Deacon-structing Holy Days of Obligation

Deacon Pedro

Monday, February 1, 2021

Photo credit: Salt + Light Media
Last week we looked at the difference between solemnities, feasts, and memorials. These are days that the Church gives us so we can enter into the feasting spirit of the life of the Church.
All Sundays of the year are solemnities. Some of those Sundays are also feasts that commemorate a saint, event, or mystery of our Faith. However, solemnities, feasts and memorials can happen any day of the week. If you do not have a tradition or much experience of going to Mass outside of Sundays, you may have missed out on many of these feast days.
Unless you grew up observing holy days of obligation. For the older ones among you, you would have been brought up with a tradition of going to Mass on many of these solemnities which do not take place on a Sunday.
Those days were treated as if they were Sundays.
There used to be some 36 holy days of obligation, outside of Sundays. In 1911, Pope Pius X reduced the number to 8. The present list was made official in 1917. According to Canon 1246, there are now 10 holy days of obligation (outside of Sundays) for the Latin Rite. These are: Immaculate Conception (Dec 8), Christmas (Dec 25), Mary, Mother of God (Jan 1), Epiphany (Jan 6), St. Joseph (March 19), Ascension (Thursday of the 6th week of Easter), Saints Peter and Paul (June 29), Assumption (Aug 15), and All Saints (Nov 1).
However, depending on where you live, the list may be different. Bishops conferences have the authority to reduce the number, to transfer the date to a Sunday, or to offer dispensation. This is the case in Canada, where there are only two holy days of obligation: Christmas and Mary, Mother of God. In Canada, it must be noted that some of the other solemnities have been moved to Sundays (as with Ascension and Epiphany). In the United States, there are six holy days of obligation: Immaculate Conception; Christmas; Mary, Mother of God; Ascension Thursday; Assumption; and All Saints.
Remember that this is outside of Sundays. All Sundays are holy days of obligation.
Holy days of obligation are always solemnities. Still, many people also make a point of attending Mass on feasts and memorials, depending on their personal devotion.
For us Catholics, it makes perfect sense that we would commemorate days, people, and events by attending Mass. How many of you make a point of going to Mass on your birthday? Yet, this is what the Church invites us to do when she offers us these holy days of obligation. It is not an obligation to do what we do not want to do; rather it is an obligation because Christ has invited us to his banquet – as He does every Sunday – and we are "much obliged" to accept his invitation.
He makes himself present to us; we are obliged to make ourselves present to Him.
And so we have an obligation to attend Mass on all Sundays, as well as on all holy days of obligation as defined to us by our own bishops’ conference. But, we are not limited to go to Mass only on those days. And to think that this invitation makes no sense because how can it be a sin to miss Mass on a holy day of obligation in one country but not in another, is not really looking at it the right way. We are always invited to attend Mass. We are obliged on Sundays and all solemnities, but in some countries, we are dispensed from that obligation on certain days.
To be clear, the “obligation” is to attend Mass (Can. 1247. Read more in The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2180-83). There is no obligation to receive Communion. One of the five precepts of the Church is to attend Mass every Sunday and on holy days. Another one is to receive Communion at least during the Paschal Season (another good topic to deacon-struct). This, of course, has been difficult or even impossible for some during these times. Many bishops' conferences or individual bishops have issued letters regarding the dispensation from this obligation during the pandemic.
We pray that, one day soon, we will all be able to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist.
It makes sense that our tradition encourages us to feast and gives us holy days so that we can do them in communion with the whole Church. After all, that is what the Eucharistic meal is. This is what we celebrate each Sunday, the Day of the Lord. In order to be able to prepare for and appreciate these feasts, the Church also gives us times for fasting – and so our liturgical highs and lows are an interplay between feasting and fasting. This is a rhythm that forces us to see that nothing is really ordinary and that we are called to participate in the joy of the Lord.

pedroEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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