LEICESTER, England – Catholics in England and Wales will begin celebrating Epiphany and the Ascension on their traditional days next year, after the Vatican confirmed a decision made by the bishops’ conference.
In 2006, the bishops had moved the two Holy Days of Obligation – along with Corpus Christi – to the nearest Sunday.
At the time, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said, “In order to foster the celebration of the rhythm of the liturgical year and to celebrate more profoundly the mysteries of the life and mission of the Lord, the Bishops have decided to transfer to Sunday those Holy Days of Obligation which are Solemnities of the Lord (other than Christmas Day).”
Holy Days of Obligation are treated like Sundays, and Mass attendance is obligatory for Catholics.
Before that date, England and Wales had seven Holy Days of Obligation on their calendar: Epiphany (January 6), Ascension (forty days after Easter), Corpus Christi (the Thursday after Trinity Sunday), Saints Peter and Paul (June 29), the Assumption (August 15), All Saints (November 1) and Christmas Day (December 25).
Corpus Christi remains transferred to the following Sunday, and Epiphany will be celebrated on the Sunday if January 6 falls on the preceding Saturday or following Monday.
In the United States, the Holy Days of Obligation are Mary Mother of God (January 1), the Assumption (August 15), All Saints (November 1), Immaculate Conception (December 8), and Christmas Day (December 25).
In 1999, the Vatican approved a decision by the U.S. bishops to transfer the celebration of the Ascension to the following Sunday. However, the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha continue to celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord on Thursday, and it is a holy day of obligation in those areas.
This year, Pope Francis moved the traditional Corpus Christi procession from Thursday, June 15 – when it is celebrated on the Vatican calendar – to the following Sunday, when the feast is celebrated in Italy.
This is not the first time the bishops of England and Wales have reversed changing a traditional practice. In 2011, the bishops re-established Friday abstinence within their jurisdiction.
At the time, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said the bishops decided to invite Catholics to understand again the importance of self-denial “which springs from that self-sacrificing love of Christ who denied himself that we might have life.”
The cardinal said, “Not eating meat on a Friday is a gesture, a reminder of something that tells us every week we have a very particular take on life. The gift of faith. It’s something we treasure.”
He invited vegetarians to give up something else, so the entire community could learn to sacrifice together.