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.



  • Fr. William J Kuchinsky

    Mr. Weigel’s proposals may have merit. There are also many good comments (pro and con) to the post already on the board.

    I think that his statement introducing his suggestion is beautifully worded. He offers it as a “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.”

    But I think that there is a much more important suggestion: one that is “already on the books” – ENFORCE Canon 915! It states, in part, “manifest grave sinners are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Perhaps it is best to begin at the beginning: or, in the spirit of the current ‘time’ in the Liturgical calendar – to place ourselves before the “alpha and the omega; the first and the last.”

    What kind of “resistance” can we hope to mount when we do not even defend our “home base” – the Holy Eucharist – “the Source and Summit of Our Faith!”
    The continued status quo of allowing pro-abortion, pro-Human ESCR, etc. ‘Catholic’ politicians to receive Holy Communion (and so appear to be members in good standing) very much flattens-out “our common life” with “the ambient culture” — the ambient Culture of Death.

    Mr. Peter’s, agreeing with Mr. Weigel, regarding “reclaiming the liturgy” states: “I believe this worthy goal is best achieved within the context of also reclaiming liturgical time throughout the year.”

    Maybe I’m missing something: but how can we hope to “reclaim liturgical time” when we do not even lay claim to the Kairos of the Divine Liturgy itself?

    We, as a rule, do not give Holy Communion to “Rainbow Sasher’s”: how can we fail to prevent the scandal also given in allowing those who cooperate in the most heinous of crimes – that of taking innocent human life by the tens of millions? The “Rainbow Sash” identifies certain individuals presenting themselves for Holy Communion as being in direct opposition to Church teaching regarding a serious moral issue —> but pro-abortion Catholic Politicians need no sash: most Catholics already know who they are – their voting records are clear, their campaign promises to protect “choice” have been heard, and their faces are familiar.
    [as is their “I’m personally opposed but . . .” arguments]

    May the Good Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar have mercy on us all! Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!

    • Robb76

      Father you have nailed it. I have never heard a plausible explanation as to why our Bishops will not take the stand you suggest. May God have mercy on us all.

  • Sir Robert

    American Catholics are the most protestant Catholics on the planet. America was founded on distinctly Protestant theology and culture–actually very hostile to Catholicism…You may as far to say that America’s first and oldest bigotry was against catholics. My point is that Catholics who came to America chose to assimulate to the dominent culture in America…and becuase of this we sacrificed our identity by getting rid of our feast days, festivities, and overall joyous nature. Most people can not fathom this, but Catholics are party animals…we have specific seasons and days for partying (12 says of Christmas and feast days come to mind.) Mardi Gras was extremly catholic in festivity before it became the secular hedonist free-for-all it is today! We need to reclaim our festive attitude because we are first all a people of hope…and Joy is born for hope!

  • H. Grussel

    I agree with celebrating feasts on their proper days. Why should the feasts be moved to Sundays solely for those people who don’t care enough to go to Mass on those days?
    The moving of Corpus Christi made sense before the mid 1960’s since afternoon Masses were not permitted either on weekdays or Sundays before then. But, now that Masses are offered all day long, the moving of Epiphany and Ascension Thursday are rediculous!

    I don’t agree with adding holy days as days of obligation, because we are not at an age when such obligations are helpful. In fact, it is perhaps best that obligatory solemnities not be increased and perhaps even decreased. Yet, parishes should offer extra Masses for pious working people on those days though.

    Unfortunately, I’d bet that when there is no obligation, Mass attendance would drop significantly. At least it would put to rest the insane ideas of revisionist moralists who think we don’t need obligations to encourage us to virtue.

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  • Teep

    So, why do we use the language of permission, excuse, rule, etc when discussing mass attendance? It seems to me that, by using the language of carrot-and-stick, you undermine Weigel’s point, which is to reintroduce a desire for assent in our daily lives. By using the lowest, common denominator understanding of Mass, you undermine it’s function and importance. My point: People don’t respond well to rules when they don’t believe the content that informs the rule. The only people you help don’t need the help because they go to mass on the actual holy days anyway. Better to fix catechesis and promote a desire for holy days than to succomb to the modern, deontological language of rule-following. I believe it is pernicious and poor from a catechetical perspective. It doesn’t actually instruct anyone as to the value of the feast day to merely say: it’s required of you.

    • Joshua Mercer

      Teep, I generally agree that this movement should first develop in the hearts of the laity. I hope that some day all Catholics nationwide will celebrate the Ascension on Thursdays . But the Bishops can aid in this effort by first ending this practice of removing the obligation if a feast day lands on a Monday or a Saturday. If you say a feast is so important that you are obligating Catholics to go but then say, oh wait, it’s Monday, never mind, then you’re demonstrating a lack of confidence in the laity. The most serious problem with this rule is that it undermines the seriousness of the Holyday. Is All Saints Day really that important? Oh, well, not this year, because it’s a Monday.

      • Teep

        Re-read the sentence you typed: “ending the practice of removing the obligation.” Doesn’t that sound like an overly Rube Goldbergian procedure? I’m saying that revising the language of obligation is a better fix. Then, we can actually CELEBRATE feasts on their proper date on the calendar. The problem is that we’ve reduced going to mass to bean-counting by the language of ‘what’s the rule I’m supposed to follow.’ The same thing has happened to fasting in my lifetime. If we’re going to say that there are days of fasting, then don’t over-explain how to do it without saying what that means; that is, don’t create stupid, vapid excuses from the rule that then become part of the rule, because then the procedure ceases to be about loving God and merely becomes operational rule following. It is easier to teach the faith to an individual through means that they will understand than to carpet-bomb with thoughtless, arcane rule management. While it is true that some people respond well to the notion of obligation on its own, I, for one, had to learn that going to mass has nothing to do with obligation, but rather loving the fact that I am assured actual physical contact with the divine at least once a week. And that this is desirable even when I don’t feel like going to Mass. In short, priests/prelates wouldn’t have to resort to changing how to follow rules if, once in a while, they explained the content of a rule in terms of growth in holiness. If attending mass is like a virtuous habit, the problem is that the leaders of the faith insist on talking about how to manage concupiscent people without telling them why and how the virtue is what it is. Rules without content are not rules, hence good shepherding would not focus on how to follow a rule, but explain the content and context behind it. Removing the problem of excusing attendance at certain holy days would cease if this happens, but because the whole language of ‘which rule do I follow’ becomes moot. Your solution just fixes what’s said without fixing the underlying problem.

  • DWB

    The Church is not a democracy, but this has my vote. We have for too long bent to the pressures of others in this regard.
    Where I live, schools in particular are very sensitive to the religious requirements of non-Christians, for example excusing Jewish faithful for their holy days, but not Catholics.
    I once worked at a place that ordered me to work on Sundays despite an agreement to the contrary. I was told to “have your priest change Sundays to Tuesdays”, but Mormons could have Sunday off, and the company set aside space for Muslims to put down prayer rugs and follow the traditions of their faith on company time.



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