Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is getting harder and harder to remind people of the significance of holy days of obligation, and of the meaning of such days, in other words that people should go to Mass. I am sure the figures, if they exist anywhere, will tell their own story, but what I observe is that congregations are notably smaller on holy days, and that on such days their smallness may well be disguised by having few Masses than on a normal Sunday too.
One holy day retains its popularity, and that is Christmas. Oddly, Good Friday, which is not a holy day of obligation, is also popular. Both these days are of course public holidays, which makes it easier for people to go to church. All Saints this year falls tomorrow, a Friday, and a working day; given that those lucky enough to have a job these days work harder and longer than ever, it makes going to Mass hard.
It is a great pity that holy days are fading from the popular mind. I dare say that for the great majority of people tomorrow will be just another Friday and not the great solemnity of All Saints. This loss of popular understanding marks a creeping secularisation of time, time that has been made sacred by the Incarnation of Our Blessed Lord. He is the one who made holy the passage of months, years and days, by taking up the flesh. He is the one who made certain days particularly holy, for it is through Him and His grace that people can become holy, and that saints are made. But how many of the Saints do we remember in this country?
Our local national saints are remembered, and many could reel off the dates associated with Saints Patrick, Andrew, David and George, and in that order of importance too. Now it is true that these feasts are hardly religious occasions; but at the same time it is also true that their religious roots cannot be denied, and it is good that people should celebrate their religious roots. That All Saints has died in popular consciousness is a sign not just of the death of religion, but also the withering of the roots of religion, which is even more serious. It is a sign that culture and faith have definitively parted company. No wonder the Vatican talks of ‘new’ evangelisation: effectively one has to start again, as if from scratch, when announcing the Christian gospel.
Because All Saints may still be a faint shadow on the memory of some people, here in this quiet quarter of the suburbs we are not going down without a fight. As I write this, a children’s party is in preparation, its theme being the Light of the World; and tomorrow there will be Mass, of course, and a parish curry after it. At Mass we will sing the two hymns best associated with the feast: For all the Saints, and Faith of Our Fathers. This is very much ‘old’ evangelisation, I fear, which leads me to think that it might be a good idea to initiate a local Courtyard of the Gentiles initiative, that is, some sort of activity that could draw in all sorts of people and, in this dumbed down world of ours, enable people to begin conversations about serious subjects. But what sort of things could a local Courtyard of the Gentiles do? Any suggestions?
After all, this is the point of this great feast: why are we here? Is life just a meaningless interval between birth and death? Or are we here to love, serve and know God in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next? Is life a tale of sound and fury, or is it an experience in which we find meaning, and which leads to union with God?