What are holy days of obligation?
September 20, 2020, 12:00 PM
Holy days of obligation are days on which “the faithful are obliged to participate in Mass. Moreover, they 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, 1247). In other words, a holy day of obligation belongs primarily to God. Participating in the worship of the Mass on such holy days in foundational to the Christian life (see CCC 2181).
Ever since the first days of the Church, every Sunday has been celebrated as a holy day of obligation. Certain feast days and solemnities, which vary according to national customs, are also observed as holy days of obligation, including Christmas (December 25), Epiphany (celebrated in the United States on the Sunday following January 1), the Ascension of Christ (varies), the feast of the body and blood of Christ/Corpus Christi (celebrated in the United States on the second Sunday after Pentecost), the Immaculate Conception (December 8), her Assumption (August 15), the feast of Saint Joseph (March 19), the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29), and the feast of All Saints (November 1). (See Code of Canon Law, 1246; quoted in CCC 2177.)
The bishops (i.e., the episcopal conference) in a given country or region may determine which specific holy days of obligation will be observed in their territory. They may also transfer the observance of a particular feast to the nearest Sunday (see Code, 1246:2). In the United States, for example, the feasts of St. Joseph and Sts. Peter and Paul are not holy days of obligation. In addition, since January 1, 1993, Mass attendance on the solemnities of the Mother of God (January 1), All Saints (November 1), and the Assumption of Mary (August 15) is not required if these feasts fall on a Saturday or Monday. Also, the states of the western U.S. have been given permission to transfer observance of the Ascension from the sixth Thursday after Easter to the following Sunday.