Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
Not really, but I did not attend Divine Liturgy yesterday, Ascension Thursday, which is a major feast. I had planned on attending, and had taken a change of clothes in case I had to work later than usual and had to drive directly to Canton or Akron, where the three closest Byzantine Catholic parishes are.
But when I got to work I was told that there was a sick call and that instead of my usual hour or hour and a half overtime I was going to carry two and a half hours extra. This meant that I would have to drive to Akron, where there was a 7pm liturgy (St George in Canton is 6:30). That is a fifty minute drive from Wooster, where I work.
The two and a half hours was all walking, which meant that I would walk over 6 extra miles, in addition to the 7 or 8 on my own route.
By midday I realized that I was going to be dead tired by the end of the day. The prospect of a fifty minute drive, an hour and a half liturgy and then a thirty minute drive back home began to seem daunting. By day’s end I decided that it was no sin to just go home.
Now, some may ask why, for a feast celebrated in every rite, did I not just attend a local Roman mass?
Because, dear reader, in the Latin Catholic diocese in which I live all the moveable weekday feasts except Christmas are celebrated on the nearest Sunday. I don’t know if this custom is universal, but I don’t think it rare.
The Latin Church is frequently criticized for this; the practice is cited as yet another proof of the laxity of the Roman Church, which after all requires fasting on only two days a year, and abstinence from meat only on the Fridays of Lent. Most of the criticism I have seen has been from clerics, in other words from men whose lives involve very little manual labor or heavy lifting and are free on feast days to celebrate the whole day long.
Workers, on the other hand, face the task of rushing off to liturgy after working all day. I can’t tell you how many times, after a grueling 10 hour workday, I have stood clutching the pew in front of me, trying hard not to fall asleep during a festal liturgy. That is not celebration but a penance. It is not a feast but a fast.
For in a Catholic or Orthodox culture a feast is an occasion for rest and well, for feasting. It is a day off work, a day for family and friends, music, and of course, for the processions and liturgical services of the day. But for those of us living in a secular society, it is just another day at work, with an ardous task at the end of it. Ascension Thursday, to the world, is just Thursday. Maybe if you work in an air conditioned office this is not big deal, but for those who labor physically it can be exhausting. I question the wisdom of requiring attendance at a festal liturgy when the attendance is anything but festal, let alone laying the burden of the “holy day of obligation” on the faithful. By all means keep the feast, but celebrate it as well on Sunday, the day when workers are rested and free.
The common Roman practice, far from lax, is truly a pastoral one.
(Painting by Boris Kustodiev, c 1915)