England and Wales Reinstate Epiphany and Ascension as Holy Days

From England and Wales:

With effect from the 1st Sunday of Advent 2017, two holydays of obligation are being reinstated. This decision was made by the Bishops of England and Wales, and has been confirmed by the Holy See. The days are:

  • The Epiphany of the Lord — 6 January (transferred to the adjacent Sunday when it falls on Saturday or Monday)
  • The Ascension of the Lord — Thursday after 6th Sunday of Easter

This is a good thing, yes?



    1. I think it is a good thing, but it would have been a better thing not to change, (and therefore not need change back. ) The oligation may indeed be difficult for many to fulfil – maybe it would have been better in these times for the Holy See to have allowed these days to be kept on their proper days without attaching an obligation.

      1. The original change was in response to the weight of opinion of many pastors at the coal face. What the bishops of E&W actually wanted to do back then was keep these celebrations, plus Corpus Christi, on their proper days but remove the obligation. Rome would not allow them to do that, and presumably still won’t, so they moved them to the Sunday. It will be interesting to see how it all works out going forward.

  1. A mention in the following Sunday’s liturgy along the lines of having a Sunday after the Epiphany/Ascension might help those who are unable to attend Mass on the actual day.
    Sometimes mass is at an impossible time, or just not there at all because of clergy shortages.

  2. As someone directly affected, I think it is a very good thing. Just as I think it good that they, fairly recently, reinstated Friday abstinence from meat as a general obligation. The objection that too many people will miss out on observance of these major feasts would be better met by recasting the following Sundays as Sundays within the Octave of …, which requires action by CDWDS.

    1. The Sunday following Epiphany would presumably still celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, which is a traditional part of the Epiphany celebration. I dont think you have to resurrect “Octaves of” to have a note of Epiphany on the Sunday after.

      As a practical matter, there is no effect for the next three years, when 6 Jan falls on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Epiphany gets transferred to Sunday anyway. So in 2021 you will have a lot of people wondering why we aren’t celebrating Epiphany on Sunday.

      In effect, the ruling is ‘3 years on a Sunday, 3 on a weekday’ repeating, with an occasional 2 or 4 year stretch so it averages out to 3 on Sunday to 4 on weekdays. Putting the toothpaste hallfway into the tube?

  3. I’m glad they’re back – and I think it was wise to leave Corpus Christi on the Sunday.

    It will also have the effect of returning John 1 to a Sunday, at least in some years (at the moment I think it’s completely gone – which is an odd extreme, given how often it used to be heard), and the high priestly prayer on 7th of Easter, which for those who only go to Mass on Sundays, otherwise never hear it.

    Epiphany retains a cultural resonance, even if only in a vestigial way, so it can plug back into that.

    Ascension is something we need to get better at expounding, so while I understand some of the worries, if we embrace it, there is tremendous scope, for example, in our schools who will usually be in session when it occurs, to actually celebrate it in the course of daily life – rather like Ash Wednesday. It might also be a chance to get some of the proper Ascension day texts sung – there is, mercifully, a shortage of ‘music for children’ surrounding this day!

  4. If the laity are obligated to attend Mass on these holy days, the parish priest should be obligated to coordinate a proper festival to add to the celebration. Of course, he and the bishops should be obligated to offer these as days off to all employees.

    1. Why not Sundays, too? They are the most common days of precept.

      Might as well go back to low Masses without music.

      Be careful what you ask for.

      1. Your reply makes little sense to me. Just about every parish I know has some kind of morning refreshment, and occasional Saturday dinners connected to Mass. I don’t know how many of your New England parishes are stuck in Irish minimalism, but I’ve never let a holy day go by in mine without regular Sunday-type music. Doubling down here: it’s not a matter of asking clergy and bishops, but of demanding a better liturgical and missionary formation of the episcopacy. They think pressing a button and ordering people back to Mass will recover some golden age. #goodluckwiththat

      2. Irish minimalism! Ouch!
        I would really like to see the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord returned to the Thursday in Ireland, with or without the obligation. We have retained the Epiphany, thankfully.

        This is a positive development.

      3. Todd. I was referring to the day off. Which would mean no paid musicians or any other paid minister available, right? Or did you not mean that in that way?

        It’s normal for HolYdays to have music around here. But refreshment on Sundays or Holydays is less normal. Many older churches don’t necessarily have a good logistical setup for it that would be inviting.

