England & Wales Bishops consider restoring feast days

Archbishop Vincent Nichols said the bishops of England and Wales are considering returning two feast days, Epiphany and Ascension, to specific days of the week. In 2006 these feasts together with Corpus Christi were moved to the nearest Sunday. A petition calling for the feast days to be reinstated attracted more than 500 signatures and was presented to Archbishop Nichols in 2009. “Bishops have gone away ready to listen to the views of their priests and their people,” he told journalists on Friday.

From The Tablet.


  1. “Bishops have gone away ready to listen to the views of their priests and their people,”

    I hope the head of the Church in England and Wales would have said the same words about the implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal! I am not really looking forward to September nor Advent 2011.

  2. I don’t have a problem with the removal of the “obligation” to attend a Holy Day, but moving these to the closest Sunday is not a good idea, especially Ascension Thursday. Corpus Christi I can live with on a Sunday but I suspect there is a reason for it being on a Thursday (to honor Holy Thursday).
    I’ve always been puzzled, though, why the Solemnity of the Annunciation is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Certainly it would be absurd to transfer it to the following Sunday unless we move Christmas to the following Sunday too! Yikes.

  3. One cannot turn the clock back.

    The result of moving the feasts back to their old places on the calendar will mean that they will no longer be celebrated by the average church going Catholic. A small minority of Catholics will get to celebrate the feast on the day they prefer. The rest will not celebrate these feasts.

    The way to promote reform and renewal in the Church is peer to peer, not trying to get the hierarchy to try to use their former but now mostly nonexistent influence upon the laity.

    The simpler way to do this is to allow the feasts to be celebrated on both days in all dioceses and parishes.

    People who like the “old” date should simply make sure that they have an attractive and well publicized celebration, eventually they will attract more and more people, more than the hierarchy will be able to recruit by mandates.

    While people are promoting “weekday” festal celebrations, I hope they will include some feasts like the Transfiguration, the Finding of the Holy Cross, the Annunciation . Orthodox parishes usually do not have daily Divine Liturgy nevertheless they have a fine calendar of week day feasts.

    We have already seen the success in many parishes of celebrations of Ash Wednesday, All Souls Day, and Thanksgiving with attendance often better than “obligatory” feasts. Carrots work more effectively than sticks.

    The weekday celebrations of some holy days, e.g. New Years, the Assumption, and Immaculate Conception are declining fast in many places, sometimes aided by priests who lower the number of available Masses which lowers the attendance which lowers the number of available Masses, etc.

    1. We use to have a tremendous turn our for Ascension Thursday.In the south it was moved to the following Sunday, but not in the northeast for some reason. It is still a Holy Day of Obligation on Ascension Thursday. So if you live in New York and visit the south on Ascension Thursday, it won’t be Ascension Thursday and if you go back on Sunday to New York, it won’t be Ascension Thursday on Sunday either, so you’ve missed it altogether although you went to Mass on both days!
      So the idea of having it on both days isn’t a bad one! But it is miraculous that the Church can make a Sunday, Ascension Thursday.

      1. I like to celebrate Theophany (January 6th) with the Orthodox, since now it usually occurs between Epiphany Sunday and the Baptism of Christ.

        While from one perspective I am celebrating Epiphany twice, from another perspective I am celebrating the Baptism of Christ twice, since Theophany is a celebration of the Baptism of Christ rather than of the Magi.

        Personally rather than obsessing which date, I often (in the Divine Office) celebrate twice, once on the Roman feasts and again on the Byzantine feasts, occasionally even using the Julian Calendar, e.g. Theophany on January 19th! Candlemass (Meeting of Christ with his People) on February 15th, etc.

      2. Indeed, I’ve missed the Ascension twice in as many years, due to travel during that period of Easter. The northeast and the state of Nebraska are the only places in the US where Ascension is still on Thursday, to my knowledge.

        Concerning Epiphany, I know that my Mexican parishioners still make their ‘pan de tres reyes’ (Three Kings’ Bread) on Jan 6, not on Epiphany Sunday, as it is here in the United States. There is something to be said about the traditional dates for these feasts, I think.

