about the end of the 4th century. In the Latin West, St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) called it Quadragesima (“fortieth”) Ascensionis. In the Greek East, St. Gregory of Nyssa spoke of it in 388. That’s only a 16 century tradition. Eastern Christians haven’t transferred Ascension.

What must the Easterners think of us Latins? [All emphases in the original.]
The point about Eastern Christians is a good one; so is the reminder that the tradition of celebrating this feast on a Thursday each year is sixteen centuries old. Changing things that have been a part of Christianity for that long should be done with great caution and very slowly, if at all; while I'm not insensitive to the question of pastoral need, I'm also not sure that moving the feast isn't an admission on the part of modern Church leaders, especially bishops, of the utter failure of the Church over the last forty or so years to inculcate in Catholics any understanding at all of what a Holy Day of Obligation actually is, why it is important, and why the penalty of grave sin is incurred by those who do not attend Mass on such a day without a serious impediment, just as is true of every Sunday.

Granted, living in a functionally atheistic nation means that employers are generally unsympathetic to the demands of employees' religious faith (unless "diversity points" can be granted for being accommodating, which doesn't seem to apply to the accommodation of any branch of Christianity but only of non-Christian religions). But acquiescing in that state of affairs isn't likely to be an example of witness to modern secularism, and future Christians won't benefit from our generation's weak-willed acceptance of the narrative that says that one's job is much more important than one's faith. If Catholic bishops in America wanted our Holy Days to be the signs of contradiction they could be, they would schedule as many Masses on Holy Days as they do on Sunday (including multiple vigils, if that is local custom) and go out of their way to make sure that workers would have the opportunity to attend Mass, even if they had to have, somewhere in each diocese, a vigil at midnight and a morning Mass at 4 a.m. in pursuit of this goal.

Frankly, the argument that leaving Ascension Thursday on Thursday means that people will be unable to come to Mass would be more effective if Masses on Ash Wednesday, which is not even a Holy Day of Obligation, were not jam-packed with people at the beginning of Lent. Somehow Catholics manage to get away from work obligations long enough to go to Mass and receive ashes; would it really be so difficult to catechize them on the importance of attending Mass on one Thursday out of the year, as well?

I don't think it would be, but somehow I suspect that the same mindset which believed that "John and Mary Catholic" would be too stupid to understand words like "ineffable" is behind the rationale for moving Ascension Thursday so Catholics won't inadvertently miss such an important feast. It's not a foregone conclusion that Catholics will be too caught up in work or too busy or too lazy or too unintelligent to attend Mass on Ascension Thursday--but it easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

7 comments:

LarryD said...

If Catholic bishops in America wanted our Holy Days to be the signs of contradiction they could be, they would schedule as many Masses on Holy Days as they do on Sunday (including multiple vigils, if that is local custom) and go out of their way to make sure that workers would have the opportunity to attend Mass, even if they had to have, somewhere in each diocese, a vigil at midnight and a morning Mass at 4 a.m. in pursuit of this goal.

AMEN!!! I wonder this myself. It's almost as if the clergy don't consider it important either.

Sister C. said...

Reductio ad absurdum: In my country Ascension is always celebrated on the Thursday. A young sister of my acquaintance was transferred here from a country in which it is always celebrated on the Sunday. She wanted to know why we celebrate the feast "on the wrong day".

Sigh.

Happy and blessed feast to all!

eulogos said...

I will be attending my Byzantine Church this evening for the vigil of Acension Thursday. My one priest will be celebrating three Liturgies for this feast, 6PM Wed, 9AM Thursday, 6PM Thursday.

What must the Easterners think?
Well I remember when some parishioners were sneaking out early to avoid the extra half hour of prayers for deceased fathers (and grandfathers etc, all named) on Father's Day.
"They may be able to get away with that in the Roman rite, but here in the Byzantine Church we do not do that."

Susan Peterson

eulogos said...

I will be attending my Byzantine Church this evening for the vigil of Acension Thursday. My one priest will be celebrating three Liturgies for this feast, 6PM Wed, 9AM Thursday, 6PM Thursday.

What must the Easterners think?
Well I remember when some parishioners were sneaking out early to avoid the extra half hour of prayers for deceased fathers (and grandfathers etc, all named) on Father's Day.
"They may be able to get away with that in the Roman rite, but here in the Byzantine Church we do not do that."

Susan Peterson

kkollwitz said...

This Sunday we attended the local Maronite Liturgy just to visit. During the announcements the priest had a laugh inviting us 'Latins' to the Thursday Liturgy.

At my parish we have standing room only at Holyday Masses, including the Solemnity of Mary which is a 2-Mass holyday...it's too bad the parishes don't get an option.

Re: Ascension Thursday Sunday, we have Wednesday Sunday School the whole school year.

Anonymous said...

"..when Holy Mother Church’s pastors lower expectations regarding the liturgy, people get the hint: it just isn’t that important. Maybe none of it is important."

Vatican II told us that most of the things we were taught were important, as children, were no longer important. It being hard to remember which ones were or weren't, a lot of them dropped out of our lives. Underscored by the fact that our church which has 4 masses on weekends, on holydays has one mass at 9 am. "Obligation?" The priest certainly never mentions this in the homily, or the bulletin.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I favor celebrating all holidays, including religious ones, on The Day they appear on the calendar. Enough Sundays AND Mondays, sacred and secular. To go with that should be laws protecting the right of any employee to take the day off for any well-established religious holiday. (I would require at least one hundred years of precedent, and maybe cap it at a maximum of twenty days per person per year).

I can't wait for the bill which designates the celebration of our national independence as "The Monday of July."

Seriously, there was a time when economic activity was not THE center of our calendar, personal or communal, and we had lots of breaks -- for serious purposes, but breaks from daily and weekly routine. We need more of that. If the Roman Catholic church can lead the way, so be it. We'll all benefit.