Transfer of Feasts
The patronal feast of South Africa, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven, is on August 15. This year the feast falls on a Thursday, and in Southern Africa the solemnity will therefore be transferred to the following Sunday.
As it is several times a year, but especially on the feast of the Assumption, there will be many complaints about the bishops taking liberties by shifting important feasts. Often these complaints are supplemented by observations that the act of transferring a feast serves to dilute its significance, the unity of the Church, and by extension the faith.
The bishops suggest that the decision to transfer feasts that are holy days of obligation — such as those of the Ascension, the Assumption or the Epiphany — from weekdays to Sundays meets a pastoral need.
Many people are unable to attend Mass on the actual feast days, due to work and family commitments, or because of long distances they would need to travel to church. Such people would, firstly, miss out on the celebration of the feast, and, secondly, risk incurring sin by failing to attend Mass on a holy day of obligation. Since Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays, a day when most Catholics have more time than on a weekday, the risk of these eventualities is diminished when feasts are transferred from weekdays to Sundays.
Since Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays, a day when most Catholics have more time than on a weekday, the risk of these eventualities is diminished when feasts are transferred from weekdays to Sundays.
Of course, it may be argued that Catholics turn out in great numbers for Ash Wednesday Masses, even though these by definition fall on a weekday. Therefore, the reasoning goes, it should also be possible for Catholics to come to church on a weekday to celebrate important feasts.
But the bishops’ concern resides not with who could or might come to church, but with those who cannot, especially in rural areas where there are not churches in every suburb.
Since Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, Catholics are at liberty to miss out on Mass that day. For that reason, the bishops needn’t transfer that celebration. Since Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, Catholics are at liberty to miss out on Mass that day. For that reason, the bishops needn’t transfer that celebration.
One of the great attributes of the Catholic Church is its universality. Wherever in the world one goes to Mass, the liturgy and the feasts in the Roman missal are the same — except where local saints are added (for example, as the Church in Southern Africa adds the feast of Bl Benedict Daswa to its liturgical calendar) and where solemnities are transferred.
In most traditionally Catholic countries, feasts such as the Assumption, the Ascension and Corpus Christi are still public holidays (a term derived from exactly such holy days of obligation), making it easily possible for the faithful to celebrate them on the given day, often with processions and other public shows of devotion.
However, in countries where such days are not public holidays, these feasts often are transferred. The idea that the bishops of Southern Africa are innovating in some way is misplaced. Feasts that are days of obligation are likewise transferred in countries such as the United States, Australia or Denmark. In any case, since the dates of these feasts were more or less arbitrarily appointed — we do not know the date of the Ascension of the Lord or the Assumption of Our Lady — what counts is not when they are observed but the spirit in which they are celebrated.
In any case, since the dates of these feasts were more or less arbitrarily appointed — we do not know the date of the Ascension of the Lord or the Assumption of Our Lady — what counts is not when they are observed but the spirit in which they are celebrated.
In a Southern Cross article published in 2016, Bishop Edward Risi of Keimoes-Upington, then in charge of the bishops’ liturgy department, suggested that transferred feasts might be seen as an opportunity to have two bites of the holy cherry: on the actual feast day and again on the Sunday to which the feast is moved.
The bishops “encourage priests and laity to use the traditional days of the solemnities for celebrations in Catholic schools, institutions like hospitals and old age homes”, Bishop Risi said at the time.
It is up to the parishes to offer Masses for the feast days on their actual day, using the particular liturgy — and if this is not offered, for parishioners to ask their priest to do so.
The bishops will need to make this more explicit and explain the reasons for transferring the solemnities more widely, even to priests, also giving guidance as to the correct use of liturgy on the actual feast day.
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