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Our Observance of Holy
Days Is Still Evolving


Why Different Laws East and West?
Why Secular?

What Happened to Novena Devotions?
Devotion to St. Monica

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Why Different Laws East and West?

Last May, when I went to church on Ascension Thursday, my missalette said that in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington the solemnity would be celebrated the following Sunday. How come? And why the difference between east and west?

Over the centuries traditions and customs regarding feasts or holy days of obligation have varied from nation to nation. A leaflet from the Worship Office of Cincinnati, Holy Days of Obligation, published in 1993, reminds us they have also varied in the United States. In the early years of colonization, dioceses like San Francisco and New Orleans followed the liturgical calendars of the founding nations: Spain and France. Under British rule, Roman Catholics of the United States observed 36 feasts of obligation kept in England. In 1777 Pope Pius VI reduced the holy days of obligation for England and its colonies to 11. And in 1789 Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, the first U.S. bishop, removed the obligation from the feast of England’s patron, St. George.

In our time, before Vatican II, the U.S. bishops had obtained approval to observe just six of 10 feasts of obligation in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. After Vatican II, with the publication of the 1983 Code of Canon Law and the earlier revision of the liturgical calendar, there was much discussion in this country of what feasts or solemnities should be observed as days of obligation. Canon 1246, #2, of the new Code permits the bishops’ conference, with prior approval of the apostolic see, to suppress the obligation of some feasts in the Code or transfer their celebration to a Sunday.

The U.S. bishops chose to remove the obligation from the feasts of St. Joseph and Sts. Peter and Paul. They also transferred the observance of the solemnities of Corpus Christi (the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) and Epiphany to the following Sundays. As a conference they decided to continue celebrating Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary (New Year’s Day and at one time the Feast of the Circumcision), the Ascension, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, All Saints and the Immaculate Conception as feasts of obligation.

That, however, did not end the matter. The observance of some feasts, like Assumption and All Saints, presented particular difficulties when they fell on Saturday or Monday.

Priests found themselves trying to celebrate multiple Masses to permit people to satisfy both Sunday and feast-day obligations. People got confused over which Masses would satisfy which obligations. The day of the feast or Sunday was not finished when they were attending Mass for the other. It was not only confusing but also physically taxing for priests and people. What was this doing to the spirit of devotion?

So, as a conference, the U.S. bishops decided, with Vatican approval given July 4, 1992, that when the solemnities of Mary, the Mother of God (January 1), the Assumption (August 15) or All Saints (November 1) fall on a Saturday or Monday, it is not an obligation to attend Mass for these feasts.

Yet some western U.S. dioceses apparently felt more was needed and had problems celebrating the feast of the Ascension on a Thursday. As your missalette and my own official liturgical calendar note, the celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension has been transferred from Thursday to the following Sunday in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

When I phoned the office of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, I could obtain few details about when and how this action took place. I presume that, either individually or as a group, these dioceses obtained the approval of the Holy See through the National Conference of Bishops.

Looking through my file of clippings, I found yet another interesting fact. According to the April 9, 1992, issue of The Catholic Messenger of Davenport, Iowa, Bishop Joseph Ferrario of Hawaii obtained permission of the Holy See to observe only two feasts--other than Sundays--as days of obligation in Hawaii. Those feasts are Christmas and the Immaculate Conception (patroness of the United States). According to the news report, this makes Hawaii’s practice conform to that of the South Pacific Islands. Ferrario suggested thinking of the suppressed and transferred feasts, together with other major feasts, as "holy days of celebration."

I imagine all this sounds rather confusing. And that makes me think we have not heard the last of what to do and how to celebrate these great feasts.

What Happened to Novena Devotions?

What happened to novena devotions and the other prayer services we used to have? Who did away with them?

If your parish has fewer prayer services like novena devotions, benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the rosary, etc., I think you must see what has happened in the light of recent Church history and developments.

At least three important things took place with and following the Second Vatican Council.

One was the introduction of the liturgy in the vernacular. Prior to Vatican II, popular and personal piety found expression most easily in popular devotions like the Way of the Cross, novena services, recitation of the rosary and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In these devotions people could pray and express themselves in their own language.

