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Saturday, March 15, 2008


St Patrick's Day is being moved

This year St Patrick’s Day 17 March falls in Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. And so the Roman Catholic Church has moved St Patrick’s Day to Saturday 15 March. In some places.

The Christian calendar is a combination of fixed dates and movable feasts. When these clash there are rules that decide which celebration is more significant, and which one has to give way. This year on 17 March, Monday of Holy Week trumps St Patrick.

Normally St Patrick’s feast would be omitted completely (in the General Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church the feast of St Patrick is ranked merely as an “optional memorial”). In some places and some particular local Roman Catholic calendars, however, St Patrick’s Day has the status of a “solemnity”. This means it would normally be transferred to the next available empty space: Tuesday April first (following Monday March 31 to which has been transferred the Annunciation of the Lord – a solemnity 9 perfect months before Christmas, 25 March, which falls in the first week of the Easter Season and hence has also been trumped.)

St Patrick's Day New York
The Irish bishops thought that moving St Patrick’s Day that far would be beyond the pale. They have had agreement to move it back to Saturday 15 March. That date is, however, the solemnity of St Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Maybe they are just being quiet about that. Maybe they forgot about that?

The Australasian solution is not to ignore St Joseph, and to move St Patrick’s Day to Friday 14 March. Similarly a newsletter from the U.S. bishops' liturgy secretariat last April announced that the feast day of St. Patrick may be moved to Friday, March 14, in dioceses "where St. Patrick is the principal patron of a particular church" and where "it is customarily commemorated as a solemnity."

The last time St Patrick's Day had to be moved was in 1940 when it was changed to April 3rd because it coincided with Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week and the Sunday before Easter Day. The next time St. Patrick's Day is expected to fall during Holy Week will be in 2160.

In Dublin and elsewhere, the St Patrick’s Day parade will be March 17 as usual. And that day will be an official day off of work in Ireland. In some places some groups (eg. the Ancient Order of Hibernians), in fidelity to the RC moving of the date, will absent themselves from their traditional involvement in civic celebrations. In other places the civic celebrations are changing to fit in with the Roman Catholic Church’s date: 14 March. Still others will have their parade and celebration on the previous Sunday, 9 March. (St Patrick's Day parade picture, New York).

Archbishop of Boston
And the winner is…. (drum roll!!!) Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston (link off this site). He noticed the problem with celebrating on March 15 when it’s St Joseph’s turn. He didn’t like the idea of celebrating St Patrick on the 14th – a Friday in Lent. So he’s going back to 17 March, when he’ll follow his church’s ruling and read the readings and prayers set down for Monday in Holy Week and then “reflect on the life and ministry of St. Patrick. As usual, we will bless and distribute the shamrocks, which St. Patrick used so effectively — as a symbol of the cross and as a symbol for the Trinity.”
St Patrick

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