Holy days don't always carry obligation - Catholic Courier

Holy days don’t always carry obligation

Catholics won’t be required to attend Feast of the Assumption Mass on Aug. 15, 2005, but they will in 2006.

No Mass obligation applied for All Saints Day on Nov. 1, 2004, but it will in 2005.

Mass attendance wasn’t mandatory on Jan. 1, 2005, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, but a requirement will resurface next year.

Confused? You’re not alone. Pastors in the Rochester Diocese acknowledged that keeping track of holy days — which may or may not have an obligation attached to them — is tricky for the average parishioner.

In 1992 the United States bishops moved to have obligations removed from the three aforementioned holy days if they fell on a Saturday or Monday. This legislation was approved by the Vatican and took effect the following year, marking the first change in this country for holy day Mass obligations in more than 100 years. Recent examples where this adjustment applied were All Saints Day in 2004, a Monday; and the Solemnity of Mary in 2005, a Saturday. In addition, Feast of the Assumption in 2005 will fall on a Monday.

According to Catholic News Service, the U.S. bishops sought changes so as to lessen confusion over anticipated Masses. For instance, if a certain holy day were to fall on a Saturday, “On a Saturday night, do they think they’re going for a holy day or the Sunday? It would have to be clear to them,” said Father William Moorby, pastor of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County. Similar uncertainty can exist over Sunday-evening Masses prior to Monday holy days of obligation.

CNS noted that the U.S. bishops also factored in the reality that many Catholics opt not to attend Masses of obligation on consecutive days. Father Kevin McKenna, pastor of St. Cecilia’s Parish in Irondequoit, added that the current practice helps priests in an era of declining clergy because there are fewer Masses to celebrate.

However, Father McKenna said questions can still surface when a holy day doesn’t have a consistent obligation from year to year.

“People might say ‘Well, last year we didn’t have to go to Mass, and this year we do have to go to Mass,'” he remarked.

“Yes, it is confusing. What we have to do each year is make it very explicit,” added Father Frank Lioi, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Auburn.

Father Moorby said that on Saturday and Monday holy days where an obligation is waived, he offers a couple of extra Masses in his six-church region. At other parishes, those wishing to observe these holy days can simply attend a regularly scheduled weekday Mass.

“The people can still celebrate them, and we encourage them to,” Father Moorby said.

Although Father Lioi agreed that special observance of holy days “would be the ideal” even when not required on Saturdays and Mondays, his experience is that it’s not reflected in Mass attendance.

“A few extra people come, but not much more than the regulars,” he said.

According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there are a total of 10 universal holy days of obligation, with regulations varying from country to country. Two holy days in the United States — Christmas and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8 — remain obligatory even if they fall on a Saturday or a Monday. The feasts of Corpus Christi and Ss. Peter and Paul are always celebrated in the United States on Sundays, and the feasts of St. Joseph, March 19, and the Epiphany, Jan. 6, do not require special Mass attendance. Should any holy day occur on a Sunday, such as Feast of the Assumption in 2004, no extra obligation applies.

In Canada, the only two holy days of obligation are Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary. Canadians celebrate Feast of the Ascension on a Sunday, whereas in the United States that feast day remains obligatory on the 40th day after Easter, a Thursday. Additionally, neither Canada nor Australia attach a special obligation to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Father Lioi said this feast day takes on greater meaning in the U.S. because Mary is this country’s patroness.

Tags: Feast Days & Saints
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