It’s time to reset our Liturgical Clock

I’m proud to offer my full support to George Weigel’s recommendation that we reclaim the Church’s “Countercultural Time” as a way to promote universal holiness in America, specifically by reclaiming traditional feasts and solemnities as days Catholics are required to attend Mass:

Let me suggest one specific, concrete way that Catholicism in America can begin to mount a campaign of resistance to the flattening-out of our common life by the ambient culture: Restore a distinctive sense of time to Catholic life, and do that by reforming the reform of the liturgical calendar.”

Many Catholics are already passionate about reclaiming the liturgy, and I believe this worthy goal is best achieved within the context of also reclaiming liturgical time throughout the year. Weigel writes:

As things now stand, the Church has bent its sense of liturgical time to the imperial demands of that modern cultural artifact, the weekend. The Holy See has permitted local churches to lower the bar of liturgical expectation by transferring solemnities like Epiphany and Corpus Christi to Sundays, and the bishops of the United States have gone a step farther by lifting the obligation to attend Mass on certain holy days if those days fall on a Saturday or a Monday: thus, just a few weeks ago, the Solemnity of All Saints dropped off a lot of Catholic radar screens because it fell on a Monday, and was thus not a holy day of obligation.

These are very bad ideas, it seems to me. If the time we spend worshipping God through Christ in the power of the Spirit is, in truth, an experience of enriched time (because it anticipates the time-beyond-time,) then we should not look for ways to cut temporal corners by shifting to Sunday long-established feasts whose celebration during the week once gave a unique rhythm to Catholic life. So let’s put Epiphany back where it belongs, on January 6, and let’s get the Solemnity of the Body and Body of Christ, Corpus Christi, back where it belongs, which is during the week.

I completely agree with this. It is not too much to require Catholics to occasionally go to Mass two days in a row. Weigel says that instead of removing holy days of obligation from the calendar, we should be adding them back: Epiphany, Corpus Christi (which promotes Eucharistic devotion and belief), the Annunciation (“which could become an annual celebration of the inalienable right to life from conception until natural death”). Two more holy days could be established:

And if the late John Paul II was right in lifting up Our Lady of Guadalupe as a special Marian gift to the Church in the Americas, then perhaps we should consider making December 12 a holy day of obligation, focused on the New Evangelization. I would also be tempted to add to an expanded list of obligatory holy days the October 19 feast of the North American Martyrs, as a reminder of just how challenging the proclamation and defense of the faith can be.

Weigel is also counseling us to be sensible about reintroducing the obligation to attend Mass on these traditional holy days:

As for the practical problems of distance involved in some rural areas, these can be easily addressed by the local bishop dispensing from holy days of obligation when he sees fit. Nonetheless, the Church as a whole ought to make a countercultural statement by the reforming the way it orders the rhythms of its life.

I would add, to respond to a question that is sure to arise, that Catholics are already permitted to miss Mass if it is simply impractical for them to do so. Holy days of obligation during the week would therefore operate according to the same principles that already govern the Sunday obligation to attend Mass.

I have a personal story to contribute. This November 1st (18 days ago) the solemnity of All Saints, which is ordinarily a holy day of obligation, fell on a Monday. According to ecclesiastical decree in the US, whenever this feast falls on a Monday (or Saturday) Catholics are no longer obliged to attend Mass.

Well, I still went to Mass. I’m blessed to work within easy walking distance of a daily Noon Mass and so I attended during my lunch hour. It was packed, far more than a typical weekday Mass. Many other local Catholics had obviously decided they still wanted to attend Mass on this day, even though they probably do not make a habit of attending Mass daily. It was wonderful and uplifting to witness so many other Catholics forming their priorities this way. I departed and returned to my job thankful for the unique privilege Catholics enjoy in being able to worship and receive our Lord in the Eucharist.

Restoring liturgical time, and beginning to do so by reclaiming our traditional holy days of obligation, and even adding a few more, is a way to encourage more Catholics to share in this grace-filled experience.

I think there is everything good about such a proposal.

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27 thoughts on “It’s time to reset our Liturgical Clock

  1. Greg Smith says:

    Tom:
    I now realize why the conservative / Trad wing of the American Church makes me uneasy. Every time a problem is perceived, the solution is always coercion wether ecclesiastical or governmental. Here, Wiegel doesn’t want to convince the laity to attend mass more frequently he wants the Church to make them. Far more serous is the tragedy that, with the exception of the Hyde Amendment, the US pro-life movement has failed. Why? Because 95%+ of the resources have gone into trying to seize the levers of government power and re-criminalize it. Over and over again we’re told that if we vote for Republican candidates either they’ll pass a Human Life Amendment (Politically impossible ) or Roe v. Wade will be overturned (5 Catholic Justices on the court appointed by Republican presidents for what ? Ten years?

