Friday, September 08, 2006

Keeping the Days Holy

Earlier this year, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) voted to remove the obligatory status of Ascension Thursday, Corpus Christi and the Epiphany, thus moving their observances to the nearest Sunday of the calendar, as done in the US. The move sparked more than a bit of controversy, including a chiding lead editorial in The Tablet, which encouraged the bishops to "treasure [the] distinctiveness" mid-week feasts speak significantly to.

Today, the paper announces the results of a poll in which nearly 60% of those surveyed in the UK oppose the holyday rollback, while international readers support the decision.
While a clear majority in England and Wales disapproved of the bishops' decision, the "no" vote was even more emphatic in Scotland and Ireland where celebration of the three holy days were switched to Sundays some years ago. Well over 60 per cent in these countries said that they did not think the change should be extended to England and Wales.

However, an analysis of all 700 responses around the world showed a majority in favour of moving holy days to Sundays. A total of 55 per cent agreed with the bishops and 42 per cent disagreed. A straw poll conducted among priests at this week's National Conference of Priests (NCP) also showed that clergy believed that the bishops had made the right decision. Fr Godric Timney, chairman of the NCP, even suggested that all holy days except Christmas should be moved to the nearest Sunday. His vice-president, Fr Tom Jordan, a parish priest in Romford, Essex, said that people rarely attended holy day celebrations.

"It appears they have other obligations or they understand Sunday as their holy day," he said. "An obligation mid-week seems slightly alien. We have to listen to the culture of our day and manage change, not least with a fall in priests' numbers, in a different way."

However, others lamented the loss to schools, saying that holy days were a chance to educate children about landmark feast days. "Holy Days are one of the few occasions in the year when they can celebrate something of Catholic life as a school community," said Fr Michael Dennehy, parish priest in Eastleigh, in the Diocese of Portsmouth.