They were often able to participate more fully in what was being said and done. With the introduction of the Mass being celebrated in English and the call for more active participation, people were able to share more easily in what was taking place. They were better able to express their faith, hope and love, and to lay their problems before the Lord.

A second development was the celebration of the Eucharist in afternoon and evening hours. For people unable to participate in morning Masses, there was now the opportunity to attend Mass and share in the Eucharist in the evening hours. The celebration of the Eucharist often took the place of prayer and novena services.

Lastly, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (the first document issued by the Second Vatican Council) recognized the place of private prayer. It recommended popular devotions--provided they conform to the laws and norms of the Church--especially devotions ordered by the Apostolic See or bishops. At the same time, the Constitution urged that the devotions be drawn up to harmonize with the liturgical seasons and that they should somehow be derived from and lead people to the liturgy, which, it said, "by its very nature is far superior to any of them."

In keeping with the Council, the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops noted in their pastoral statement The Church at Prayer the clear desire that all the faithful take part in the Church’s liturgical prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, especially the morning and evening hours. Pastors were urged to adapt the prayer of the hours to the parish situation. And I note that some parishes do recite the morning hour before or as part of the eucharistic celebration. Some parishes link the prayer of the evening hour with other devotions or exposition and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.

Novenas and other devotional services haven’t just disappeared. I still see parishes where members gather before or after daily Mass to pray the rosary in common. Many parishes pray the stations of the cross in Lent. Some parishes and shrines hold St. Anthony or Miraculous Novena services. And many parishes have May devotions and the crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s statue.

Why Secular?

I have a question about the Secular Franciscans. Why do they use the word secular? That says it’s "not of God." Any answers?

The early lay followers of St. Francis were probably known as the Order of Penance. That title expressed a conversion of life on the part of its members. Like Francis of Assisi, the members of the Order of Penance tried to carry the spirit of the gospel into their daily lives in the midst of their world and society.

Later these lay followers became known as the Secular Third Order of St. Francis. The word third distinguished the order from the First Order of St. Francis consisting of priests and brothers living in community with the three religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. It also distinguished the order from the Second Order of St. Francis, known as the Poor Clares, in which religious women lived a cloistered community life with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The word secular further distinguished the order from other groups of religious men and women belonging to religious orders observing a rule based on the Rule of St. Francis. When Pope Paul VI revised the lay or secular Rule of the Third Order, the official title became the Secular Franciscan Order.

The accent on secular is to make it clear the order is for people living in the mainstream of life. As Lester Bach, O.F.M., put it in Franciscan Way of Life: A Commentary on the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order: "The secular Franciscans live in the world, i.e., not joined to or in convents, monasteries or friaries. The ‘place’ of holiness for Secular Franciscans is in the marketplace of the world, in the homes and neighborhoods where they dwell."

The members of the Secular Franciscan Order are to infiltrate society from within. By their presence in its midst, they are to change society for the better. The title does not indicate that God is separate from society or the created world. It rather speaks of the desire of its members to make God ever more present to daily life.

For more information about the Secular Franciscan Order, you can call 1-800-FRANCIS. Or, you can obtain the text and a commentary on The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, by Cornelio Moya Ramos, O.F.M., Felipe Baldonado, O.F.M., and Zachary Grant, O.F.M.Cap., from Franciscan Press, Quincy University, 1000 College Avenue, Quincy, Illinois 62301, $7.50, phone 217-228-5670. The press prefers to bill buyers for the cost of books and shipping.

Devotion to St. Monica

I am devoted to St. Monica. Is there a litany or novena in her honor?

I’m sure many mothers worried about their children have a special devotion to St. Monica. But I know of no litany or special novena prayers asking her intercession.

But you can certainly make your own novena by praying for Monica’s intercession and inspiration in your own words. Or you can take the opening prayer from the Mass of her feast and use that: "God of mercy, comfort of those in sorrow, the tears of St. Monica moved you to convert her son, St. Augustine, to the faith of Christ. By their prayers, help us to turn from our sins and to find your loving forgiveness.

"Grant this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever."



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