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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Celebrating Holy Days of Obligation

How Can Bishops Change the Date?

Q: How can the U.S. bishops say that we have no duty to attend Mass on a holy day of obligation if it falls on a Monday or a Saturday? The precepts of the Church specify which feasts are holy days, regardless of where they fall in the weekly calendar. We must attend Mass not only on Sunday but also on these holy days. How can the observance of Jesus' Ascension be transferred to a Sunday?

A: The 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin rite specifies 10 holy days of obligation: January 1, Epiphany, St. Joseph, Ascension, Corpus Christi, Sts. Peter and Paul, Assumption, All Saints, Immaculate Conception and Christmas.

That same Code allows episcopal conferences, with prior approval of the Holy See, to suppress certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday (Canon #1246:2).

The Holy See requires that in each country Christmas and one feast of Mary be observed on the actual date as holy days of obligation. The U.S. bishops have designated the Immaculate Conception, our patronal feast on December 8, as our Marian feast.

If it or Christmas falls on a Saturday or a Monday, they are always holy days of obligation in the United States. If January 1, Assumption or All Saints falls on Saturday or Monday, they are not holy days of obligation that year.

In 1993 the bishops of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Hawaii sought and received the Holy See's permission to transfer Ascension Thursday to the following Sunday for a trial period of five years. That permission was renewed in 1998.

On November 16, 1998, the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a resolution that a majority vote of diocesan bishops in each ecclesiastical province would determine if the feast of Ascension is transferred to the following Sunday.

That decision was confirmed by the Holy See. There are 31 Latin-rite ecclesiastical provinces in the United States.

As of March 15, 2000, I know that bishops in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Wyoming, Colorado and Texas have sought and received permission to transfer Ascension to the following Sunday, starting this year.

In recent years in the United States, the feasts of Epiphany and Corpus Christi have been transferred to Sunday. The feasts of St. Joseph and Sts. Peter and Paul have not been holy days in the United States for many years.

The precepts of the Church are interpreted by the Church's legitimate authority—in this case, by the Holy See and the bishops' conferences.

Where Was God?

Q: Recently 60 Minutes II had a story about a little boy in foster care in Georgia. The child's caregiver starved the boy, beat him, tortured him and finally murdered him. Where was the child's guardian angel? Where was the Blessed Mother? Where was Jesus, the lord of divine mercy and love, while all this was going on?

A: Yes, there is a great deal of suffering in this world. Isn't most of it, however, caused by an abuse of human freedom? Every day newspapers carry stories about human freedom used destructively.

Where were the foster child's guardian angel, Mary and Jesus when that child was being abused? Trying to help people live according to the dignity in which they were created. Some people respond well to that; unfortunately, many do not.

God could prevent such tragedies by temporarily and selectively suspending human freedom to prevent its abuse. That would suggest that people never have to accept the consequences of their destructive decisions yet are free to claim responsibility for decisions with positive outcomes.

If God totally abolished human freedom, that would eliminate the positive uses of such freedom. Doesn't love require human freedom? Isn't our freedom part of being made in God's image and likeness? (See Genesis 1:27.)

Many fine writers have wrestled with the issue of innocent human suffering (for example, the biblical Book of Job, Elie Wiesel's books, Albert Camus's The Plague and Rabbi Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People). If you have not read any of this literature, consider doing so.

No writing, however, will restore to life that child murdered in Georgia. Because I believe in a life beyond this one and because I believe that God is both good and just, then the abuse of human freedom cannot have the last word. God's values must prevail eventually.

Unfortunately, we see tremendous innocent human suffering right now. One response is to become bitter about God and about life in general—perhaps to deny that God exists or that God cares about individual people.

It seems to me allowing such suffering to motivate us to become more compassionate people is a much better response. Soup kitchens, hospitals, orphanages, shelters for the homeless, etc., are usually organized by people well acquainted with innocent human suffering. Yet they choose to respond with works of compassion.

Can we afford to let the abuse of human freedom have the last word, to cancel our decision to act compassionately toward victims of such abuse and to work to prevent that abuse?

Even though the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) knew that robbers had abused their freedom terribly and left someone half dead, the Samaritan decided not to let their abusive action stop him from using his freedom constructively.

Although I cannot control how other people use their freedom, I can and must decide how I will use mine.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Mary, Star of the Sea?

Q: Recently my wife and I were visiting San Francisco where we attended Mass at Star of the Sea Parish. In the cupola is a large painting of Mary in the sea. I never heard of Mary as Star of the Sea. From where did this title come and what does it mean?

A: This title has been applied to Mary for centuries. One explanation is that when St. Jerome translated the Hebrew word mar, he used the Latin word stilla. Yam is the Hebrew word for "sea." Thus, maryam (Mary's name) would mean "drop of the sea." Later, the Latin stilla (drop) was read as stella (star). "Drop of the sea" became "star of the sea."

Ave Maris Stella is a ninth-century Latin hymn honoring Mary. Considering the dangers of sea travel in ancient times, it is easy to imagine that sailors and passengers gladly prayed to Mary for safe passage.

Word Rosary Explained

Q: I've always wondered: Where did the rosary gets its name?

A: According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, "Rosarium (a rose garden) [was] a common term to designate a collection of similar material. In preempting this term, Mary's clients applied the rose, the symbol of joy, to Mary. The name was later transferred to the recitation of 50 Aves [Hail Marys] commemorating Mary's joys. As devotion to Mary's dolors [sorrows] arose during the 14th century, the second chaplet was dedicated to them. Logically, the third chaplet was set aside for her heavenly [glorious] joys."

Another explanation is that the 150 psalms were matched with 150 Our Fathers and then later Hail Marys.

Information about Mary's association with various flowers can be found in Mary's Flowers: Gardens, Legends and Meditations, by Vincenzina Krymow (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Why Bless Objects?

Q: My friend questions the custom of blessing objects such as cars, homes, crosses and other things. Why is that done?

A: I think that blessing such things is a fine custom as long as the person does not think that the blessing excuses him or her from using the object prudently. For example, having my car blessed does not mean that I can drive recklessly and be guaranteed not to have an accident.

Blessing objects is one way of saying that everything comes from God and should be used in harmony with God's intention, with respect for the rest of creation (human and nonhuman). We bless the food we eat, but we do not eat everything in sight! The virtue of temperance should influence all of life.

The General Introduction to Book of Blessings (U.S. Catholic Conference) says that blessings "refer first and foremost to God, whose majesty and goodness they extol, and since they indicate the communication of God's favor, they also involve human beings, whom he governs and in his providence protects.

"Further, blessings apply to other created things through which, in their abundance and variety, God blesses human beings" (#7).

Disposing of Religious Articles

Q: What should you do with blessed religious articles (statues, rosaries) which are broken?

A: If they cannot be repaired and donated to someone else, burying them is recommended.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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