Liturgical Year
Part 6 Devotions

Chapter y61 Special Times

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Holy Days of Obligation

 

Religious Celebration of Civil Holidays in the USA

Rogation Days

Ember Days

Vigils

Spirituality of the Season

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

In this section of the course we want to consider the relationship between the liturgical year (liturgy, the official prayer of the whole Church) and he popular prayer and devotion of the people. For example: while there is a liturgy for All Souls' Day in the Missal and the Liturgy of the Hours, we might ask how Catholics in Latin America celebrate the Day of the Dead? Or: what is to be thought of the insertion of the devotion to the Divine Mercy which has replaced the liturgy for the Second Sunday of Easter? Or: in 2008 the feast (popular "Solemnity" in some places) of St. Patrick fell on the Monday of Holy Week. While the liturgical celebration was moved to another day, how did the people celebrate the "external solemnity (Parades, Parties, etc) during Holy Week?

My professors in Paris said in class that when they were revising "Lent" they wanted to have Lent start on the First Sunday of Lent (eliminate ash Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday as Lenten days). However this was impossible because of the "popular devotions" that have grown up around fasting/feasting and Mardi Gras. They decided that it would be impossible to change this day liturgically in the current culture. "When religion and culture fight, culture always wins."

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Bibliography

For a general treatment for the distinction between Liturgical Prayer and Devotional Prayer see Chapter d67 Devotional Prayer

Second Vatican Council. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars.  The Liturgy
Documentary Series Number 6.  Washington DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Se0rvices, USCC, 1984.  USCC publication number 928.  $6.95 paper.

Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. Lectionary for Mass.  The Liturgy Documentary Series Number 1.  Washington DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, United States Catholic Conference, 1982.  USCC publication number 839.  $6.95 paper.

Code of Canon Law. Book IV, Part III, Title II: Sacred Times (cc 1244-1253). Canons 1251-1253. CLSA Commentary, pp 853-855.

Gurrieri, John. [for the Secretariat, Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, National Conference of Catholic Bishops] Holy Days in the United States: History, Theology, Celebration. Washington: USCC. Publication No. 864.

Martimort, A. G. (Editor). The Liturgy and Time, Volume IV of The Church at Prayer. New Edition. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986, pp 49-50, 54-55.

Nocent, Adrian. The Liturgical Year. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1977.

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Holy Days of Obligation

Holy Day = Holiday? (e.g. In France all Holy Days of Obligation are national, paid, holidays.)

Until the middle of the seventeenth century the regulation of holy days of obligation (festa de praecepto) was a matter left to the desecration of local bishops, metropolitan, diocesan or provincial legislation. Holy days, taken together with Sundays and the moveable feasts, sometimes numbered over one hundred days in the year, leaving little time for work, and often contributing to poverty and social unrest, as well as causing irritation and displeasure to monarchs and other civil authorities. The number and observance of holy days was one of the many controverted issues of the Reformation. [p. 421. See: John A. Gurrieri, "Holy Days in America," Worship 54 (September 1980), pp. 417-446.]

On 13 September 1642, Urban VIII promulgated the apostolic constitution Universa by which every diocese was obliged to observe only the thirty-four feasts listed in the constitution as days of precept. Among Urban's many motives were social unrest and poverty: "clamor pauperum frequens ascendit ad Nos."(See: Gurrieri, p. 442.)

Code of Canon Law (1983 - our current law)

Can.  1246 §1.  Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation. The following days must also be observed: the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter and Saint Paul the Apostles, and All Saints.

§2. With the prior approval of the Apostolic See, however, the conference of bishops can suppress some of the holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday.

Can.  1247 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.

Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord's day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

Can.  1248 §1.   A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.

§2. If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.

The current Code of Canon Law, Canon 1246 lists ten Holy Days of obligation:
Christmas
Epiphany
Ascension
Corpus Christi
Holy Mary Mother of God (January 1)
Mary's Immaculate Conception (December 8)
Mary's Assumption (August 15),
Saint Joseph
Saints Peter and Paul
All Saints

In 1983 the bishops of the United States decided to remove the obligation from both the solemnities of St. Joseph and that of Sts. Peter and Paul. In addition, they agreed to transfer the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) and the Epiphany to the nearest Sunday each year.

