Holy Days of Obligation

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Precepts of the Church

The first Precept of the Church is "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor."

CCC #2177
The Sunday celebration of the Lord's Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church's life. "Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church."[1]

"Also to be observed are:

  • the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
  • the Epiphany,
  • the Ascension of Christ,
  • the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ,
  • the feast of Mary the Mother of God,
  • her Immaculate Conception,
  • her Assumption,
  • the feast of Saint Joseph,
  • the feast of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul,
  • and the feast of All Saints."[2]
National Conference of Catholic Bishops, United States of America
Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.
date feast U.S. Calendar
January 1 Feast of Mary the Mother of God (Theotokos) Abrogated on a Saturday or Monday.
January 6 Epiphany Moved to Sunday after January 1.
March 19 Feast of Saint Joseph Not a holyday of obligation.
40 days after Easter Ascension of Christ Moved to Sunday in some dioceses.
Thursday after Trinity Sunday Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) Sunday after Trinity Sunday
June 29 Feast of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul Not a holyday of obligation.
August 15 Assumption of Our Lady Abrogated on a Saturday or Monday.
November 1 All Saints Abrogated on a Saturday or Monday.
December 8 Immaculate Conception of Our Lady
December 25 Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Reasons to miss Mass

CCC #2180

"The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: 'On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.'[3] '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.'"[4]

CCC #2181

"The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.[5] Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin."

CCC #2183

"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."[6]

CCC #2185

"On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.[7] Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.
"'The charity of truth seeks holy leisure--the necessity of charity accepts just work.'"[8]

A Day of Rest

Can. 1247
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.
Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.
CCC #2042
The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor") requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the Mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.[9]
CCC #2185
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.[10] Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.
The charity of truth seeks holy leisure--the necessity of charity accepts just work.[11]

Code of Canon Law

Canon 1245

Without prejudice to the right of diocesan bishops mentioned in ⇒ can. 87, for a just cause and according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop, a pastor can grant in individual cases a dispensation from the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance or can grant a commutation of the obligation into other pious works. A superior of a religious institute or society of apostolic life, if they are clerical and of pontifical right, can also do this in regard to his own subjects and others living in the house day and night.

Feast Days

Canon 1246
§1. Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation. The following days must also be observed:
  • the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ,
  • the Epiphany,
  • the Ascension,
  • the Body and Blood of Christ,
  • Holy Mary the Mother of God,
  • her Immaculate Conception,
  • her Assumption,
  • Saint Joseph,
  • Saint Peter and Saint Paul the Apostles, and
  • All Saints.
§2. With the prior approval of the Apostolic See, however, the conference of bishops can suppress some of the holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday.
Canon 1247
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.
Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.
Canon 1248
§1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.
§2. If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday

The best speculation I've seen about why Holy Thursday and Good Friday are not technically holy days of obligation is that:[12]

  • Only one Mass may be celebrated on Holy Thursday. Most parishes need several Masses to accommodate all of their parisioners.
  • There is no Mass on Good Friday, so there can be no obligation to "attend Mass." It is a day of fast and abstinence for all adult Catholics who are healthy enough to fast.

Why do I hafta go to Mass on Sunday?

