In addition to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we have the Code of Canon Law. In Canon 1246 we find “Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation. In addition, the following days must also be observed: The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas, December 25), The Epiphany of the Lord (a movable date celebrated on a Sunday), The Ascension of the Lord (a movable date celebrated on Thursday or Sunday), The Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi, a movable date celebrated on Thursday or Sunday), the Holy Mother of God (celebrated on January 1), the Immaculate Conception of Mary (celebrated on December 8), the Assumption of Mary (celebrated on August 15), Saint Joseph (celebrated on March 19), Saints Peter and Paul (celebrated on June 29) and All Saints (celebrated on November 1).
A difficulty arises when the Liturgical calendar is organized not only by dates of the year, but also by the cosmic influence of the moon! The date of Easter Sunday is determined as the first Sunday which follows the full moon that occurs after the spring equinox, March 21. The date of Christmas is always December 25, which can fall on different days of the week. Easter is always on a Sunday, which has various dates in the month! All of this contributes to the questions of when a day is a Holy Day of Obligation. The day (date) retains its obligation; however, we are dispensed from the obligation due to various considerations. In 2021/2022, we have at least three examples:
- All Saints: November 1. November 1 was a Monday this year and we were dispensed from the obligation to participate in the celebration of the Mass. This does not mean we are prohibited; we could certainly go to Mass, we are simply dispensed from the obligation.
- Christmas: December 25. This year Christmas falls on a Saturday, with the Mass with the Vigil Mass (after 4:00 pm) celebrated on Friday, Christmas Eve. All day on Saturday the Mass for Christmas is celebrated, therefore the celebration of a Sunday Mass as an anticipatory Mass on December 25 is not permitted. However, we are NOT dispensed from the obligation to participate in Sunday Mass on December 26, so we will all need to go to Mass on Sunday, December 26.
- The Mother of God: January 1. January 1 is a Holy Day of Obligation. However, because in 2022 this date falls on a Saturday, we are dispensed from the Obligation to participate in Mass on this date. Why? Because we also have the Sunday obligation on January 2, 2022 which also happens to be the day in the United States that we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. Again, participation in Mass on January 1 is not prohibited!
It is true that because of the variability from year to year it is easy to wonder about an obligation, which nourishes our relationship with God, and the dispensation from our obligation. A recent example came from the lock down due to the COVID pandemic. The faithful were not able to go to Mass and so Archbishop Vigneron dispensed us from the obligation. However, we witnessed the longing to nourish our relationship with God through participation in livestream virtual Mass and a renewed understanding of spiritual communion. As we return to our parishes to pray and participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is important to continue to ask questions to further our understanding the great gift that we have received not only through our Baptism, but through the many graces we receive from the Sacraments of our Catholic Church.