Church in the World
Poll confirms dissent over holy day decision
9 September 2006
THE MAJORITY of practising Catholics in England and Wales are opposed to the bishops' decision to move three holy days of obligation to Sundays, according to the results of a Tablet survey.
The survey found that nearly 60 per cent of English and Welsh Catholics who took part disagreed with the move, with many complaining that it showed that the Church is giving into secularism and no longer takes major feast days seriously.
Last month, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor announced that the Epiphany, the Ascension of the Lord and Corpus Christi would no longer be celebrated on a weekday but would move to the nearest Sunday.
More than 700 Catholics responded to the poll sent out with The Tablet's weekly email newsletter. First they were invited to agree or disagree with the bishops' decision, then given a list of statements and asked which most closely chimed with their views (see box, right). Almost 90 per cent of respondents said that they attended Mass every Sunday.
While a clear majority in England and Wales disapproved of the bishops' decision, the "no" vote was even more emphatic in Scotland and Ireland where celebration of the three holy days were switched to Sundays some years ago. Well over 60 per cent in these countries said that they did not think the change should be extended to England and Wales.
However, an analysis of all 700 responses around the world showed a majority in favour of moving holy days to Sundays. A total of 55 per cent agreed with the bishops and 42 per cent disagreed. A straw poll conducted among priests at this week's National Conference of Priests (NCP) also showed that clergy believed that the bishops had made the right decision. Fr Godric Timney, chairman of the NCP, even suggested that all holy days except Christmas should be moved to the nearest Sunday. His vice-president, Fr Tom Jordan, a parish priest in Romford, Essex, said that people rarely attended holy day celebrations.
"It appears they have other obligations or they understand Sunday as their holy day," he said. "An obligation mid-week seems slightly alien. We have to listen to the culture of our day and manage change, not least with a fall in priests' numbers, in a different way."
However, others lamented the loss to schools, saying that holy days were a chance to educate children about landmark feast days. "Holy Days are one of the few occasions in the year when they can celebrate something of Catholic life as a school community," said Fr Michael Dennehy, parish priest in Eastleigh, in the Diocese of Portsmouth.