    2. In the Diocese of Arundel & Brighton (UK), Holidays of Obligation are given as holidays in the standard employment contract, as are the usual public holidays.

  5. Inquiring minds want to know:
    When does the Church of England and the Church of Wales and mainline Protestant Churches in England and Wales celebrate these feasts? While I’m usually of the mindset of “leaving the toothpaste out of the tube”, I’d be in favor of aligning the Catholic practice with the (majority) Christian practice of a country.

    For the same reason all Christians should celebrate Easter on the same day.

    1. The Anglican churches in England, Scotland, and Wales celebrate the feast on their traditional days. The BBC also broadcasts services (usually evensong) from an Anglican cathedral or church on these days.

    2. “I’d be in favor of aligning the Catholic practice with the (majority) Christian practice of a country.”

      I’m all for that. When will the Roman Church in Russia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Albania, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, etc. be returning to the Julian calendar to show that they’re serious about ecumenism?

  6. Was it a desire for some kind of Liturgical “purity” which prompted this request? Surely there are few Catholics that still have missing Mass on Sundays or Holydays of obligation on their list of grave matters. But while I’m at it, let me make some suggestions regarding the liturgical calendar (at least in the US):
    The baptism of Jesus should always be on a Sunday.
    Memorial Day should be a Holyday, perhaps as an additional “Day of Remembrance” for the Holy Souls.
    July 4th could be a holyday celebrated as the Feast of Our Lady of Liberty
    We should transfer the feast of St. Joseph the Worker to Labor Day.
    Drop the Solemnity of Mary as a holyday. (we have just celebrated Dec. 8th, Dec. 12th, and Christmas (which prominently features Mary).
    Just saying.

    1. January 1 is the holyday, under various guises like the circumcision of Jesus, His holy name, and now his Mother. I agree that it should not be a holyday, but if it is, I think the motherhood of Mary is the best thing to celebrate.

      And I am not sure I want Mary stealing the name from the Statue. We’ve already elected someone who is trying to repudiate the poem at her base, let’s not make it easier.

  7. Those who already attend Holy Days will most likely attend on Epiphany & Ascension Thursday and will benefit in varying degrees. Other members of the laity who do not attend on Holy Days for whatever reason I don’t think they will notice much. Instead of white vestments, Christmas music and the Gospel of the Magi they will get white vestments, Christmas music and the St. John’s Prologue. No harm, no foul.

    A more pressing concern would be providing additional Holy Day services with a shrinking clergy population. And with Epiphany, providing music and other ministries to for liturgies at the end of a busy Christmas season.

    1. On a weekday, in many parishes, there may be no music at all. And with a smaller congregation — perhaps less than half of a Sunday congregation — the result will be an impoverished celebration.

      1. I can imagine how this might be true. Yet, if parishes are providing music for funerals on a few days’ notice, I can’t imagine why it must be true. The flip side to clergy imposing obligation is that a responsibility rests on their shoulders: to see to the coordination of liturgical ministry on a level equal to, if not greater than Sunday.

      2. Fair point. It is my impression though that transferring Holy Days to a Sunday also has a diminishing effect on the celebration being transferred, intended or not. As much as music quality matters in signaling the importance of the day, there other signals the Church sends that equally matter (or matter even more). These include: 1) is the rite somewhat structurally different from the usual Sunday variation, 2) is it located on a different day than Sunday, 3) does it have extra liturgical customs attached (that extend beyond parish boundaries), 4) is it strongly connected to a temporal season (at the end points or a middle hinge).

        I suspect Ash Wednesday attendance is high in part because it checks off all 4 of these categories. I would wager that Epiphany Sunday is barley distinguishable from the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time in the view of the average pew sitter. And it is not something the addition of better music, a meaningful sermon and incense can correct.

      3. You have a good point on the comparison of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. The former has a message blended into the Nativity that isn’t perceived quite as well in the West as it is in the East. And Ash Wednesday’s message, however much we might wring our hands over those great unwashed masses out there not coming on Sundays or holy days, those people manage to arrive in great numbers on the fourth day before the first Sunday of Lent. Whether it’s a Mass or not.

        Preaching, welcome, and music: whenever we get these right, the people seem to come. And want to come.

  8. “And it is not something the addition of better music, a meaningful sermon and incense can correct.”

    Those three things should be part of Mass every week, not just on a Sunday when the external solemnity of a feast is celebrated/transfered.

