Tag Archives: holy days of obligation

What is the Assumption?

15 Aug

AssumptionToday the Church celebrates the great solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s such a significant feast day that the Church considers it a holy day of obligation, on which we are obliged to go to Mass and, to the extent possible, enjoy a day a rest and festivity.

So it’s fair to ask, “What does the Church teach concerning the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?”

The teaching is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 974:

“The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was completed, was taken up [‘assumed’] body and soul into the glory of heaven, where she already shares in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all members of His Body.” This is a paraphrase of a dogmatic statement issued in 1950 by Pope Pius XII in a document entitled Munificentissimus Deus.

While the dogmatic definition is relatively new, the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption is firmly rooted in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The key scriptural verse is Genesis 3:15, in which the Lord says that He will put enmity between Satan and the “woman,” who is identified as the Mother of the Redeemer. “Enmity” means “total opposition.” This verse foreshadows Mary’s participation in the complete victory of her seed (Jesus) over Satan. According to St. Paul, the consequences of Satan’s influence on the human race are twofold: sin and death (e.g., Romans 5:21; 6:16; 6:23; 8:2; Galatians 6:7-8; Hebrews 2:14-15). Therefore, Mary, who shared in her Son’s victory over Satan, would have to be saved from both sin and the corruption of death. Thus, the Assumption manifests Our Lady’s “total opposition” to the devil.

In addition to Genesis 3:15, there are several other scriptural passages that point to the Assumption of Our Lady. For example, there is Luke 1:28, since her bodily assumption is a natural consequence of her being “full of grace.” Other passages include Revelation 12:1, in which Mary’s coronation implies her bodily assumption, and 1 Corinthians 15:23 and Matthew 27:52-53, which support the possibility of a bodily assumption. And lastly there is Psalm 132:8, which provides: “Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark which you have sanctified.” Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, who physically bore the presence of God in her womb before bearing Christ to the world.

The Assumption is also witnessed by sacred Tradition. For example, St. Gregory of Tours (d. 593) wrote: “The Lord commanded the holy body [of Mary] to be borne on a cloud to Paradise where, reunited to its soul and exalting with the elect, it enjoys the everlasting bliss of eternity.” The doctrine was also explicitly taught by Church Fathers such as St. Germain of Constantinople, St. Andrew of Crete, and St. John Damascene.

There is a maxim that provides “Lex orandi, lex credendi” (“the law of praying is the law of believing”). This maxim summarizes the truth that the liturgical life of the People of God plays an important role in preserving and celebrating the Faith of the Church. Already in the sixth century there were liturgical feasts dedicated to Mary’s Assumption. And indeed, from the 13th century on, the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption was taught with near unanimity in both the west and east. And the Rosary, which includes the mystery of the Assumption, has been an important part of Catholic piety since the early 13th century.

In defining the Assumption as a revealed dogma, Pope Pius XII did not infallibly answer all the questions that relate to the “where, when, and how” of the Assumption. For example, we do not know how old Mary was and whom she was with at the time. Also, the Holy Father did not attempt to resolve the controversy as to whether she was in Ephesus or Jerusalem, as there was no mention of where she was at the time of her Assumption. In addition, Pope Pius XII’s definition said nothing about Mary’s mediation, her queenship, or other privileges.

And significantly, Pope Pius XII left open the question of whether Mary “died.” Note that the definition intentionally uses the ambiguous phraseology, “having completed the course of her earthly life.” Some maintain that she did not die, because her Immaculate Conception freed her from the effects of original sin, including death. The more probable opinion, endorsed by Blessed John Paul II, is that the Blessed Virgin Mary did die, so that she could be fully conformed to her crucified Son. Thus she freely accepted death in order to more fully associate herself with her Son’s redemption (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, no. 58). It is important to note in this regard that if Mary did die before being assumed into heaven, it did not involve the bodily corruption that usually accompanies death as a consequence of original sin.

The foregoing, in modified form, was originally published by Catholics United for the Faith.

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

The Righteous Man

19 Mar

St. JosephToday we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it’s not a holy day of obligation in the United States, it is nonetheless one of the most popular feast days in the Church.

While we honor St. Joseph as the model of husbands and fathers, we acknowledge that he considered the possibility of divorce:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit . . . ‘” (Mt. 1:18-20).

