Ascension number 2 – on the problem of transferred feast days

Yesterday, at the vigil Mass, I was confronted with this week’s second celebration of the Ascension. Although the Dutch bishops decided to celebrate Ascension on its proper Thursday, 40 days after Easter, in many other countries, the solemnity has been moved to the first Sunday following that Thursday. Among those countries is Ireland, and since our parish uses Mass booklets produced by the Archdiocese of Dublin… You see the problem.

Although the priest rightly explained, before Mass, that celebrating Ascension twice is no bad thing, there are, in my opinion, some issues raised by this seemingly selective transferring of feast days.

We live in a time where people, especially younger people, look beyond their own familiar turf. Although the parish is still a familiar home base (and rightly so), people are not limited to what it offers them. Other parishes, dioceses, even countries, have their influence on the faith life of an increasing number of faithful. We see this primarily in social media, where blogs attract readers from all over the world. But parishes and dioceses themselves start to make more frequent use of what other Catholic communities have to offer. The use of Irish Mass formularies in a Dutch parish is one example.

This slow but steady internationalisation (hopefully without the loss of the individual character of faithful and specific faith communities) means that the seemingly arbitrary transferral of feast days becomes a problem.

Whatever the reasons for transferring the feast days in the first place may have been – to allow more Mass attendance, or the availability of a priest in as many churches as possible – they have now become obstacles for the visible expression of the unity of the Church.Just like the Church has one foundation, it finds expression in similar celebration, rites and observances throughout the world. Doing things in the same way means something. It shows the world, and ourselves, that we share things, that we are united in our faith. Celebrating the major feast days of the year at the same time, even if that is sometimes a bit inconvenient, tells us what guides us; we celebrate the feasts of Christ’s life: it is He who shepherds us.

Celebrate feast days when they occur, even if that means having to plan our Mass attendance around work and other obligations, or that we have to travel a bit further. It’s not always convenient, but it is our life in Christ we are talking about here, and following Him is not a convenience, but a challenge to us. We need to rediscover that fact.