Note the changes that John Paul II made in the code himself after the recommendations of the authors of the code.

See my comments in the CLSA Commentary.

The USA is different from the Code. Canada and Mexico both have 2 (Christmas and a Mary Day).

Compare the list of Solemnities and the list of Holy Days. Why are these lists not equivalent?

Survey: American Catholics appreciate Holy Days as signs of PENANCE.

Note recent reform: concern is with the OBLIGATION, not with making the days truly FESTIVE.

Is "moving all the Holy Days of Obligation to Sunday" the answer? What is the question?

The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, commenting on the revision of Holy Days of Obligation in 1980 stated: "The decision to withdraw the recommendations was based in part on the widespread confusion that exists among some Catholics concerning the nature and proper observance of holy days of obligation. That confusion was compounded most recently by a number of unscientific surveys conducted in some dioceses that did not provide adequate background and instruction beforehand on the nature of feasts and solemnities, the matter of precept and obligation and the place of the holy days of obligation within the context of the liturgical year.

Considerable confusion still exists among some Catholics about the nature of holy days of obligation. Many Catholics evidently equate this observances with penitential practices. In fact, however, the observances of a holy day is meant to be a joyful celebration of a feast of particular importance in the life of the Church. Others believe holy days of obligation to be external marks of Catholicism, and an alteration in number or kind is equated with "loss of catholic identity." Some were under the impression that the removal of "obligation" signified the removal of the solemnity itself from the Roman Calendar, an action over which only the Holy see has authority." ("Holy Days of Obligation," BCL Newsletter, XVI:1 [November 1980], p. 234.)

Holy Days in England and Wales [beginning with Advent 2006]: Holy Days of Obligation which are solemnities of the Lord (except Christmas) [i.e. Epiphany, the Ascension of the Lord and Corpus Christi] are moved to Sunday. Christmas, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the feast of All Saints are celebrated on the day on which the occur; but (except Christmas) when they fall on a Saturday or Monday, they are transferred to Sunday.   Further details are posted at www.liturgyoffice.org.uk

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Religious Celebration of Civil Holidays in the USA

1.  Holy Day = Holiday? (e.g. In France, every "Holy Day of Obligation" is a national, paid, holiday.)

2.  New Years' Day

3.  Fourth of July

4.  Thanksgiving Day

5.  Mary Day? Immaculate Conception? Mother of God? Guadalupe?

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Rogation Days

 

 

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Ember Days

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Vigils

 

 

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Spirituality of the Season

[Reprinted from: Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Spirituality of the Seasons: Holidays and Holy Days," St. Anthony Messenger, 103:4 (September, 1995) p 57.]

Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Fourth of July -- What role do our civil holidays play in the Spirituality of the Seasons? Before answering this question, I would like to ask another: Why aren't our holy days of obligation also civil holidays? In most countries the list of holy days of obligation has been coordinated with the civil calendar so that each holy day is a civil holiday on which Catholics can abstaining from work and celebrate the feast by coming together for the Eucharist.

In the United States we have four holy days of obligation (Ascension, All Saints, Mary's Assumption, and her Immaculate Conception) which are ordinary work days in the civil calendar. On these days Catholics must make an extra effort to get up early to go to Mass before going to work or make some other arrangement for celebrating the Eucharist. Consequently, for many Catholics the emphasis has shifted from the "holy day" to the "obligation" and these days have become days of penance rather than days of festivity.

I am reminded of my novitiate. Each evening we had a time for recreation, but on Thursday evenings we were required to be in the recreation room for "obligatory recreation." While there were many good reasons for this rule, we novices would joke about these evenings when we were obligated to have fun whether we wanted to or not!

