Question: A friend of mine in another diocese of the United States told me her pastor said Jan. 1 is not a holy day of obligation. Is this correct?
— Name withheld, Des Moines, Iowa
Answer: No. Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is a holy day of obligation — unless it occurs on a Saturday or a Monday. When that is the case, obligation to attend Mass does not bind.
In a 1991 decree, U.S. bishops made the following statement regarding holy days of obligation: “In addition to Sunday, the days to be observed as holy days of obligation in the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States of America, in conformity with canon 1246, are as follows: Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension; Aug. 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Nov. 1, the solemnity of All Saints; Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; Dec. 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Whenever Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, or Aug. 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or Nov. 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.
To many, this system seems confusing where days bind in some years and not others. It was a kind of compromise the bishops made between two viewpoints. One view said that holy days were important and should be observed. The other view emphasized a pastoral solicitude wherein Catholics ought not be required to come to Mass two days in a row.
Thus the Holy Days that fell in a given year on Monday or Saturday did not bind, otherwise they did. However, Dec. 8 (because it is the patronal feast of the United States) always binds, as does Christmas and the Ascension (where it is celebrated on Thursday).
As you can see, even experienced priests and parish staffs struggle to remember all this. The old system, though more demanding, was easy to understand and remember. As you might suspect, attendance at holy days has plummeted in recent years. This is due as much to confusion as to a perception that most holy days are only relatively important (when they don’t inconvenience too much), not intrinsically important.
Question: Our diocese held a procession in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Sunday, Dec. 7. Is not Sunday reserved to Our Lord? In years when Marian feasts fall on a Sunday, they usually are moved to Monday. Will not non-Catholics perceive this as worshipping Mary?
— Daniel Barth, Houston
Answer: Outdoor processions and devotions do not have to follow the same strict calendar norms as the Mass. I suspect the procession was timed to be when many did not have to be at work.
It is unlikely that Our Lord is offended by our honoring of his mother, and there is nothing inherently disrespectful in celebrating Mary, whom God himself chose to work with and whom Jesus honored and revered as his mother. A non-Catholic offended by this practice might be reminded that Catholics fulfill the Scripture, which says, “Behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk 1:48-49).
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.