Many dioceses throughout the nation have opted to transfer the solemnity of our Lord’s Ascension from a Thursday (ten days before Pentecost) to the following Sunday. I suppose to reason for this is to accommodate Catholics by relieving them of the holy obligation of assisting at Mass two times in one week. Quite often, dioceses will celebrate other feast days such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary, not on the date they have been traditionally celebrated on, but on a Sunday most proximate to the feast day. Arguably, this modern accommodation is designed for those Catholics who might consider it a burden to attend Mass twice in one week.
I cannot think of any other reason for not celebrating solemnities or feast days on the day the Church has traditionally celebrated them. This pastoral accommodation seems to be the most obvious explanation. Perhaps, the reason why Ash Wednesday is still on Wednesday is due to the fact it is not a day of holy obligation. But if it was, rest assured that “Ash Sunday” would soon appear on the Church calendar.
The irony is that this pastoral accommodation has become more common during an era when transportation is universally available for everyone. I could be wrong, but I do not remember reading about this kind of pastoral accommodation being implemented when Catholics had to walk or ride a horse and buggy to their local parish. Times were tougher not too long ago but the standards were higher too.
The unintended consequence of transferring the solemnity of our Lord’s Ascension from a Thursday to the following Sunday is that dioceses are giving Catholics just another reason not to go to Mass; this, so that Catholics are not “penalized” for missing a holy day of obligation. This accommodation, it seems to me, epitomizes the general spirit of accommodation that has led to the lowering of pastoral standards which, in turn, has led to people’s low esteem of the Sacraments and the Church herself.
I have done ministries in parishes, dioceses, Catholic schools and other agencies. I have witnessed good things, to be sure. But I have also witnessed a widespread apathy among those youth and adults who participate in religious programs. Perhaps, one of the reasons why fewer couples are getting married is partially due to the fact that anyone can get married in the Church. How special can it be when couples who cohabitate, that is, living in such a way which is diametrically opposed to the virtues and graces needed for marriage, are processed right on through the marriage-prep programs? This gives the impression that cohabitation is an acceptable prelude to marriage. With this, it does not seem all that incompatible with it. Well, if that is the case, then why get married at all? But I digress!
The point is that when standards are low, when there is no sacrifice required for admission, or when there is unconditional access to that which is special, people will intuitively consider even the holiest of things as unimportant. Indeed, when something becomes too easy or when there are no consequences for bad or sinful behavior, indifference is inevitably fostered. Like it or not, this is the general effect. Unfortunately, it is the easiest thing in the world to become a card-carrying member of the Catholic Church or have access to her most sacred of gifts. But it wasn’t always like this.
Pope Benedict XVI, soon after his election to the papacy in 2005, visited his brother bishops in Austria. He pointed out to them that preaching on those doctrines society finds difficult to accept, far from scaring them away, will attract more souls. Put it another way, the Cross of Jesus Christ is a high standard and it must be held high. Christ did not mince words or soften standards when he called men and women to follow him. They had to renounce everything- including their own lives. To be sure, they were called to give all and to foresake all.
Conversion, salvation and eternal happiness comes with a price. As the Fathers of the Church would say, there is no crown without a cross. If it is an inconvenience to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass one more day during the week, so be it. If we cannot stomach such an inconvenience, can we ever be equal to our mission with all of its challenges?