Catholic Holy Days of Obligation
What Does Holy Day of Obligation Mean?
A holy day of obligation is a specific feast day when the Catholic faithful are obliged to go to Mass. The term holy day of obligation in common use refers to feasts that are not on Sunday, as the members of the Catholic Church are obligated to participate in Mass every Sunday, whether it is Ordinary time or Easter. A list of holy days of obligation, or a calendar advertising that the holy days of obligation are marked, is referring to the days, aside from Sunday, when Catholics are to go to Mass and otherwise treat the day as a Sunday:
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body.
The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic rite either on a holyday itself or on the evening of the previous day.
If it is impossible to assist at a Eucharistic celebration, either because no sacred minister is available or for some other grave reason, the faithful are strongly recommended to take part in a liturgy of the Word, if there be such in the parish church or some other sacred place, which is celebrated in accordance with the provisions laid down by the diocesan Bishop; or to spend an appropriate time in prayer, whether personally or as a family or, as occasion presents, in a group of families.
- Code of Canon Law, 1247, 1248
The terminology 'assist,' does not refer only to servers and deacons who assist at the altar, but to all Catholic faithful. To assist at Mass includes following the Mass with devotion, which means doing such things as saying the prayers, singing the hymns, and taking part in the Holy Sacrifice by receiving communion.
As noted in the excerpt from the Code of Canon Law, non-Sunday holy days of obligation are also to be treated as a day of rest, as Sundays are. Of course, those who are unable to refrain from work and business on a holy day of obligation are excused for not being able to rest as if it were Sunday, as clarified in the catechism of the Catholic Church:
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.
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.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2185
Because employment for many faithful Catholics in the modern society does not allow for taking a full day off from work for a holy day of obligation, most parishes offer Mass early in the morning, or later in the evening after the typical 9-5 or 9-6 workdays are over. Some parishes will also have a Mass at noon, which allows people to use their lunch hours to attend Mass, or gives people who have an alternative work schedule (such as overnight schedules) the opportunity to fulfill the obligation.
What Are the Holy Days of Obligation in the Catholic Church?
The observances of holy days of obligation within the Catholic Church vary from country to country. However, there are ten holy days established for the Catholic Church:
The Lord's Day, on which the paschal mystery is celebrated, is by apostolic tradition to be observed in the universal Church as the primary holy day of obligation. In the same way the following holydays are to be observed:
- the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
- the Epiphany
- Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
- the Feast of Mary the Mother of God
- the Feast of the Immaculate Conception
- the Feast of St. Joseph
- the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
- the Feast of All Saints
- Code of Canon Law, 1246
If the list looks a little longer than you expected, that is because the second part of 1246 in the code of Canon Law states:
However, the Episcopal Conference may, with the prior approval of the Apostolic See, suppress certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday.
In many countries, including the United States, the obligation for some feast days has been suppressed, with approval granted to bishops' conferences by the Holy See.
In the United States, differing requests made in 1983, 1991, and 1999 were each approved, and in the United States the feast of the Body and Blood (Corpus Christi), and Epiphany were transferred to Sundays; the Feast of the Ascension may be celebrated on its traditional day of Thursday, or be transferred to a Sunday. In the U.S. there is not an obligation to participate in Mass on the Feasts of St. Joseph and of Sts. Peter and Paul, unless of course the feast falls on a Sunday, which is always a holy day of obligation. Additionally, whenever January 1 (solemnity of Mary, Mother of God), August 15 (solemnity of the Assumption), or November 1 (solemnity of All Saints) falls on a Saturday or Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.
List of Holy Days of Obligation - Observances in Latin-Rite Churches by Country
(This list is comprised of the non-Sunday holy days, as, similar to the U.S. many feast days have been moved to a Sunday)