Keeping Feasts with Greater Festivity

In his book, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper speaks about the importance and particular qualities of festivals. Pieper proposes that true festivity always involves a divine element for true festivals, he argues, do not arise from mere concepts, legislation or political decisions. Rather, for the Christian (as well as ancient Greeks and Romans like Plato and Cicero), festivals are instead something divinely oriented, having their roots in the rituals of worship. Part of the importance and function of feasts and festivals then is that they allow us to move beyond the present, temporarily liberating us from our day to day lives, bringing us into contact with something greater and more profound.

This understanding is something that we can certainly see incarnate in many traditional Catholic customs attached to the festive days and seasons of the liturgical year. One particularly striking manifestation of this was found at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome where particularly solemn occasions, such as the canonizations of saints, where marked by festal red banners, hundreds of candlelit chandeliers and the candlelit illumination of the exterior of the basilica.

Doubtless readers will see what a difference and impression this makes from the 'ordinary' look of the basilica. This wasn't unique to St. Peter's however, as similar customs can still be found in churches throughout Italy, Malta, as well as other parts of the world.

Traditionally too, festive days saw the most precious and beautiful liturgical items used; from the most precious vestments to the most ornate altar adornments. Church plate and relics might be displayed and fresh cut flowers would frequently be found upon the altars.

An example, taken from Luzar Vestments, of the stylistic differences than often characterize the distinction between a more 'ordinary' day to day occasion (left) and something more extraordinary (right). 
In this example below, taken from Malta, you will see how they not only have utilized the aforementioned red hangings, the altar has also been ornamented with taller, more ornate candles and candlesticks. Further to that, silver reliquaries have also been placed on the gradine of the high altar.

All of these serve as visual cues which greatly assist in pulling one out of the realm of the ordinary and into the realm of the extraordinary.  By contrast, without these sorts of cues the danger is that our feast days may well become little different from our 'fast days.' Insofar as that may be the case, a very great opportunity is being lost, for times such as these can be extraordinarily profound for the very reasons Pieper mentions.

With that in mind, I'd invite our priests, sacristans and the like to consider how they night pick up upon these festal traditions in their own churches so that we can ensure that we marking our feasts with the greatest possible festivity, moving hearts, minds and souls toward the eternal and heavenly in the process.

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