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.

The new language of the Mass

Yesterday I heard the new English translation of the Mass for the first time. There is a regular Mass in English offered on Saturday evening in the parish I attend which uses booklets provided by the Archdiocese of Dublin. That diocese, like others in most English-speaking countries, have started to use parts of the new translation in recent weeks, and so, automatically, have we.

Sadly, no catechesis or explanation was offered for the new translations of the well-known regular replies and prayers of the liturgy. I am thinking if I can perhaps offer something through the media of the student chaplaincy I am involved with. Many of the faithful attending the English Mass are students, after all…

That’s something for after the weekend, though.

Of course, new texts focus the attention on the changes, especially when we’re not used to them yet. But that’s good. People should be well aware of the words they hear and speak in the Mass, because these are more than communication. They are also teaching us about who God is, what our relationship with Him is and what we do at Mass. It may sound logical and simple, but in reality it is not. At every Mass we should try to be aware of what we see, hear and do, because those actions directly communicate what we believe. Of course, we won’t succeed every time, but that’s no reason not to try.

Regular Mass attendance greatly helps with that, though. What may escape our attention – because we are busy mulling over some other words perhaps – at one Mass, may grab us at a subsequent one.

The opportunity to do just that, to mull over what we say and hear, is one of the great strengths of our Catholic worship, I think. We are not mindless automatons going through the motions. No, our worship is educational and transformative; in it, we hear the Lord speak to us and we speak to the Lord – sometimes directly, and at other times the priest does so on our behalf. And we must allow ourselves to be educated and transformed, and sometimes that means that we trust the priest to pray, to communicate, on our behalf, while we let some idea – from the readings, from the homily, from the Eucharistic prayer perhaps – sink in.

The liturgy of the Mass is rich. Very rich. It is virtually impossible to take it all in in one go. But we are not expected to do so. Sure, we should be focussed and attentive, but we are also called to attend the Mass on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, which allows us to become better acquainted with the liturgy, which in turn means that we can go on a journey of deeper understanding every time we attend Mass.

The new translation (and every non-Latin liturgy of the Mass is a translation of the original texts) is more accurate, which means that meanings are no longer hidden behind words, that we more clearly say what we believe, that we get closer to the heart of the matter, however inadequate our language sometimes is. Because a translation always remains a translation, and can therefore never be perfect. But we are also independent people who can take initiatives. Let the liturgy of the Mass, our words and those of the Lord, be an invitation to take initiatives in our hearts and minds, to learn, to understand and so to teach and be transformed. If not always in that order.

Five big names to investigate Ireland

The Vatican announced today that the apostolic visitation of certain dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations in Ireland will commence this autumn. Pope Benedict XVI had announced this visitation earlier in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland. And he is not sending the least to do the actual investigation into how the highest ranks of the Irish Church behaved when faced with sexual abuse under their jurisdiction.

The four metropolitan archdioceses of Ireland – Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam – are first on the list. Each of the archdioceses has a principal visitor named. To Armagh will go Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, emeritus archbishop of Westminster. To Dublin Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley of Boston. To Cashel and Emly Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins of Toronto, and to Tuam Archbishop Terrence Thomas Prendergast of Ottawa. Furthermore, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is named the apostolic visitor to the seminaries and houses of formation, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.

A group of five heavy-hitters, mostly from the new world, some experienced (Cardinals Murphy-O’Connor and O’Malley) some very much up and coming (Archbishop Dolan) and some experienced mediamen (Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Prendergast are both active bloggers, for example).

Of their goals, the press release says:

“Through this visitation, the Holy See intends to offer assistance to the bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful as they seek to respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of abuse perpetrated by priests and religious upon minors. It is also intended to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal that is already being vigorously pursued by the Church in Ireland.

“The apostolic visitors will set out to explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims; they will monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to the current procedures for preventing abuse, taking as their points of reference the Pontifical ‘Motu Proprio’ ‘Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela’ and the norms contained in ‘Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland’, commissioned and produced by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.”

Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor
Sean Cardinal O'Malley
Archbishop Thomas Collins
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast
Archbishop Timothy Dolan