Catholic Classroom: Holy Days of Obligation
Question: What are holy days of obligation?
Holy days of obligation are days of special liturgical significance on which we celebrate the most important mysteries of our faith. These solemnities hold the same importance as Sundays, and the faithful are required to attend Mass on these days. The number of holy days of obligation varies from country to country. The Vatican celebrates 10 holy days of obligation, but it has allowed individual conferences of bishops to transfer or suppress some days, with permission.
In the United States, we observe six holy days of obligation, in addition to Sundays. The bishops of the United States have transferred some of the Vatican’s feasts, including the Epiphany and the Body and Blood of Christ, to Sundays. For the holy days that we do celebrate on their original day, Catholics have the obligation to attend Mass, except in certain circumstances (mentioned below).
Here are the holy days of obligation we celebrate in the United States:
- The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (January 1) – On this day, we celebrate Mary as God’s mother and our own mother. Coinciding with New Year’s Day, this solemnity gives us an opportunity to honor our Blessed Mother in a special way. If this solemnity falls on a Saturday or a Monday, there is no obligation to attend Mass.
- The Solemnity of the Ascension (Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter) – Forty days after Easter, we celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven, done by his own power and will. Traditionally, this solemnity is celebrated on Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter. However, some dioceses in the United States have chosen to transfer the observance to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
- The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15) – This Marian feast day celebrates the end of Mary’s earthly life when God assumed her, body and soul, into heaven. Just as she was preserved from the stain of sin, so also her body must not have decayed in death. If this solemnity falls on a Saturday or a Monday, there is no obligation to attend Mass.
- The Solemnity of All Saints (November 1) – Not all saints are known to us (read more about the canonization process), and the saints we do know do not all have memorials or optional memorials on the liturgical calendar. We celebrate these saints on the Solemnity of All Saints. If this solemnity falls on a Saturday or a Monday, there is no obligation to attend Mass.
- The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) – On this day, we celebrate our Blessed Mother’s conception without original sin. Mary still had to be saved by Jesus from sin—the difference is that she was saved before she was born, as opposed to other human beings, all of whom are born with original sin. Mary’s Immaculate Conception was defined as dogma in 1854.
- Christmas, the Nativity of Our Lord (December 25) – Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. This well-known feast is one of the most important in the Church’s calendar. On this day, we recognize the mystery of our loving God who became incarnate to save us.