On Sunday March 19, we have a liturgical traffic jam: the Third Sunday of Lent with St Joseph. In the calendars of both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, a Lenten Sunday is “heavy”: these “outweigh” the Solemnities (OF) and the First Class Feasts (EF). Hence, they are transferred to the next available day in the calendar. This year St Joseph is exiled to Monday, March 20. I think he won’t mind, since he is, among his other titles, the patron of immigrants.
This sort of transference of feasts makes sense in the scheme of our liturgical calendars. Some of the mysteries we celebrate have greater weight. The slippage of our days as we whirl about the sun, compounded by the vagaries of the moon, mean that we have to jockey our celebrations about. When one feast overlaps another, the lesser gives way. Ubi maior, minor cessat.
Speaking of making sense, however, what does not make much sense, to me at least, is the transfer to Sundays of the important Epiphany and the Assumption of the Lord, which are both fixed in their places according to Scripture. Epiphany, no longer the reliable Twelfth Night, becomes Whatever Night, and Assumption Thursday morphs into Assumption Thursday Sunday.
Similarly vexing is the dispensation of Holy Days of Obligation just because they fall close to a Sunday. While the aforementioned type of festal relocation is reasonable, these other removals send out bad signals: our feasts and the mysteries and the holy saints they celebrate aren’t important enough for us to make time in our schedules, to sacrifice time and effort for the sake of going to church; the practice of our faith comes in second.
In many places, our societies are faster and less rural than in days of yore. We are modern Marthas busy with many things. Is that good? I think we won’t lament that, in 1911, Pope St Pius X cut the number of non-Sunday Holy Days of Obligation down from 36, but if we keep chiselling away at our sacred liturgical year, what will the long-term impact be on our identity as Catholics? “Where your treasure is …”
We are our rites. Holy Church wisely sought, and still seeks, to form us also by means of our rhythmic and cyclical fasts and feasts, so that we, who each year change, can benefit incrementally from their unchanging messages and mysteries.
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