Holy Days: Feasts or Entitlements?

Today is the ninth day of Christmas, but in many countries, the observed feast is Epiphany. I see not all Catholics are happy with the transfer. Perhaps they shouldn’t be.

American pragmatism attaches its holidays to Monday, giving citizens a festival weekend. If you’re going to transfer memorials to labor, presidents, martyrs, and the remembered, you might as well set it up to throw a party. What happens when Catholic feasts land on Monday? Optional attendance.

My own sense is that modern Catholic parishes have disconnected their festivals from their feasts. Schools hold athletic events on Good Friday. Main community dinners might be held on Firdays on Lent, but not Fridays of Easter. And certainly not connected with mid-week holy days. Ask your pastors: how many urged a party on December 8th? Or was it just another night of meetings, religious ed, and such for the parishioners?

My own sense is that holy days didn’t transfer well into the industrial age. Our Corporate Masters Barons of Industry saw an opportunity to squeeze more money from the workers, and except for a little protest in 1891 and occasionally thereafter, not much from the Church. The institution thought it could hold on to the faith of the faithful by insisting they go to Mass early, then let ‘em put in a full day’s work.

This sense of entitlement is a real stumbling block for the Church today, and not just the institutional aspect. We deserve throngs and masses at Mass, so the thinking goes, because there’s an obligation. Clearly, liturgy alone is insufficient to draw in the crowds. But that doesn’t stop some bishops, pastors, and liturgical purists from lamenting calendar concessions or dwindling attendance on major feasts.

I actually think it’s pretty amazing that in the busy season of Christmas that as many people show up to Church to worship as they do. Parishes could start by throwing parties on November 1st and December 8th and make some small effort, at least, to reclaim the meaning of a feast day as a time of festival.

I’ll give my last bishop credit for trying. He made December 8th a school holiday, but the end result was that very few kids ended up at Mass that day and probably fewer parents attended, missing the usual school Mass in the parishes.

I’m sympathetic to those who whine about January opportunities missed, but I have to ask: How are you treating Immaculate Conception and All Saints Day? Because if you’re not putting effort, sacrifice, and tenacity to work in making these days holy, why on earth did you think you were worthy of January 6th?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Holy Days: Feasts or Entitlements?

  1. Mike says:

    Unless the bishop somehow managed to make December 8 a day of non-attendance at parents’ jobs, he just made life more difficult for them.

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