I find that many people, perhaps thinking as 21st-century American Catholics, believe that Joseph wants out because he naturally assumes that Mary has been unfaithful. Is there another way to look at it, though? Consider the following commentary from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible:

Two interpretations attempt to explain why Joseph decided to separate from Mary. They give opposite answers to the question: Who did Joseph think was the unworthy partner in the betrothal?

The Suspicion Theory

This view holds that Joseph suspected Mary of adultery when he discovered  she was pregnant. The troubling news led him to seek a divorce in accordance with Deut. 24:1-4, although he wished to do this secretly to avoid subjecting Mary to the rigorous law of Deut. 22:23-24, which mandates capital punishment for adulterers. Joseph was a just man inasmuch as he resolved to act (divorce) in accordance with the Mosaic Law. This common interpretation suffers from a serious weakness: Joseph’s desire to follow the law for divorce (Deuteronomy 24) does not square with his willingness to sidestep the law prescribed for adulterers (Deuteronomy 22). A truly righteous man would keep God’s Law completely, not selectively.

The Reverence Theory

This view holds that Joseph, already informed of the divine miracle within Mary (Mt. 1:18), considered himself unworthy to be part of God’s work in this unusual situation (cf. Lk. 5:8; 7:6). His resolve to separate quietly from Mary is thus viewed as a reverent and discretionary measure to keep secret the mystery within her. Notably, the expression “to put her to shame” is weaker in Greek than in the translation: it means that Joseph did not wish to “exhibit” Mary in a public way. The angelic announcement in Mt. 1:20, then, directs Joseph to set aside pious fears that would lead him away from his vocation to be the legal father of the Davidic Messiah. This view more aptly aligns Joseph’s righteousness with his intentions (Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, 18).

For further reflection on the role of St. Joseph in the mystery of our salvation, I recommend Bl. John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (“Guardian of the Redeemer”).

Catechesis on the Third Commandment

14 Nov

We turn this week to the Third Commandment, the final commandment that relates to our responsibilities toward God. The remaining commandments will specify how we are to live out our vocation to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Remember to keep holy the LORD’s Day.

The seventh day of the Jewish week is called the sabbath day. The Third Commandment, originally given to Moses for the chosen people, is all about observing “rest” on the sabbath, thereby making it holy, or set apart for God. As Scripture says: “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD” (Ex. 31:15).

The Lord Jesus observed divine law. At the same time, however, He gave us a new perspective for understanding the Third Commandment: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27).In other words, the sabbath is for our own well-being. This commandment does not contain a “Thou shall not” but simply a “Remember.” This commandment is nothing other than a reminder to do something that is truly good for us.

Before getting into what that means for us in practical terms, we should briefly note that Christians keep holy the Lord’s Day (Sunday), not the seventh or sabbath day (Saturday). This transfer took place early in the life of the Church (see Catechism, nos. 2174-76). The reason Sunday was selected is because it is the day of the Resurrection of Christ, “the Lord even of the sabbath” (Mk. 2:28). As “the first day of the week” (Mk. 16:2), Sunday recalls the beginning of creation. As the “eighth day,” or the day following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation (see 2 Cor. 5:17) brought about by Christ’s Resurrection. For us, then, the “day of the Lord” (Dies Domini) has become the first of all days and of all feasts, as we find our rest in God alone (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 452).

There are two ways in which we are called to “remember” the Lord’s Day.

First, all Catholics are obligated to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. As the Church especially stressed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Sunday Mass is the high point of our week, and the source of our strength for the week to come. For that reason, it should be a joy and not a burden to fulfill this duty, which is one of the precepts of the Church. The deliberate failure to attend on Sunday is a serious sin against the Third Commandment.

Second, Catholics “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” (Code of Canon Law, canon 1247). Mass is only one hour of the day. This commandment is about refreshing ourselves and our families all day. It is a day of “protest” against the servitude of work and the worship of money (Catechism, no. 2172).

On Sundays we remember to give praise and thanksgiving to God the Father, from whom all blessings flow. We remember to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ for the celebration of the Eucharist, where we receive Jesus, the living bread from heaven. And we remember to set aside our labors as much as we are able, choosing instead activities that build us up spiritually and in every other way.

Sounds more like a divine prescription than a commandment!

More Halloween Resources

31 Oct

In addition to my post earlier this week on ghosts, I would like to recommend the following resources on Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day:

MLKing the Holiday

16 Jan

As the father of two dark-skinned, biracial sons, I have mixed feelings about Martin Luther King Day.  How will I explain this annual celebration to them as they get older?

