Liturgy Committee: Information about Holy Days of Obligation

What are Holy Days of Obligation and why/how are we to observe them?

  1. Are the same Holy Days observed in every Catholic Church in every country?
  2. Can you name the Holy Days of Obligation in the United States?
  3. Why are these days selected for us to observe in the United States?

The Third Commandment of God is “Keep Holy the Lord's Day”. The Precepts or laws of the Church are meant to guide and help us to keep the Commandments, to progress in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, and to grow in love of God and neighbor. The First Precept of the Church – “You shall attend Mass on Sundays” – requires the faithful to participate in the Eucharistic celebration when the Christian community gathers on the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord - all Sundays.  The Fourth Precept – “You shall keep holy the Holy Days of Obligation” – adds to the Sunday observance by guiding us to participate in the principal liturgical feasts which honor certain mysteries of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints.

The Holy Days are like special anniversaries and birthdays in a family when we gather to celebrate.  We are expected to observe Sundays and the Holy Days of Obligation by participating in the Eucharistic celebration - going to and taking part in the Mass – and refraining from unnecessary work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body.

The Holy Days of Obligation are not exactly the same in every country. In the United States, the Holy Days of Obligation (in the order in which they occur in the Liturgical Year) are:

  • Mary's Immaculate Conception (December 8th)
  • Nativity of Christ (December 25th)
  • Mary the Mother of God (January 1st)
  • Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter)
  • Mary's Assumption into Heaven (August 15th)
  • All Saints' Day (November 1st).

Some countries observe St. Joseph's feast day, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, or other days which their bishops feel are appropriate for them to gather to celebrate. Because the Blessed Mother is the patroness of the United States, we observe three of her feast days as  special holy days. These are days on which it is good for us to come together to celebrate.

Ascension Thursday, commemorating the day on which Christ ascended into heaven, is forty days after Easter Sunday. Christ's Ascension is celebrated in our diocese and some others   on that Thursday. It is celebrated on the following Sunday in some dioceses – Why? – because so few attended on Ascension Thursday. The date varies because the date of Easter varies, but that's another story.

This year, Mary's Assumption on August 15th was not a day of obligation – Why? – it fell on  a Monday. Since we have a scarcity of priests, and they have Saturday evening and Sunday morning Masses and many have lots of travel between Masses, to repeat Sunday evening and Monday morning became very difficult. The bishops declare the same exemption when a Holy Day falls on a Saturday. The exception is if December 25th is a Saturday or Monday.

Do check the Mass schedule and join in our coming Holy Day on November 1st. All the Saints will be glad you came!