  4. Moving feast days is a dilemma. Yes, you want maximum attendance, so moving them to a Sunday will accommodate that. But does that not lower the bar as far as reminding people that God should be the first thing in their lives? With morning, noon and evening weekday Masses at various parishes (in large cities at least) surely Catholics can find a way to attend a weekday Feast Day.

  5. There is something ludicrous sensed by all Catholics in the moving of “Ascension Thursday” to a Sunday. Yes, the Ash Wednesday analogy, while meant in jest, is totally appropriate. The analogy with Christmas, while dreadful to think about, is not as relevant because Christmas CAN and often IS on a Sunday. Ascension Thursday is NEVER on a Sunday because…wait for it… it is Ascension THURSDAY. We can talk all we want about honoring the day by transferring it to a day when all Catholics can celebrate it… but that doesn’t change the absurdity of the idea.

      1. Everywhere and always? Larger attendance at the same number of Masses on Ash Wed as are held in the place on Sudnays? (Most places – parishes anyway – surely don’t have the same number of Masses on Ash Wed as they do on the Sat/Sun.) Really? Are there any statistics kept on such things?

      2. Everywhere and always?

        “Often” is what Fritz said, I think. It is my observation as well. I am quite sure they are not coming for the Mass per se but to get their ashes. It is a community event that crosses sectarian lines.

    1. They are THEIR deckchairs and it is THEIR Titanic, and it’s THEIR iceberg, and, by God, Joe, the likes of you won’t be stopping them!

      (The sound you hear in the bqackground is the choir of Westminster Cathedral’s beautiful rendition, in perfect ICEL Latin, of “Nearer my God to Thee.”)

      1. Yes, the March to Folly — the sound I actually hear in the background is the voice of Mr Obama — “it will be years before this story reaches its end” “fierce contests for power”…”a failure to change our approach… a deep spiral of division”.

  6. ‘Twas once a Bishop – he of polka Masses and puppet shows – who loudly proclaimed his belief that ALL holydays ought to be transferred to the nearest Sunday, since, according to some national survey or other, not more than 15% of the people were attending the holyday Masses.

    A young Franciscan, assigned to the popular “workers’ chapel” downtown, pointed out that, on the recent Ascension Thursday, THEIR Masses – held at convenient hours throughout the day – had been packed. “So, perhaps, Bishop,” the friar suggested, “while the people may not be going before or after work in their home parishes, they are taking time out, mostly at the noonday Mass, to ‘fulfill their obligation.'”

    But the Bishop’s mind was made up: “No, no, no . . . Archbishop Weakland has convinced me, in his very well-worded statement, that since 15% of the people at the most are attending, we ought to just move everything to the nearest Sunday.”

    One of the priests in attendance at this gathering, old curmudgeon that he was, dryly observed, “Well then, Your Excellency, next year you really ought to consider eliminating the 10 Commandments – since there can’t be more than 15% of the population observing THOSE.”

    Thomas Merton used to call it “sailing to the speed of the slowest ship.”

    Or has been observed already on this blog, regarding the poor quality of grammatical structure and style in the new translation, the difference between “at least” and “if only.”

    And, by the way, at least around these parts, Ash Wednesday remains a very popular day for participation at Mass.

  7. I do miss celebrating these feasts on their proper days. Something about Ascention Sunday or Epiphany Sunday just doesn’t feel right.

    When I was in High School (and Lutheran), my very high-church Lutheran father would make us attend RC morning mass on these two days before school if we couldn’t make the evening Lutheran mass. Of course, the RC’s weren’t celebrating the mass of the feast, either, but it didn’t faze him.

    I always thought it strange that there wasn’t at least the option for communities who celebrate mass daily (say, religious communities) to celebrate these feasts on their proper days.

  8. Robert B. Ramirez :
    Everywhere and always?
    “Often” is what Fritz said, I think. It is my observation as well. I am quite sure they are not coming for the Mass per se but to get their ashes. It is a community event that crosses sectarian lines.

