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Ask the Register: how many holy days?

Q. How many holy days of obligation are there? Are they the same for every country in the world?

A. Every Sunday is essentially a holy day. That is, Catholics set aside the first day of the week to “abstain from those labors and business concerns” which are an impediment to worship, joy, works of mercy, and proper relaxation of mind and body. Each Sunday becomes for us a “little Easter,” which binds all Catholics to Mass attendance.

In addition, the universal Church has determined certain days to be celebrated by Mass attendance. According to the Code of Canon Law, in addition to Sunday, the Code also lists 10 other holy days of obligation: Christmas; the Epiphany; the Ascension of our Lord; the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ); the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; Mary’s Immaculate Conception; Mary’s Assumption into heaven; the Solemnity of St. Joseph; the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul; and All Saints Day.  The local nation’s Catholic conference of bishops has certain latitude in determining which days bind that country’s Catholics to Mass attendance.

The Code notes that the conference of bishops can reduce the number of holy days of obligation, or transfer them to Sunday with the approval of the Holy Father.  (The Code of Canon Law, #1246.)

There are six holy days of obligation in United States. They are:
1.) Mary, the Mother of God (Jan. 1);
2.) Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter);
3.) The Assumption of Mary into heaven (Aug. 15);
4.) All Saints Day (Nov. 1);
5.) The Immaculate Conception of Mary (Dec. 8); and
6.) Christmas (Dec. 25).

The holy days of obligation are feasts and solemnities which that country’s Catholic bishops deem important enough to call all Catholics to worship at Mass that day. Therefore, Catholics are bound in conscience and obligation to attend Mass on holy days of obligation.

Whenever the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the solemnity of the Assumption, or the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated, but the faithful are encouraged to attend Mass on those days.

Holy days of obligation do differ from country to country. Some Catholic countries, such as Italy, Spain, and Ireland, give legal holiday status to some of these holy days, so people can attend Mass and be with family instead of at work.

For example, St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 is a holy day of obligation in Ireland. In Ireland that day is marked by reverence and solemnity and not by partying and revelry as it is in many parts of the U.S.

This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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