Liturgy Matters — What are holy days?

By Dr. Judy Bullock

Dr. Judy Bullock

Dr. Judy Bullock

What are holy days?

Sunday is the primordial holy day when we celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At each liturgy we give God thanks and pray for our sanctification, as we strive to be Christlike in the way we live our lives. In addition to Sundays, the church also sets aside important solemnities, the highest ranking feasts in the church year, as days we should also participate in the liturgy. The church sets the minimum expectation of attendance at Mass on Sundays and holy days as a guide for us to live a moral life
connected to and nourished by our liturgical participation.

In addition to Sundays, what are the holy days of obligation?

There are certain feasts, in addition to the Sundays of the year when we celebrate some of the most important aspects of our faith. For the dioceses in the United States, the holy days of obligation are: The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, Jan. 1; the Ascension of Our Lord, transferred from Thursday to the Seventh Sunday of the Easter Season in most dioceses; the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aug. 15; All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1; the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8; and the Nativity of Our Lord, Dec. 25.

Do the holy days always carry the obligation to attend Mass?

Sometimes there are exceptions. There are three holy days that when they fall on Saturday or Monday the obligation to attend Mass is lifted: the Solemnity of Mary on Jan. 1; the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Aug. 15; and All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1. This exception was made respecting the primary celebration each week of the Sunday liturgy and its anticipatory Mass (explanation below).

This concession does not apply, however, to the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, due to the exceptionally high ranking of this feast. Therefore, Christmas is always a holy day of obligation. The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception falls in a different category, as well, since Mary, under this title, is the patroness of the United States. Even if Dec. 8th falls on Saturday or Monday, it is a holy day of obligation.

In 2013, we encounter a different set of circumstances with this feast. This year, Dec. 8, falls on Sunday, the Second Sunday in Advent. The Sundays of Advent have a higher ranking in the liturgical calendar than the solemnities of Mary causing this feast to be transferred to Monday. The obligation to attend Mass does not transfer with the feast. In 2014, Dec. 8 falls naturally on Monday. The Immaculate Conception will then be a holy day of obligation.

Most feasts in the liturgical calendar are celebrated on the feast day itself, with no vigil celebration. However, Sundays and holy days are celebrated with more solemnity from evening of the previous day to evening of the Sunday or feast. Liturgies celebrated on these eves are called anticipatory celebrations. Anticipatory Masses provide the opportunity to fulfill our obligations more easily.

Keeping these days “holy” however, has become almost countercultural in the society in which we live today. The church reminds us that in addition to Mass attendance, “keeping holy the Lord’s day” respects family life, rest for mind and body and the performance of good works.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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