It seems like almost every time a Holy Day of Obligation comes around we get an announcement saying that it isn’t “technically” an obligation this year. I understand that it’s already quite difficult to get people to Sunday Mass, let alone getting them to come another day out of the week. I understand that if you just blend the obligations together then you inevitably have less people neglecting their obligations and feeling guilty.
I also understand that we’re all busy. But this is a thirty minute to one hour Mass, seven times a year, that you can literally plan for years in advance.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the de-emphasizing is a general lack of enthusiasm for the Holy Days and feast days. Perhaps moving the feast days to Sundays will results in more people celebrating them and knowing about them. And, indeed, there may be many Catholics who learn about The Assumption for the first time this Sunday. But will they leave feeling that it really mattered?
When a feast really matters we separate it from a Sunday. We do extra.
Most people would be appalled if Christmas was suddenly shifted to the nearest Sunday instead of having a whole day to itself. Either these Holy Days matter or they don’t. If they matter we have to start acting like it and if they don’t matter then we should stop calling them an obligation.
The irony is that most faithful Catholics want the Holy Days back in their full form. I have yet to meet a faithful Catholic who doesn’t welcome more richness and beauty within their faith and our liturgical year is just that — rich and beautiful. Moreover, many people who aren’t devout at all love the liturgical year.
That’s exactly why the secular world grasps a hold of all of our holidays every chance they get on St Patrick’s, Valentines, Halloween, etc. People love holidays! There are plenty of things about Catholicism that aren’t fun. Holidays are actually fun. A surefire way to make Catholicism unattractive is to take out its holidays. After all, what easier way is there to invite a non-Catholic into the Church than with a good party?
Now I know that Mass isn’t really a party (“feast” nonetheless), but Mass does imply the need for festivity. Requiring Mass attendance implies significance of the day. As with Christmas, Easter, and Confirmations the dinner parties, decorations, and family traditions soon follow the ritual. But none of that will happen — people won’t take the Holy Days seriously if their dioceses don’t.
I think there has been much experimentation over the last century in reducing the expectations of Catholics in general. And I don’t think all of this has been bad. I think we have rightfully stepped away from a tendency towards scrupulosity and nit-pickiness. This shift has welcomed many more people into the Church. But it can go too far and, in many places, it has.
Theoretically, the Church could find a reason for eliminating every single obligation but that doesn’t mean that it should. When there are reasons to de-emphasize the letter of the law, we can do so without diminishing the spirit with the letter.
I think that’s what happened with the Holy Days. The requirements got so so watered down that most people don’t know what the point was in the first place. And it’s so sad. Because the point of it all was really beautiful — and even a great pleasure.