    Yes, Robert, we can all observe and guess, and of course the experience one has attending Ash Wednesday lunchtime Mass at, say, Westminster (London) or St Patrick’s (NY) Cathedral will be impressive, and huge . . . but the question remains: is it indicative or merely, as it were, anecdotal?

    They get a lot more people at Ash Wednesday Masses at the Dominican church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine in Rome than they ever get there for a Sunday … but that doesn’t mean more people go to Mass on Ash Wednesday than go to Mass on Sunday!

    1. This study shows a bit about how highly attended this day is among Catholics in the United States (as per Fritz’s comment). The table on page 2 in particular indicates the reality here: 85% of weekly Mass-goers, 73% of at-least-monthly Mass-goers, and 18% of rare Mass-going Catholics. Numbers are very high in the first two categories, while the last category indicates that one of the “few times a year” that a substantial number of the last category actually attend is on Ash Wednesday.

      Speaking from personal experience (anecdotal, yes), attendance at Ash Wednesday at least competes with (if not surpasses) regular Sunday attendance, and certainly exceeds Holy Day attendance (outside of Christmas) in any parish I have attended. It has vastly outstripped regular Sunday attendance at a number of parishes. Much of the attendance, as Robert notes, comes from curious non-Catholics. It’s right up there with Easter and Christmas. I’m sure they exist, but I’ve never been to a parish which had fewer than three Ash Wednesday services.

  9. In Ireland Epiphany is celebrated, usually to very small congregrations, on 06 January whatever day it falls. The other ‘holy days’ apart from St Patrick’s and Christmas have very small attendances, far far smaller than the usual Sunday congregrations. The people have already decided these issues for themselves. The idea of bishops ever again imposing obligations on people after the recent cover up scandals is daft. They need to recognise they have lost authority to do so.

    1. It’s authority they never had. A band of robbers, pedophiles and criminals tried to steal it from the holy people of God for a while, but eventually we caught them, that’s all! 🙂

  10. “Practising” Catholics go to Mass on Sundays anyway. We also knew very well that if it was not possible to attend Mass on a Holyday of Obligation during the week, there was no fault. We did what we could. No problem.

    As a practical point, the loss of a weekday H of O meant in my parish at least that there was one less opportunity for a collection! This was a matter of sorrow for the parish treasurer and the pp.

  11. It should be noted that the Bishops of England and Wales did listen when they first changed the observance to Sundays. They had been lobbied by a significant number of their clergy, who were dispirited at the low numbers attending on weekdays and asked for the obligation to be removed so that the sense of sinfulness would be lessened among those not attending and the sense of regret among those who did — a very pastoral consideration.

    In other words, what the bishops actually wanted to do was keep the celebration of holydays on their respective weekdays but remove the obligation. Rome, however, would not allow them to do that, and insisted that they transfer the observance to the Sundays (thus fulfilling the obligation), leading to the resultant unhappy compromise that we have been living with for the last few years. There have been many more than 500 adverse comments about this, in the media and on blogs and internet forums over the years, so I am quite happy to learn that the bishops are going to revisit the whole question.

  12. We celebrate the Ascension of the Lord once each year. Same with Epiphany and Corpus Christi. The only real question is how many people do you want on hand to celebrate them. We can’t bring back the sense of Catholic culture and time when we feared risking Hell by forgetting to go to Mass on a Holy Day. The multitudes are on hand for Ash Wednesday because it is still perceived by the people as an important enough event to alter their normal routines. For many it’s a chance to press the Restart button. What we celebrate on CC, we celebrate every Sunday. What we celebrate on Epiphany is perceived to be what we just celebrated at Christmas. I’m afraid that what we celebrate on Ascension is perceived as too precious by half to make a real difference as to day of the week.

    I guess there are still folks who long for the day when the clergy would issue a command and people followed it. Not even Jesus is able to do that, should we wish he could?

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