Several times in recent years the bishops of the United States have considered modifying the list of holydays of obligation but each time they have decided against making any major changes because, as they explain: "Considerable confusion still exists among some Catholics about the nature of holy days of obligation. Many Catholics evidently equate this observance with penitential practices. In fact, however, the observances of a holy day is meant to be a joyful celebration of a feast of particular importance in the life of the Church. Others believe holy days of obligation to be external marks of Catholicism, and an alteration in number or kind is equated with 'loss of Catholic identity.'" (Bishops Committee on the Liturgy, Newsletter, November 1980, 234.)

I hope that these articles on the Spirituality of the Seasons help remove this confusion. As for our Catholic identity, I would hope that we would find our identity in something closer to the core of the Gospel. Our identity should be found in "See how they love one another, there is no one poor among them!" rather than "See how they go to church on August 15 even though it is a work day!"

But what of our civil holidays? How do these celebrations contribute to our spirituality? These days on which we sometimes freed from our jobs or our work are excellent times to use this leisure to come together with other Christians to celebrate the eucharist or the liturgy of the hours.

There is an important difference between civil holidays and our holy days. The liturgical calendar celebrates the great events of our Salvation in Christ. The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus are at the heart of every liturgical celebration. The church year recalls these events and makes them present to us.

This is not the case with civil holidays, the events we recall are present only in memory. And as they are events of human history they are subject to the same human imperfections. Consequently they must be critiqued celebrated in the light of the Gospel. "The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community nor bound by ties to any political system. It is at once the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person." (The Church in the Modern World, 76) We never have a liturgical celebration that is "exclusively for Americans" Liturgical celebrations are celebrations of the Church. All people (of all nations) must be included and feel welcome.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, may at first seem to have little religious significance. However, this is an excellent day to ask why we work? What is the religious significance of our work? Do we work simply to "make a living."

As always, the Scriptures are the key to the Spirituality of the Season or feast. In the first reading for the votive Mass for Human Labor which is often celebrated on this day, we see God working -- God panting a garden, God making trees grow, trees that were delightful to look at and good for food (Genesis 2:8-9). It is in this image of a working God that we are created: "Then God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.'" (Genesis 1:26) Our creative tasks, our work, the things that we make, are the sign that we are created in the image of God. By our work we become with God "a partner in the work of bring divine creation to perfection." (The Church in the Modern World, 67) Labor Day reminds us not only of the dignity of our work but challenges us to see if our work is in reality a participation in God's work of bringing creation to perfection.

On the fourth Thursday of November, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. As the very word eucharist means thanksgiving, this is an excellent occasion for Catholics to gather for the Eucharist. In the Gospel we hear of the cure of the ten lepers. When only one returned to give thanks, Jesus said: "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?" (Luke 17:17) In this wonderful land where we have been blessed in so many ways, we must not let these words of Jesus be a reproach to us for not returning thanks to God..

The Mass prayers for this day ask for the grace to be generous to others, even as God has been generous to us. "On Thanksgiving Day we come before you with gratitude for your kindness: open our hearts to concern for our fellow men and women, so that we may share your gifts in loving service." (Opening Prayer)

On July 4th, Independence Day, we are filled with patriotism and take pride in the freedoms we enjoy in this great nation. The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed the value of patriotism, but not a narrow patriotism which says my country right or wrong; love it or leave it. "Citizens should cultivate a generous and loyal spirit of patriotism, but without narrow-mindedness, so that they will always keep in mind the welfare of the whole human family which is formed into one by various kinds of links between races, peoples, and nations." (The Church in the Modern World, 75)

When we gather as a Christian community to celebrate civil holidays, the Scriptures continually call us to take another step -- to go beyond a narrow or sentimental patriotism -- and to dream dreams of a Kingdom that extends beyond our national borders. "In that new world where the fullness of your peace will be revealed, gather people of every race, language, and way of life to share in the one eternal banquet with Jesus Christ the Lord." (Eucharistic Prayer, Mass of Reconciliation II)

 

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To Think About

1.  State concisely the pastoral problems involved with the celebration of Holy Days of Obligation in the United States. What does the new code have to contribute to this situation?

2.  State concisely the pastoral problems involved with the celebration of holy days of obligation in the United States. What does the new code have to contribute to this situation.

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 04/24/13 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at tomrichs@psci.net.