Today is the Ascension of the Lord. What could have been a very joyous feast has become a point of contention for many Filipino Catholics. Why? Because the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines decided to transfer the feast to a Sunday, literally destroying a chronology backed by Holy Writ itself! Fortunately, the usus antiquior operates on its own calendar, so this preposterous recklessness, which is not uniquely Filipino, but common to a motley set of episcopal conferences, can only slobber outside the gates of rubrical rectitude.
That said, we have to admit that the reason that the novus ordo loves to quote in its vain attempt to justify its scandalous penchant for transferring feasts also obtains in the vetus ordo. Not all faithful attached to the vetus ordo is able to attend Mass on a weekday, and not all priests ministering to traditional communities is able to say the Mass of All Ages on a weekday. Hence, it is often asked whether it is possible to celebrate feasts that fall on weekdays as an external solemnity on a Sunday. And the answer to this is in the affirmative. A qualified affirmative, that is.
The now-defunct Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei clarified this matter with a formal ruling on 20 October 2008 (head over here for the rescript, and here for the press release). If the local episcopal conference decided to transfer the feast to a Sunday, the feast is only transferred in the usus recentior. The feast remains on its proper day in the usus antiquior. Traditional communities desiring to mark the festivities on a Sunday are permitted, but not required, to celebrate an external solemnity of the same feast on the Sunday to which the local episcopal conference transferred it. This is the qualification of the affirmative response issued by the PCED. The feast is to be externally solemnised on the Sunday of its translation.
One may be dismayed why the PCED countenanced such anomaly, which can come across as acquiescing to the paradigm of the novus ordo, but this formal ruling is, in fact, more favourable to the vetus ordo than the other possibility being contemplated upon at this time. The first clarification Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos (head over here for the cardinal’s confirmation) provided on this matter tended towards total submission of the vetus ordo to the novus ordo calendar, where the transferred feast would command greater import over the traditional date, which would then be reduced to a status akin to that of an external solemnity, with an added insult of being optional. If the good cardinal’s response transcended the vapours of interview and became ink on paper, many traditionalists all over the world today would be required and obliged to celebrate the feast of the Ascension on 21 May, and only a mere external solemnity of the Ascension on 18 May.
Fortunately, the definitive ruling quashed this imminent obscenity. In practical terms, this means that, this Sunday, 21 May, Filipino Catholics can celebrate an external solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. This also means that, on 11 June, which is the Sunday within the octave of Corpus Christi, Filipino Catholics can celebrate an external solemnity of the Corpus Christi. This further means that, on 7 January 2024, and on 5 January 2025, as well as on 4 January 2026, which are the first Sundays after 1 January in each mentioned year, Filipino Catholics can celebrate an external solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. It bears repeating that this faculty permits, but not requires, traditional communities to celebrate the external solemnity of a feast on the Sunday chosen by the local episcopal conference.
This is a reminder that, behind the relative stability the usus antiquior today enjoys, lies a chaos of opportunities both happily seized (the tacit permissions that went into the official traditional ordo, for example) and happily missed (the obligation to follow the novus ordo calendar in reckoning traditional feasts, as mentioned above). Militancy on behalf of the vetus ordo is doomed to tragedy if we helm it as activists who fail, or even refuse, to recognise the nuances. We personally dislike favouring external solemnities to the detriment of their proper feasts, but we must not let our preferences crowd the room that Holy Mother Church built for her children with respect to matters liturgical.