The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has announced that two Holy Days of Obligation are to be reinstated. The Feasts of the Epiphany and of the Ascension are in future in England and Wales to be on the actual day, and not on the nearest Sunday. An exception will be when the Epiphany (6th January) falls on a Saturday or a Monday, in which case it will continue to be celebrated on the Sunday. The Ascension will always be celebrated on the Thursday which falls 40 days after Easter Sunday.
This decision is to be welcomed. When, in 2006, the Conference decided to transfer these two feasts, together with Corpus Christi, it was met with a great deal of protest, with many public letters of objection being published. I think that this must have taken the bishops by surprise, as an undertaking was taken to review the decision. There then followed more than ten years of silence, despite the occasional enquiring letter. Most people had concluded that that the bishops had no intention of reversing the decision, so the recent announcement has come as a surprise to many of us who have been campaigning for a review.
Interestingly, our bishops have not reinstated the Feast of Corpus Christi to its traditional date. Why should this be? One possible explanation is that the bishops wanted to avoid a complete reversal of the earlier decision, thinking, maybe, that a partial retraction would not look like such a big climb down. This could also be the reason for the long delay. Nevertheless, many people will find it difficult to understand how it can be right that the obligation to attend Mass applied up to 2006 and after 2017, but not between these dates.
There is another practical point that affects Latin Mass provision. In the last ten years, many priests who are supporters of the Latin Mass, have taken the opportunity of transferred Holy Days to celebrate Latin Masses on the traditional day of the feast. It will be interesting to see how many of these continue to do so, as it is likely that there will be some pressure on them to offer English Masses on these days.
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