Rejoice! Just seeing a short one-sentence news item as it plopped up among my emails suddenly made the morning brighter. Quite absurd how something so apparently trivial could be so important, and give such a lift to the heart.
We are getting our feast days back! The convoluted muddle of having “Ascension Thursday Sunday” and of having Twelve Days of Christmas that weren’t… it’s all over. The calendar works again.
Feast Days matter. They bring alive the truths of the Faith, and make it all come alive. They are an opportunity to evangelise, a witness to a secular world, a reason to celebrate, a reminder that we are a community and not just a bunch of me-first individuals.
The notion of attending Mass as a bleak obligation – rather than a sort of joyful necessity – is one that was somehow inadvertently conveyed to me in my (pre-Vatican II) childhood. Nobody meant it to be that way, but it was. If you had asked me why we went to Mass on Holy Days of Obligation I would have answered – perhaps a bit smugly – “Because it’s a mortal sin not to go”.
But this, although accurate, massively misses the point: the Mass is the centre of everything, it’s Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, it’s at the core – literally the heart – of being human and of Christ’s coming into this world and binding all time and all humanity to himself on the Cross.
God is the author of all things including time itself. As we mark out the great events of our redemption in the Church’s year, we are uniting our life here on earth with the Church of all the centuries, and with eternity.
So the notion that people resent “having to go to Mass on a weekday” and that we should “make things easier” by moving feast days to the nearest Sunday, gets it all wrong.
Schoolchildren walking to an Ascension Thursday Mass in a cheery chattering crocodile through busy streets – and returning to some sweets and extra playtime – do not resent the break in the weekly routine, but relish and enjoy it. People seeing such a crocodile, or a crowd gathered outside a busy London church on a weekday, notice and remark on it. The office colleague who as a lapsed Catholic vaguely recalls something about Twelfth Night or the Epiphany finds a flicker of faith aroused by a mention of a lunchtime Mass. These are all moments of evangelisation.
And evangelising the culture is our task as faithful Christians. Epiphany brings the opportunity for a proper celebration to round off Christmas and brighten up January – and to bless our homes, and chalk up C+M+B over the door with chalk blessed and distributed at Mass. Ascension Day explains the origin of the tradition of Novenas, marks the 40 days of Christ’s final time on earth and links it to the whole significance of 40 – the number of weeks we spend in the womb, the number of years the Israelites wandered waiting for the Promised Land…
Let’s relish our feast-days, use them for fresh evangelisation, celebrate them with joy, and pack out our churches for Mass: Mother Church binds us to the calendar precisely because it is all much, much more important and joyful than we might otherwise think.