Monday, January 01, 2007

Does She? or Doesn't She?

After 4 days of relaxation at my old seminary, catching up on mail, and the normal weekend activities at my parish, I'm back for your 2007 blog-addiction fulfillment.

So let's start off with today, January 1st, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. While the title of this blog entry really goes back to some hair product commercial I remember from my childhood (congratulations to you, hair-product-marketing-person, you drilled that tagline into my long term memory!), the same question pops up every year: Is today a Holy Day of Obligation for Holy Mother Church?

[Note: it's now an hour later than when I started writing this. A call to the emergency room. Welcome into your little glimpse of the Priesthood.]

The answer is this: The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Catholic Church (the whole list of H.Ds of O. can be found in the Church's Canon Law, No. 1246, paragraph 1). But if you take a look at paragraph 2 of that canon, you find out that conferences of bishops have the power to adapt these days (providing they get approval from Rome).

In 1991, the United States Bishops did exactly that. In a document available on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' website, you'll see that, while they affirmed the 6 Holy Days of Obligation mentioned in Canon Law, they ruled that "Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated." What it means is that the Feast Day still exists and is celebrated with the readings and prayers proper to the day. The only thing different is that, when the feast day falls on a Saturday or Monday, the faithful's obligation to attend Mass is lifted. As an analogy, when my grandmothers were alive, I'd call them and buy them gifts on their respective birthdays. Now that they are deceased, their dates of birth have not changed, but I'm not really obligated to buy them gifts. Anyway, Rome approved of the US Bishops' decision on July 4, 1992 (an ordinary day in Italy, but an interesting choice of dates for a decree affecting America). Part of their power to "adapt" also means to transfer major feast days to Sunday, which is why feasts like the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, and Corpus Christi have been shifted to Sunday celebrations, while still celebrated on specific dates elsewhere in the world (eg- January 6 for the Epiphany). The latest to fall is the Ascension, which has been bumped to Sunday in most of the US, except for a few holdouts in the northeast.

What January 1 is not is a "movable feast", which is a whole different animal. You're already pretty used to this one. Many feasts in the Church change dates each year, the most obvious being Easter Sunday. Because of that, days like Ash Wednesday, the Ascension (in dioceses where Jesus still spent 40 days on earth after his Resurrection, and not 43 days- hehehe), and Corpus Christi (which is celebrated on the Thursday after Holy Trinity Sunday, which itself is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost, which itself is celebrated... Well, you get the idea) also shift dates from year to year. Some specific feasts also have the power to switch days, such as the one that we'll experience next in the US, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is usually the Sunday after Epiphany Sunday (another feast moved to Sunday), but when January 7 or 8 is a Sunday, then the feast is celebrated on the Monday after Epiphany is celebrated (confused? It's o.k.). Others include March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph (which, if it falls on a Sunday, bounces to March 20) and March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation (which, if it falls on a Sunday gets bumped to March 26, and if it falls any day during Holy Week gets bumped to the Monday after the Easter Octave). These are the aptly named movable feasts. Now, do you have to remember all of this? Not really, thanks to those calendars every parish seems to give out each year. All the work is done for you, so just enjoy the Feast and patronize the businesses that sponsored your local parish calendar so that you could get it for free.

So when it comes to our original question about celebrating the Feast of Mary, mother of God, I go back to the hair commercial's tagline, "Does she or doesn't she?" The answer is "She still does."

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