August 18, 2013

August 18, 2013 Column Father De Celles

Holydays of obligation. This last Thursday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holyday of obligation. In conversations with many parishioners in various parishes over the years I’ve become aware that many people were unaware or uncertain of the obligations related to the Holy days.

The Code of Canon Law (Can. 1247) tells us: “On Sundays and other Holydays of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body.”

What exactly are the “other Holydays”? The Church recognizes 10: Christmas, the Epiphany, the Ascension, Corpus Christi, Mary the Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the Feast of St. Joseph, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, and All Saints Day. In accordance with Canon Law, the Bishops of America have moved two of these to the nearest Sunday (Corpus Christi and Epiphany) and, essentially, demoted two others (St. Joseph, Ss. Peter and Paul), so that Americans only observe six Holydays. However, the Bishops of many American Dioceses (including our own) have also moved the Ascension to the nearest Sunday, leaving us in Arlington only five Holydays. BUT, the American Bishops have also provided that if Mary the Mother of God, the Assumption or All Saints fall on a Saturday or Monday (right before or after Sunday) the obligation to attend Mass (see below) is not required.

What this means is that in many American Dioceses, including Arlington, there are only two Holydays that must always be observed every year: Christmas and Immaculate Conception; and some years we may or may not observe three others: Mary the Mother of God, the Assumption or All Saints.

Very confusing, I know.

In any case, notice something interesting. Canon Law refers to “Sundays and other Holydays of obligation.” Note the word “other”: Every Sunday is actually a “Holyday of obligation.” Which means that Catholics should treat the “other Holydays of obligation” (the 10, or 6 or 5 or 2 listed above) like they are Sundays!

That should give us all pause to ask ourselves: did I treat last Thursday as if it were a Sunday?

And how should I treat Sunday and the other Holydays? The Third Commandment, recorded in Exodus 20:8-10, requires: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work.” Church law concretizes this in two specific, minimum requirements obliging all Catholics 1) to go to Mass and 2) to abstain from most types of work on the Sabbath, or Sunday. But we also extend this Sabbath/Sunday treatment to the “other Holydays,” so that, for example, last Thursday, the Assumption, we should have gone to Mass and not gone to work!

Those of you who went to work on Thursday, don’t panic. First of all, most of you probably didn’t know about this “rule.” Second, most of your employers did not give you the day off as if it were Sunday.

It must be remembered, however, that “work” includes not just working for money, but also any exertion that “inhibit[s] the …relaxation of mind and body,” so it generally includes things like housework, shopping and homework. But the rule against working is not absolute, for as Christ reminds us, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Some jobs must be done on the Sabbath, e.g., police, firefighters, medical professionals, and priests (and some would include chefs and waiters who give parents an opportunity to rest from preparing meals). Sometimes parents have to get something done for the good of their family that, for just reason, cannot be done on another day, e.g., after a long busy week they discover they forgot to do the laundry. Sometimes employers require employees work on Sunday or lose their jobs, or sometimes the seasonal obligations require work, e.g., farmers during the harvest, accountants in tax season, students studying for finals. Also, one man’s work is another man’s recreation: some find yard work extremely relaxing on Sunday’s.

In the same way, we’re not supposed to work on Holydays, but can do so in some cases. Thanks be to God, since most of us are required to work on Holydays. But in the future, try to remember to rest and avoid work to the fullest extent possible (but don’t rob your employer by accepting pay for work not done). And consider this: what graces might you receive if you took a vacation day or if you gave your employees the day off on the next Holyday (All Saints, Nov. 1)?

That being said, we should take to heart the admonition of the Catechism (2185): “The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.”

An Unexpected Visitor. Some of you may have noticed an unusual visitor at Mass last Sunday: a bat. It apparently entered the church on Friday evening and decided to stay the weekend. When we discovered it late Friday we called the county and they sent out a very helpful Animal Control officer. Unfortunately, when the bat decided to roost 50 feet up the back wall of the church there wasn’t much he could do. But he assured us that, judging from the bat’s behavior, it was a healthy bat (i.e., not rabid) and suggested we just wait for it to leave, and encourage it to do so by leaving the church lights on. This is what we did, but our visitor clung to that one spot of the wall for the next 60+ hours. Tired of waiting, on Monday we thought to ask the fire department for some assistance. Voila, Fairfax’s Bravest came to the rescue, capturing the critter and setting it free at some undisclosed location far away from our church.

I joke about it, but I realize we can’t have wild animals, especially bats, in the church. We will do our best to reduce the possibilities of this in the future, and ask you to notify us of any potential problems in this regard or any such visitors you might, unfortunately, come across in the future.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles