Holy Days of Obligation
Today some people question whether the Catholic Church is authorized to prescribe attendance at Mass on Sundays or the eve and other so-called “days of obligation.” The complaint goes more or less like this: “Is it not more in keeping with personal freedom and devotion to go on my own, say, every Tuesday?” The Church doubtless has the God-given authority to oblige the faithful to attend Mass on certain days; she has also deemed it wise that we should, at least once a week, worship together (cf. CCC 2042-2043).
To satisfy this precept, one may attend Mass “anywhere” that a “Catholic rite” is followed (CCC 2180). On designated holy days, the “faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist . . . unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (CCC 2181).
Thus do the faithful recognize the day on which Jesus resurrected and open themselves to possible graces and inspirations from what are usually a more solemn and uplifting liturgy, better and longer homilies, and, not least, possibly more pious peers. Prayerful and expectant participation in the Sunday Mass – much more than mere hurried and distracted attendance – should prove so fruitful that people are led to participate in Mass on other days as well (cf. CCC 1384-1395, especially 1391-1392).
For the Church universal there are ten holy days of obligation in addition to all Sundays. In the United States, two of these solemnities (Epiphany and Christ’s Body and Blood) are celebrated on the nearest Sunday; the feasts of St. Joseph (March 19) and Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29) are not days of obligation in the U.S.; the other six days, when Catholics are bound to participate in Mass, are Christmas, Ascension Thursday, Mary’s Immaculate Conception (feast of the national patroness, December 8), Mary the Mother of God (January 1), her Assumption (August 15), and All Saints (November 1). In the case of the last three feasts, U.S. Catholics are exempt from the obligation when the feast falls on either Saturday or Monday, although the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops encourages the faithful to find personal ways of devotedly observing these exempted solemnities: preferably by choosing, if possible, to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice. The Code of Canon Law (Canon 1246.2) also makes allowance for diocesan bishops to establish, where appropriate, special feast days of obligation for their areas, but not as a permanent fixture without the Apostolic See’s authorization.
See: Lord’s Day; Religion, Virtue of; Worship.
Suggested Readings: CCC 2042-2043, 2177, 2180, 2185, 2187-2188.
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