What right does the Church have to require me to attend Mass on Sunday?
God has given some members of the Body authority over the life of the Body.
When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He left a body, not a book, to continue His work on earth. The Body of Christ produced the faith of the authors of the New Testament, preserved their writings through time, declared them to be inspired by God, and in so doing produced what we call the New Testament. The same Body that produced the New Testament requires us to hear the Word of God as a body and to worship God together as a body on the Day of the Lord. All who deny the authority of the Body over themselves ex-communicate themselves. By refusing to act in communion with the Body of Christ, they deprive themselves of the Body of Christ. If they do so with a fixed determination to declare their independence from the Body, they can only return to communion by asking the forgiveness of the Body for their sin. They may not take Communion again until they are in communion with the Body of Christ.
"God is everywhere. Why can't I just seek and find God all by myself?"
1. Because GOD says so: "Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy" (Dt 5:12).
2. "The Day of the Lord" for the Jews was the seventh day, which is Saturday in our pagan name-system (Sun, Moon, Tiw [God of War], Woden [Odin, the top God], Thor [God of thunder], Fria [Goddess of love], and Saturn [God of farming]). Christians switched to the first day of the week, the day on which God had said, "Let there be light" (Gen 1:3) because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day and started a new creation. Every Sunday is a little Easter--even the Sundays during Lent.
3. Jesus promised a special blessing to prayer together that is NOT promised to private prayer (although private prayer is also good and essential): "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18:20). For orthodox Christians, it is not "either private prayer OR group prayer" but BOTH.
4. From the apostolic age, Christians have recognized an obligation to meet together regularly: "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another..." (Heb 10:24-25).
5. For Roman Catholics, the centerpiece of Mass is communion, a sacrament in which Jesus gives us Himself: body, blood, soul, and divinity. Finding God in nature is a good thing--and not just in nature, but in all things that we experience, all day long, in all circumstances--but the blessings that flow from Holy Communion are reserved to the Church. To take communion, you must be present with other members of the Body. When you are absent, you ex-communicate yourself.
6. When we withhold ourselves from union with the Body of Christ, we weaken the Body. No one else can take our place. We are not interchangeable parts. Each person plays a unique and special role in God's plan of salvation. Our presence at Mass makes a difference; so does our absence.
7. Sickness, travel, or serious responsibilities that occasionally prevent attendance are good reasons to miss Sunday Mass. But "those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2181). Instead of practicing faith, hope, love, mercy, compassion, and group prayer, such people practice denying their relationship to God and to their brothers and sisters in the Lord.
8. When we attend Church, we build up the Body of Christ and we receive the Body of Christ. There are no solitary Christians. We are all members of the Body. No part of the Body can say to the other parts, "I do not need you" (1 Cor 12:21).
"But everyone in Church is a hypocrite. They are just there for show. All they think of is what other people think of them."
How do you know that? Can you read the secrets of others' hearts? Aren't you guilty of this very sin? You seem to be focusing on what other people are thinking instead of focusing on what GOD is doing in the Mass.
Even if it's true that everyone else but you is a hypocrite, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, forgive their sins, and to preach the gospel to them. If we are true Christians, we should let our light shine before others, like a city set on a mountaintop (Mt 5:14-16). When we go to Church, we show others that we believe. We preach by our prayerful, loving presence (1 Pet 3:1). Actions speak louder than words.
But I hate Mass. It's boring. I don't get anything out of it.
Prayer is hard work. We need to close our eyes and open our hearts in order to "see" the real action of the Mass: Jesus giving Himself to us anew as He did on the Cross and in the first Eucharist. This action is invisible. We make it real to ourselves only by acts of faith.
No one else can take a bath for us.
No one else can pray for us.
No one else can open the vision of faith for us.
If we keep our minds closed to God, we will not see God in Church.
The more we give of ourselves to God in prayer in Church, the more we receive.
This is the priesthood of the laity ("laity" means the faithful who are not ordained). Each of us has the power to offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God, imitating Jesus' priestly self-sacrifice on the Cross. Mass is not a TV show. The script is always the same: See what love the Father has lavished on us in giving us His only Son to be our Savior (1 Jn 3:1; Jn 3:16).
If you refuse to let God love you, you will not feel God's love for you. As the computer geeks say, Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO).
"But my Church is dead. There's no life there. The priest gives horrible sermons. He's the worst person I've ever met."
Love is hard work. Those people whom you find so despicable in Church are the sons and daughters of God (Jonah 4:9-11). They are your brothers and sisters. They are the people for whom Jesus died on the Cross. They are members of His Body, and therefore they are united to you through Jesus. When we receive Jesus in Communion, we receive all of them, too, in a sense, insofar as they are joined to Him. "Love you neighbor as yourself" (Lk 10:27).
Forgive seventy times seven times. You can't lose. Even if your love and mercy have no visible effect on your parish, you will become a saint.

On Judgment Day, we won't be asked how many good sermons we heard or how much fun we had at Church. We will be asked how well we loved God and our neighbor. The priest and the parishioners count as neighbors. They need and deserve our love.

How much of Mass may I miss?

The ideal: Be there or be square

"Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery," Inaestimabile Donum
Prepared by the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship; approved and confirmed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, April 17, 1980.
a) The Mass 1. "Two parts which in a sense go to make up the Mass, namely the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected that they form but ONE SINGLE ACT of worship."
11, #21: "Sacred Scripture is therefore of the highest importance in the celebration of the highest importance of Mass..."
Vatican II
"Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy", Sacrosanctum Concilium
§56: "A person SHOULD NOT APPROACH THE TABLE OF THE BREAD OF THE LORD without having first been at the TABLE OF HIS WORD.
Note well: If this were creating a LAW, the language would read, "A person MAY NOT approach the table ..."
"Should" expresses an ideal.
We really should try to be present for the whole Mass, as a general rule. But when circumstances prevent us from doing so, "Half a Mass is better than none" (MXM, SJ).

EWTN commentary.

If you see others coming late and taking Communion, err on the side of mercy. Presume that they did the best they could and leave judgment of them in God's hands.

People are often late through no fault of their own. In such cases, there is no reason not to take Communion nor to feel that they had not met their Sunday obligation.

References

  1. CIC, can. 1246 § 1.
  2. CIC, can. 1246 § 2: "The conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See."
  3. CIC, can. 1247.
  4. CIC, can. 1248 § 1.
  5. Cf. CIC, can. 1245.
  6. CIC, can. 1248 § 2.
  7. Cf. CIC, can. 120.
  8. St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 19,19:PL 41,647.
  9. Cf. CIC, cann. 1246-1248; CCEO, cann. 881 § 1, § 2, § 4.
  10. Cf. CIC, can. 120.
  11. St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 19,19:PL 41,647.
  12. About.com, "Good Friday."

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