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Holy Days, Holidays, and “Obligations”

3 Jul

fourth of JulyI think many of us have already made plans for celebrating the Fourth of July tomorrow. And since it falls on a Thursday this year, many of us (thank you, Archbishop!) have a nice four-day weekend built into our summer not only to celebrate our “independence,” but to enjoy a welcome rest from our labor.

There are ten national “holidays”:

New Year’s Day (January 1)
Martin Luther King’s Birthday (third Monday in January)
Washington’s Birthday (often referred to as Presidents’ Day, third Monday in February)
Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
Independence Day (July 4)
Labor Day (first Monday in September)
Columbus Day (second Monday in October)
Veterans’ Day (November 11)
Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November)
Christmas (December 25)

Most people are off on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and the Friday after Thanksgiving, but those are not separate holidays per se.

In the Church, the greatest liturgical feasts are known as solemnities. Most solemnities are of such significance that the Church considers them “holy days of obligation.” What are the “holy days” (as opposed to holidays), and why are they obligatory?

Canon 1246 of the Code of Canon Law identifies them for us:

Ҥ1: 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. Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God and her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints.

“§2: However, the conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See.”

The Solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19) and the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul (last Saturday) are not holy days of obligation in the United States. The celebration of Epiphany has been transferred to the first Sunday after January 1, and Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ), which we magnificently celebrated last month, has been transferred to the second Sunday after Pentecost.

Further, in many areas of the country (including here in KCK), the Ascension has been transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

All that leaves the following “holy days of obligation” (aside, of course, from Sundays):

January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
November 1, the solemnity of All Saints
December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Lastly, when January 1, August 15, or November 1 is a Saturday or Monday, there is no obligation. But what “obligation” are we talking about?  Continue reading