    For Epiphany, Process to the creche before Mass and restore the blessing and distribution of chalk to mark the door lintel. Explain and encourage the faithful to do it, along with perhaps, the priest offering house blessings in the weeks following. Meaningful traditions, done in the domestic church, lost after the Council. Plus it gets the priest out among his people, in their home setting. Smell like the sheep.

  9. Returning to this discussion from last September, I wonder how Latin rite Catholics in England, after having observed the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord on the Sunday after January 1 for nearly 50 years, responded to having the observance moved to January 6 this year. How was Mass attendance in England this past Saturday?

    1. If I have understood the above correctly, I imagine like any other Saturday:
      The Epiphany of the Lord — 6 January (transferred to the adjacent Sunday when it falls on Saturday or Monday)
      Which is the case this year: http://liturgyoffice.org.uk/Calendar/2018/Ordo-2018.pdf
      Also, this decision doesn’t re-establish a practice abolished some 50 years ago. The decision to move Epiphany, Ascension and Corpus Christi to Sunday was only made in 2006. Corpus Christi remains transferred to the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.

      1. Exactly so. Saturday or Monday transfers to the Sunday, so yesterday in England and Wales was Epiphany while today (Monday) is Baptism of the Lord. (A shame that the latter feast is missed by most because of this.)

    2. Ron, you have to hold your question for a few years. Wednesday, 6 January, 2021 will be the first time Epiphany will not be celebrated on a Sunday under the new policy. 6 January falls on a Sunday in 2019, and on a Monday in 2020, so Epiphany will still be celebrated on Sunday in those years.

      If I am understanding the rules correctly, the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on a Sunday except when 6 January falls on Saturday. When Epiphany is transferred to the first Sunday after 1 Jan (the usual system for celebrating Epiphany on Sunday), the Baptism of the Lord is transferred to Monday more often, ie when Epiphany is on 7 or 8 Jan.

      I suppose that is a benefit from the recently adopted changes, that the Baptism of the Lord is on a Sunday more often. Since the original purpose of Epiphany was to celebrate the Baptism, a purpose retained by the Eastern churches, having the Baptism on a Sunday in most years helps recapture that purpose. Still, it seems like a convoluted way to achieve that.

  10. Is there a good reason to forbid a pastor from using the prayers and readings of the baptism of Jesus on the 2nd Sunday in OT? It’s too significant to be assigned to a weekday. I think the GIRM gives a wide latitude to priests regarding the readings on the Sundays of OT.

    1. GIRM 78: “The Order of Readings *sometimes* leaves it to the celebrant to choose between alternative texts or to choose one from the several listed together for the same reading. The option *seldom exists* on Sundays, solemnities, or feasts, in order not to obscure the character proper to the particular liturgical season or needlessly interrupt the semicontinuous reading of some biblical book. On the other hand, the option is given readily in celebrations of the Saints, in ritual Masses, Masses for various needs and occasions, votive Masses, and Masses for the dead.” (emphasis added).

      Not sure where the option exists for the Sunday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time this year. Indeed, the readings for that Sunday in each year of the cycle are quite particular in terms of initial focus on the opening of Jesus’ public ministry.

      That said, nothing prohibits a preacher from connecting the given reading to the theophany event at the baptism of the Lord. So a ready solution exists for that concern. Just not in the choice of readings as far as I can see without grossly distorting the GIRM.

    2. Good question, Jack. My reason for not changing would be the loss of the reading of the call of Samuel, and the call of the first disciples from John, assigned for that Sunday.

      “Come and see” is a profound invitational text for the beginning of ordinary time, and the call of the prophet Samuel introduces the theme of discipleship for the season.

      Because the Johannine gospel of OT2B is the assigned reading for the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, it has a special resonance with Baptism. I think the link could be made to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord without changing the readings but by expounding on them with this greater context in view.

    3. Epiphany traditionally celebrated 3 things:
      the Magi from Mt 2,
      the Baptism from Mk 1;
      the Wedding at Cana from Jn 2.

      2nd Sunday in OT is focussed on the beginning of John’s gospel, the wedding in year A, John the Baptist and the first disciples from Jn 1 in the other years. I would hate to lose that “beginning of the gospel” focus, but that is what happens when the Baptism is dropped anyway. I would rather see Epiphany restricted to a weekday, with the Baptism replacing the first Sunday in OT all the time. Tinkering wih these things gets complicated! LOL

      This is so far above my level of responsibility, I dont know why I even have an opinion!

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