Holy Days of Obligation

The reception of Mary into heaven is depicted in the center section of a rose window at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Providence, R.I. The feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aug. 15, celebrates the belief that Mary was taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her life. (CNS photo/Crosiers) (July 31, 2012)

The reception of Mary into heaven is depicted in the center section of a rose window at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Providence, R.I. The feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aug. 15, celebrates the belief that Mary was taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her life. (CNS photo/Crosiers) (July 31, 2012)

What are the Holy Days of Obligation and the dates we celebrate them?

  • January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
  • Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension
  • August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • November 1, the solemnity of All Saints
  • December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
  • December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

In the United States, the Catholic Church currently celebrates the six Holy Days of Obligation list. Any feast celebrated on a Sunday, such as Easter, falls under our normal Sunday duty and thus isn’t included in a list of Holy Days of Obligation. Participating in the holy days are a basic part of being Catholic and help us celebrate these important events in history as well as give us direction for the future.  (Read More: “What Makes us Catholic?” Topic Sheet: Holy Days of Obligation)

Why is it important to know why holy days of obligation are celebrated?

Feasts are the highest rank of an extraordinary celebration in the Church’s liturgical calendar. The Church asks us to attend, just as we are to do every Sunday, and some consider this a privilege and a joy. The Church is telling us we are to hold up these days as extra special in our spiritual life. All are to help us remember our history as a Church and honor the saints as models for us. We come together to honor Mary or an important event in the Church’s calendar as a way to celebrate these things as one people of God. We celebrate the Eucharist and this time as “holy” for God’s sake and our own. Some might consider it a sacrifice to go to Mass each week but as Catholics this is one of the ways we show God we place Him as our highest priority.

What are some of the benefits to celebrating a Holy Day, including Sundays?

  1. We get to unite with Catholics throughout the world to show how special the day is.
  2. We get to unite with Christ in the Eucharist.
  3. We get to worship God and love Him.
  4. We get to put our priorities in order once again.
  5. We get to pray in the highest form of prayer there is – the Mass.
  6. We get to stand out from the crowd and proclaim to the world our faith.
  7. We get the opportunity to share the faith with a friend who is non-Catholic and may not understand why we do such things.

These are the fundamentals to what we can gain from attending holy days, including Mass on Sundays, to build and grow our relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

What are the obligations for attending Sunday Mass?

As Catholics, we are obligated to go to Mass every Sunday. Blessed John Paul II sums up nicely the importance of Sunday worship for Catholics:

Sunday is a day which is at the very heart of the Christian life. From the beginning of my Pontificate, I have not ceased to repeat: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!” In the same way, today I would strongly urge everyone to rediscover Sunday: Do not be afraid to give your time to Christ! Yes, let us open our time to Christ that he may cast light upon it and give it direction. He is the one who knows the secret of time and the secret of eternity, and he gives us “his day” as an ever new gift of his love. The rediscovery of this day is a grace which we must implore, not only so that we may live the demands of faith to the full, but also so that we may respond concretely to the deepest human yearnings. Time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human (Dies Domini 9).   From www.catholic.com/blog/jon-sorensen/rediscovering-sunday

It is both a precept of the Church and Church law that Catholics must worship God on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation by participating in the Holy Mass. This follows from the fact that in the Mass it is Christ Himself who worships the Father, joining our worship to His. In no other way is it possible to adequately give thanks (eucharistia) to God for the blessings of creation, redemption, and our sanctification than by uniting our offerings to that of Jesus Christ Himself. Following the example of the Old Covenant the Church does this weekly, on the day of the Lord’s Resurrection.

Canon 1247:  On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body.

Canon 1248:  The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day. If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the liturgy of the word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families. Since a “grave cause” is needed to excuse one from this obligation it would be a serious or mortal sin to willfully skip Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation, as the Church has always taught. Reasons such as the necessity to work to support one’s family, child care, personal sickness or the care of the sick, necessary travel etc. would excuse a person on a particular occasions. Those who have continuing reason to be excused should consult their pastor.