    Convincing women not to abort their babies and supporting them after the birth gets short shrift. I was speaking to a bishop just before the election and asked why Rep. Lincoln Davis’ (Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee) Pregnant Women’s Support Act wasn’t a higher priority for the USCCB. He obvoiously had never heard of it. I didn’t follow up with my suggestion of a National Second Collection for Birthright. I’m not sure he knew what the oginization does. Marine Corps Management Principle # 3 says Manage to the End State. Tell me, if the Bishops all started denying communion to pro-choice office holders (at least the abortion on demand ones) how many abortions might be be prevented as a direct result? How many homosexual acts didn’t happen because Archbishop Chaput validated kicking a five year old out of Catholic school for having two lesbian moms? Is the conservative / trad case so weak that it always has to be made by means other the friendly persuasion?

    1. Benjamin Baxter says:

      The Orthodox case is not weak, and it cannot be made by anything but friendly persuasion. There is room for opposing abortion absolutely and politically by seizing the levers of government while still ending the matter practically through friendly persuasion and the Pregnant Women’s Support Act.

      I disagree with much of your resentment, Greg, but I agree with much of your sentiment. There must be room not only for recriminalizing abortion but also caring for the mother who is charged with caring for an infant she cannot care for herself.

    2. Dean Young says:

      I disagree with many of your points also. I believe the current mess we are in is because of the erosion of religious standards. As a parent, God has begun to reveal a part of what he sees in all of us. The unconditional love I have for my children, the concern for them every moment of my life. These are things God does for everyone. Having children, I have also learned that if you set a boundary, a proverbial line in the sand, children go right up to it and demand you draw it again.
      Taking this year as an example, the bishops have dispensed the obligation for All Saints because of it’s proximity to Sunday. Will they do the same for Christmas? How is that not sending a mixed signal? Considering 16 waking hours a day in a 365 day year is 5840 hours. 52 Sundays a year and 6 holy days is 58 hours. So 1/100 of your waking hours is to much to ask?

      1. Joshua Mercer says:

        Dean, certain feast days remain obligatory even if they fall on Saturday or Monday. Christmas is one example. Another is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, because she is the patroness of the United States. But I agree with your sentiment 100%. It does send a mixed signal. This rule should be eliminated immediately.

      2. Greg Smith says:

        Dean – The key word is the last one in your post “ask”. Weigel is suggusting not an invitation to more holiness but an order.

  2. susanna says:

    I agree mostly. But winter months can be nasty where I am, some people go to work when it’s dark and don’t get home until after dark, 30 minute lunch, after all day in a cubicle then traffic. You might be forcing these folks into fast food on those days. Hey, want that on your soul?:o

    1. maryb says:

      Well, these days would be wonderful days to fix up something in your crockpot to have ready when you get home from Mass–you can even prepare it the night before and then just pop it in the cooker when you leave for work.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Yes, I too attended Mass on Monday for All Saints Day and the pews were full. It’s wonderful and a special grace to be Catholic.
    We also pray the Rosary daily usually before a Mass.

  4. Mik says:

    We might begin to reclaim time by taking the very modest step of restoring the norm of abstinence from meat on all Fridays throughout the year, as opposed to the current practice involving only Fridays in Lent. I’m not opposed to what Weigel is recommending; however, I think that we need to start small, and I think we need to start with private, devotional practices, such as fasting and abstaining, before we progress to public practices such as the celebration of Epiphany on January 6th.

    1. Sir Robert says:

      Respectfully Mik,
      It was making the fasting and abstaining private that got us into this mess. Before, when all Catholics abstained on Friday from meat, it made for a great sense of unity and identity. Then, someone got the very American idea to privatize Catholicism by making the practices private and up to the person. I think we tiped-toed enough. We need to reclaim lost turf.

      1. Mik says:

        I think that your comment Sir Robert is based on a different understanding of private v. public from what I intended. I don’t mean “private” in the sense of retreating from the public square. I mean “private” in the sense traditionally used by the Church. Some devotional practices are private: such as saying the rosary, fasting, etc… Others are public, such as when the Faithful gather together to celebrate the Eucharist. Hence, my point is simply that we should walk before we run, i.e.: encourage the revival of private devotional norms, such as abstinence on Fridays, before we attempt to implement norms for moving holy days of obligation from Sunday to their original day. Weigel I think is headed in the right direction; but, Rome wasn’t built in a day. We need to lay a foundation.

  5. Kevin says:

    “Everything good”? Considering canon law expresses outlaws a priest from celebrating more than three masses per day (and three only under extraordinary circumstances), most priests these days could not fulfill this proposed mandate without breaking Church law.

    1. Joe says:

      Kevin, how would that canon prevent holy days of obligation from being fulfilled by priests?

  6. Laura says:

    Hmm, he thinks we should have Dec. 8 AND 12 as obligation days?

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