Tuesday, May 23, 2023

An All-Too-Moveable Feast

I am saddened with how the American hierarchy has hacked up the Roman calendar. From Charlotte Allen at First Things:

The American bishops—as well as others, mostly in the English-speaking world—had a precedent for this. Starting in the late 1960s, the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the Magi’s visit to the infant Jesus—traditionally January 6, “Twelfth Night,” in the Western church—was moved to the Sunday immediately following New Year’s Day. This has meant that the season of Christmastide itself, which traditionally speaking isn’t supposed to end until the eleven pipers pipe and the twelve drummers drum, has regularly been terminated in parish churches as early as January 2. Further gumming up the works is the fact that many Spanish-speaking Catholics in the United States haven’t bought into the bishops’ switch to Sunday and continue to celebrate El Día de los Reyes—a much more important feast for them than for Anglophones—on whatever day of the week January 6 happens to fall.

Postponing Ascension Day—giving Jesus three extra days on earth before being “taken up” until a “cloud received Him”—means compressing the time between the Ascension and Pentecost (the ancient Jewish Feast of Weeks marking the seventh sabbath after Passover and always celebrated by Christians on a Sunday) from ten days to a mere seven. You might say that God now has to send down the Holy Spirit to the Church (the event that the Christian feast of Pentecost commemorates) by express instead of standard delivery. Not only does this change maul the Scriptures (the Acts of the Apostles is very clear about the time period between Ascension Day and Pentecost), but the once-widespread Catholic custom of a nine-day novena between the two feast days—with the Easter candle in the sanctuary extinguished on the intervening Sunday as a symbol of Christ’s absence—is now just a memory in most U.S. dioceses.

And in a further flattening of the post-Easter liturgical calendar, the American bishops (along with bishops in many other Western countries) moved the uniquely Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, which since the Middle Ages has been celebrated on the Thursday ten days after Pentecost. Again, the bishops decided that going to Mass or viewing a procession on a weekday was too much to ask of American Catholics, so Corpus Christi was shuffled off to Sunday as well. So now we’re left with a blurry procession of late-spring Sundays: Ascension Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday (a week after Pentecost), and Corpus Christi Sunday. Many Catholics probably have trouble figuring out which one is which.

As for the bishops’ goal of encouraging Mass attendance on major feasts by moving around their days of observance, quite the opposite has happened instead. Fewer Catholics than ever go to church on Sundays these days, even though such convenient scheduling arrangements as evening and vigil Masses have made it easier than ever in history for them to fulfill their weekly worship obligations. A Gallup poll released in April 2018 showed that Sunday Mass attendance, which had stabilized at around 45 percent about a decade ago, has recently resumed a precipitous post-Vatican II decline, down to 39 percent in 2017 from its height of 75 percent during the 1950s. And as the rules about holy-day worship have relaxed, the complaints from Catholics obliged to abide by the few restrictions left have grown. In December 2017, when Christmas fell on a Monday, many Catholics were disappointed to learn that the bishops wouldn’t let them pull a “two-fer” via a Mass on Sunday, December 24, that would cover both days. (Read more.)


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