Holy “Dazed” & Confused

Dear Maggie: I always thought January 1st was a Holy Day of Obligation? Why wasn’t it this year?

Great question! First of all, let’s define Holy Day of Obligation. Holy days of obligation are feast days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass and to avoid (to the extent that they are able) servile work. Holy days of obligation are meant to be, like Sundays, “another Easter,” when we rest and rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, every Sunday is a holy day of obligation.

And you are right, The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is a holy day of obligation. Each year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on New Year’s Day. While it is a holy day of obligation most years, this year it was not. So why is that? A dispensation is granted when this solemnity, or any solemnity, falls on a Saturday or Monday. The Code of Canon Law (1246 § 2) declares that an Episcopal Conference “can suppress some of the holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday” with the required approval of the Apostolic See. 

In 1992, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops eliminated the obligation to attend Mass when the solemnities of Mary, Mother of God (January 1), The Assumption (August 15) or All Saints Day (November 1) fall on Saturday or Monday.

Additionally, in most areas of the country, the celebration of the Ascension (traditionally celebrated on the 6th Thursday of Easter) has been transferred to the following Sunday, so there is no obligation in those dioceses to attend Mass on that Thursday.

The two feasts that Catholics are still obliged to go to Mass, no matter what day they occur, are Christmas and the Immaculate Conception (December 8th ), because Mary, under this title, is the Patroness of the United States.

And unbeknownst to many, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are not Holy Days of Obligation. While they are holy days, they are days of fasting and penance, not of feasting and celebration. Confused yet?? My best advice? When in doubt, go to Mass! You can never go wrong.