Do we really need a new day dedicated to the environment?

People hold a banner reading ' Climate action Now ' in St. Peter's this summer (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

The Pope has decided in the wake of his well received encyclical on the environment to institute a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. This day will take place on 1st September.

At present the 1st September is not a feast day or a day of any great significance in the Western Church, apart from being the first day of the month dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. In the Byzantine Rite it represents the first day of the liturgical year, and is celebrated as such by our Eastern Catholic brethren and by the Orthodox, who, for some time now have used it as a day to pray for the Care of Creation. So, in instituting this day the Pope wants to create a joint celebration with the Orthodox. (In the Byzantine Empire, 1st September was once the first day of the civic year as well. The propers of the day are to be found here, in the vernacular, and mention the wellbeing of creation among other things.) 

By giving us this day – the details of which still have to be worked out – the Pope is adding to the large number of special days of prayer that we already have, such as World Day of Peace, World Communications Sunday, Christian Unity week, Youth Sunday, as well as the days of prayer for prisoners, for seafarers, and others. There may be many more, which I cannot at present call to mind. In addition, there are those entirely secular feasts that some Catholics think should be marked in Church, such as Mothers’ Day, which usually falls on Laetare Sunday, and which should not, in any way, be allowed to eclipse the liturgical celebration.

Up to now the Care of Creation has been something marked on World Day of Peace, which falls on 1st January, and it has been on this day that Popes have published their various letters which have touched on environmental issues. (Consider this excellent exposition from Saint John Paul II, dating from 1990). Do we really need a new day dedicated to the environment? We should remember at this point that we already have two feast days that are ideally tailored to environmentally friendly messages, namely the feast of Saint Francis and that of Saint Benedict, both of whom have been indicated to us as “environmental” saints. Indeed Saint Francis was declared to be the patron saint of ecologists as far back as 1979.

Needless to say I am all in favour of the Care of Creation, but I fail to see why we should pray for it on September 1, which is a day of no particular significance in the West, when we already have at least two much better days on which to pray for it. The prayer for Creation should be firmly anchored in the liturgical life of the Church. A suitable day for such prayer might also be the feast of Christ the King, when we can reflect on His Lordship over all Creation. Why that Sunday has to be “Youth Sunday” has never been clearly explained to me. Incidentally, while our Anglican brethren celebrate Harvest Sunday in October, we Catholics, being mainly urban creatures, hardly ever do, even though there is a Mass for use after the Harvest in the Missal. It might have been good for the Pope to encourage us to make more of this. Looking through the Missal, there is no particular Mass for the Care of Creation, as far as I can see.