Do We Need a Divine Father's Day?

Every dog has his day, or so it is said. And not only dogs. We also fête groundhogs (Feb. 2), trees (last Friday in April), and even the earth itself (April 22). More importantly, we set aside days to honor particularly deserving persons. Thus we rightly celebrate Mother's Day, Father's Day, Teachers Day, Veterans Day, Firefighters Day, and so forth, making sure no one feels left out of the merrymaking and general appreciation. Hallmark Cards, in particular, has demonstrated a remarkably refined sense of distributive justice, ensuring that every group from secretaries to farmers now have their own special day, with an endless array of greeting cards to accommodate the miraculous multiplication of feasts.

Long before the invention of Flag Day or Presidents Day, however, the Christian Church dedicated special days to venerate the saints, and even God himself. Jesus' foster father, St. Joseph, has two big feasts celebrated in his honor, on March 19 and May 1. The Blessed Virgin Mary's feasts dot the entire calendar from January to December, and include everything from her immaculate conception to her assumption into heaven and coronation as queen. The Church celebrates the grand solemnity of Pentecost for the Holy Spirit, and numerous feasts for God the Son, such as his birthday on Christmas, Christ the King, and collateral feasts for the Eucharist (Corpus Christi) and the Sacred Heart. All worthy figures are present and accounted for — almost.

Some alert theologians and pious souls have recently discovered a worrisome exception. It seems that after nearly 2,000 years of Christianity it has finally come to light that there is no feast for God the Father. There is, of course, the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, observed on the Sunday after Pentecost, but here the Father shares billing with the other two divine persons, and this feast somehow seems to commemorate a dogma or a mystery more than the persons themselves.

Somehow in his infinite patience God the Father has put up with being overlooked up till now — though some see a possible connection with global warming — but many feel it is high time to rectify this unpardonable omission. And what better moment than the year 1999 to make such a proclamation? In his 1994 apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (“As the Third Millennium Draws Near”), Pope John Paul II declared 1999 to be the year of the Father, following on the two prior years which honored respectively Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, as a triennial preparation for the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. Supporters also claim that such a feast day would serve to bolster the flagging institution of fatherhood, which languishes in a crisis that began with the sexual revolution of the '60s.

Lest anyone be concerned whether the Pope has been informed about this embarrassing liturgical oversight, fear not. One of the more illustrious advocates for God the Father's Day is none other than Father Raniero Cantalamessa who, as preacher of the papal household, could surely be said to have the Pope's ear. But as yet there are no signs of papal ear twitching or hand itching to sign such a feast into existence. Which is not to say, of course, that such a proclamation could not happen. There are precedents, after all, and Pope John Paul has shown little aversion to circumventing protocol when he has felt the need. His own devotion to the Father is, of course, unimpeachable. In fact, John Paul dedicated the second encyclical of his pontificate, Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy”) (1980), to God the Father.

Why the reluctance, then, to declare a feast for the Father? It hasn't been for want of consideration. The question was apparently presented for consultation to Vatican theologians who mulled over the matter and subsequently responded in the negative. Pundits say the creation of such a feast would be ill-advised for two main reasons. First, the very fact that in 2,000 years the Church has seen no need to reserve a particular day to honor the Father is enough to give one pause. Fatherhood has undoubtedly suffered major setbacks in the last 30 years, both in concept and practice, but one wonders whether in the larger scheme of things the situation warrants the creation of a new liturgical feast.

The second reason goes deeper still, and touches on a vital theological point. According to Christian doctrine, all prayer and all liturgy is ultimately directed to God the Father. In a very real sense, every day is God the Father's day. Through, with, and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor belong to God the Father. Thus theologians like patristic expert Father Lorenzo Rossetti see a hazard in setting aside just one day for the Father, when by rights he should occupy the center of all worship, as Christ himself taught.

One thing is certain. Though the Church may not deem it prudent to establish a special liturgical feast for the Father — now or ever — a recovery of devotion to the Father is long overdue. As Pope John Paul has written, the whole of the Christian life is “like a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father, whose unconditional love for every human creature … we discover anew each day.” In these final months of preparation for the Great Jubilee, the Church invites us to direct our gaze to the Father and to transform our reflection into an act of praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Father Thomas Williams is author of Building on Solid Ground.