With the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception coming up next Monday (December 8th), I thought that this article might be helpful.
“Why do we have to attend Mass some years on a particular holy day, and on other years there is no obligation to attend Mass?”
Holy Days of Obligation often generate confusion and need clarification. In the universal Catholic Church there are ten of these days. However, each individual country is allowed--through its conference of bishops (the USCCB in America)--to decide which days are to be observed and how they are to be observed.
In the USA, the conference of bishops chose to move the observation of a number of these Holy Days to Sunday (such as Corpus Christi and the Epiphany). Still, six are retained on their actual calendar dates:
- January 1--The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
- August 15--The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- 40 days after Easter--The Ascension of Our Lord (Ascension Thursday)
- November 1--All Saints Day
- December 8--The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- December 25--Christmas
What is perhaps one of the most confusing aspects for almost everyone is the question: “why are we obliged to attend Mass some years and not others?” Basically, when the Holy Days fall on a Saturday or a Monday—being so close to Sunday—the bishops of the USA removed the obligation to attend Mass on those days.
This is true except for the Immaculate Conception (the Patroness of the USA) and Christmas. We observe these days no matter when they occur.
[Please note, this year (2014) there is no vigil Mass on Sunday evening for the Immaculate Conception. The evening Mass on Sunday is for the 2nd Sunday of Advent.]
Now that you are thoroughly confused, I want to make a few important points for you to consider.
First, if the universal Catholic Church has considered these days holy, then they deserve our attention, consideration and observance no matter when they occur (or whether or not we are required to attend Mass).
Second, I hate to see people become so legalistic that we are constantly looking to observe the bare minimum that we could possibly do for God. We should develop an attitude of generosity toward God and not an attitude resembling something like a minimum daily requirement. What if God had that type of attitude toward us?
Finally, these holy days should be a reminder for us to try to bring the sacred into our daily routine.
There are so many things that can distract us from God in the world today. Recalling and observing these sacred days and the events that they represent are a good way for us to Christianize our lives, family and world.
I hope to see you in Church at Mass on these days because you want to be there, not because you sometimes are obliged to do so.
Fr. Ed Namiotka