On the one hand, I have several misgivings about this relatively new holiday. After all, in his private life MLK was reportedly no saint, and surely the civil rights movement is bigger than any one individual–even one as formidable as Dr. King. And this at a time when we’re downsizing holidays, when even Lincoln and Washington no longer have their own holidays but rather get lumped together into Presidents’ Day.

Maybe instead of a new holiday we could have added a civil rights dimension to our Independence Day celebration, as finally all races in our land are “free at last.”

I guess I’m also a little frustrated about society’s encroachment on religious holy days. Sundays in our culture have become more of a sequel to Saturday than a day set aside for worship, family, and rest from one’s labors. I’m concerned about days of extraordinary religious significance, such as Good Friday, becoming more “ordinary,” and Holy Days of Obligation becoming such a lost cause that many Church leaders feel compelled to move them to Sundays, presumably because at least then there’s a better chance of getting people to show up for Mass.

I realize that’s a lot to put on MLK Day. But then there’s also the political agendas that are unmistakably linked to the celebration. In that regard, the day is quite PC. Just an hour ago, for example, I heard ESPN link the holiday to the “gay” rights movement. While most national holidays bring everyone together, MLK Day strikes some discordant notes, despite the worthy goal of celebrating the achievements of Dr. King.

Despite all that, since MLK Day is here to stay for the foreseeable future, I have chosen to enjoy the holiday, for four reasons:

(1) Hello! It’s a holiday!  Who wants to look a gift day off in the mouth?  While it’s not a Sunday, it’s still a fitting day for worship, rest, and relationship-building within the family. So this can be a really great day if we use it well.

(2) Okay, MLK was not a saint, but neither were most of our Founding Fathers, yet we rightly revere them for their role in the formation of our country. MLK did some courageous things that have had a lasting impact on our culture. The day gives us a chance to consider this impact and to see how much farther we need to travel to overcome racial divisions.

(3)  Even as we celebrate MLK Monday, we still must not lose sight of the holiday par excellence: Sunday, the Lord’s Day.  MLK Day is all day, not just 45 min. or an hour. So, too, our Sunday observance should be all day. How often do we forget that keeping the Lord’s Day holy goes beyond simply “getting to Mass,” important as that is? For more on that subject, click here. MLK Day and all secular holidays can teach us how to “rest” in the deepest sense, which could carry over into the way we look at Sundays and other holy days.

(4) Despite my sons’ African-American roots, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how little racism I’ve encountered. Sure, there’s the occasional ignorant comment, but for the most part–thanks in large part to MLK–my boys aren’t subjected to the bigotry that existed even in my youth. This day gives me, and all of us, a chance to reflect on the greater spiritual reality that nobody has to sit at the back of the bus, that nobody is a second-class citizen in the eyes of God. As St. Paul wrote: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).

So let’s stay on message and “MLK” the holiday for all it’s worth!

An earlier version of this article appeared at Catholic Hour, the blog of My Catholic Faith Delivered.

This “Hallowed” Season

19 Oct

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little “halloweened” out–and the holiday is still nearly two weeks away!

All the same, since it’s not only a cultural phenomenon but even more importantly the eve of All Saints Day (“Halloween,” after all, is an abbreviation of “All Hallows’ Eve”), we can’t simply ignore it. I recommend this tract on Halloween for those who want to know more about the history of this day.

As for me, I’ve always been a little low-key about Halloween because it’s the birthday of a dear brother of mine who died when I was a teenager. Further, “trick or treating” was never an issue when my family lived in Steubenville, as we usually had multiple “All Saints Day” events to choose from that were both fun and reflective of the religious roots of the holiday.

Now for the past four years we have lived in a good community here in Kansas, but not a Catholic enclave like Steubenville, so we’ve been figuring out anew what to do about Halloween. We decided early on to participate in the neighborhood festivities, but we do what we can to ”re-baptize” the holiday.

For one thing, my kids still dress up as religious figures. So far we have had a priest, a Franciscan, St. Raymond of Penyafort, Moses, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, among others, with a couple other saints still in the making. The idea is that the kids need to be ready to explain who they are to others, which isn’t far removed from evangelizing their peers.

I will again dutifully give out treats (yes, that makes me a sugar daddy, I suppose!). One year I gave out second treats to those who could recite from memory a Scripture verse or answer a basic question about the Christian faith. Another year I gave out holy cards along with the candy. I’d like to try something new this year to keep things fresh, so I’d be interested in hearing our readers’ ideas and traditional practices when it comes to Halloween.