Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Whither St Pat's?

As some of you know, this year's (very) early Easter -- earliest since 1913, they say (and, yes, thanks for the corrections) -- has necessitated a chain-reaction reshifting of the liturgical calendar's most popular, and most solemn, March feasts.

As a result, two have been moved up, and one delayed.

With Easter Sunday falling on 23 March and the "privileged days" of Holy Week and Easter Week prohibited from observing anything other than the the Triduum's pre-game and post-game, a universal decision announced last year will see the solemnity of St Joseph moved from the Wednesday the 19th to Saturday the 15th, and the 25th's Annunciation Day pushed back to the 31st, the Monday of the Second Week of Easter -- and, thus, the earliest possible day given the calendar rules.

Yet while it's not a solemnity -- just a mere memorial, or "commemoration" in the Lenten jargon of celebrations -- most of the ruffling has involved the observance of St Patrick's Day... whose date needs no reminder.

While the general rules would normally foresee a more solemn celebration of the "Apostle of Ireland" solely in those places where he's patron of the diocese or parish in question, the rules do tend to go out the window for 17 March in any given year in tribute to the piety of the Irish diaspora spread throughout the globe, literally from Moscow to Milwaukee and beyond.

Due to the calendar and St Joseph's temporary berth on the 15th, St Paddy's has been moved to Friday, the 14th, a move that reportedly raised notable tensions among the Irish bishops.

Whatever the overlap might've done in Eire, however, it's aroused a delicate church-state dance in some parts Stateside over the scheduling of parades and other civic festivals:
Bishop J. Kevin Boland of the Diocese of Savannah, Ga., wrote to practically every agency in his city, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Board of Education, saying the diocese was changing the date of its celebration this year. In response, the citywide Irish festival was moved to Friday, March 14, when schools will close and bagpipe-driven parties will carry into the streets.

More than half a million people stream into the Southern city for the festival, one of the nation's largest St. Patrick's Day affairs, said Bret Bell, Savannah's public information director. Savannah bars will be open March 17, but no organized events will be held that day, he said.

"The city has a very strong Irish Catholic community, a very traditional Irish Catholic community," Bell said. "They attend Mass regularly. And the last thing they want to do is get in the bad graces of the Catholic Church."

Philadelphia has also moved its parade date to avoid giving offense, and Milwaukee is hitting the streets sooner than usual, too.

But in Columbus, the Shamrock Club is going ahead with its March 17 parade, drawing protests from the local bishop. A handful of Irish-American politicians have lined up behind church leaders, breaking with tradition by refusing to march in the parade.

In a letter last fall, the Catholic Diocese of Columbus told the Shamrock Club, the group that organizes the parade, that Bishop Frederick Campbell wanted "all observances honoring St. Patrick" - religious or otherwise - removed from Holy Week.

"It's not a sin to celebrate your Irish culture," countered Mark Dempsey, the club's president.

"Actually, you're born Irish first," he said, "and then you're baptized Catholic."

Not all Columbus Irish groups agree. Members of the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a national Irish Catholic organization, will skip the parade and will instead join the March 15 parade in Dublin, a Columbus suburb.

In New York and Boston, with legendary St. Patrick's events planned by the cities' large Irish communities, bishops are taking a hands-off approach, saying the church has no part in planning civic celebrations.
The Archdiocese of New York, which has St. Patrick as a patron saint, will hold the liturgical celebration for St. Patrick on March 14. Cardinal Edward Egan will then say Mass on Monday, the same day as the parade, and will review the procession from the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral, archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.

Boston's parade remains set for Sunday, March 16, which is Palm Sunday and the first day of Holy Week.
After this year, everyone can rest easy -- St Pat's doesn't fall in Holy Week again until... 2160.

To further encourage observance of the feast on its moved date -- i.e. and not in Holy Week -- some bishops have taken the initiative and conceded an Extraordinary Use of the famed Corned Beef Indult.

If it's widespread enough, it might just be worth resurrecting the Master List... this time with a new title of -- what else? -- Summorum Patricium.

PHOTO: AP/Ralph Francello (1); Getty Images (3)