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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Holy Days of Obligation

For those who weren’t aware, this coming Friday August 15th is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics in the United States. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorating Mary’s body being taken up to heaven, is one of six prescribed days (in addition to Sundays) that Catholics in the United States are required to attend Mass. These Holy Days are January 1, the feast of Mary, the Mother of God; Ascension Thursday, 40 days after Easter; August 15, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; November 1, All Saints; December 8, the Immaculate Conception; and December 25, the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In some dioceses throughout the country (and elsewhere), the Ascension has been moved to the following Sunday. Also, certain holy days in the United States – the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, the feast of the Assumption, and the feast of All Saints – are moved to Sunday when the actual feast days fall on Saturday or Monday, to reduce the pressure on priests to celebrate so many Masses in a short period of time. However, the obligations of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas are never moved to Sunday because of their great importance in the life of the Church. (This means that even when Christmas is on a Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, as it was a few years ago, Catholics must attend two separate Masses to fulfill both the regular Sunday and the Christmas obligations.)

Attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is the first in the list of the precepts of the Church. The Code of Canon Law lists ten days as Holy Days of Obligation: in addition to the six listed above, they include January 6, Epiphany; the feast of Corpus Christi on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday; March 19, the feast of St. Joseph; and June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Where they are not counted as Holy Days of Obligation, Epiphany, the Ascension, and Corpus Christi are moved to the following Sunday. (Epiphany is moved to the Sunday between January 2 and 8.) Some countries include all of these Holy Days, most include fewer, and some places have additional Holy Days that are not part of these ten (Ireland, for example, counts St. Patrick’s Day as a Holy Day of Obligation). In Hawaii, there are only two Holy Days – Christmas and Immaculate Conception – because the Bishop of Honolulu asked for and received an indult for this in 1992 so that Hawaii’s practices are in conformity with those of the South Pacific Islands.

Canon Law also states that, on these days, the faithful “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.” In an attempt to follow this directive, our store is closed on all Holy Days of Obligation. Very few places do this (and of course for many people it isn’t feasible or possible not to work on these days), but it gives us an opportunity to be an example to others while we try to worship God as we are called to do on Holy Days. These holy day feasts are kept important in the Church so that, even with our busy and hectic lives, once in awhile we are forced to slow down and think about our faith and what we believe, beyond just our normal Sunday Mass attendance. This is partially why Christmas and the Immaculate Conception are retained no matter what day of the week they fall on, because they are so important in the life of the Church (although, of course, all Holy Days are important). Feast days are intended to celebrate and remember those people and events that have helped shape and exemplify the Church and her teachings, and those that are Holy Days of Obligation are meant to make us even more aware of these feasts.

So don’t forget to go to Mass on Friday to celebrate the life of Mary and the end of her time here on earth.

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