In order to explore Holy Days of Obligation we first need to describe what this means and why we have an “obligation”.
The desire for God is written on our hearts. We are created by God and for God, and we will only find the truth and happiness by deepening our love for God in response to being loved. The more we know and love God, the more we will know and love our neighbors because of God. How are we invited to draw closer to God throughout our lives?
Baptism is the door that opens for us the gift of eternal life. When we receive the Sacrament of Baptism; we are incorporated into Christ. This incorporation unites us in his mystical Body, the Church. Our bond of unity is deepened through the Holy Spirit who continues to impel each of us to live as intentional, joyful disciples. At the heart of evangelization are the words that Jesus told the apostles “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
An effect of our baptism is that we receive grace to participate in the divine life of the Holy Trinity (2 Peter 1:4). We become the living stones of the Church (1 Peter 2:5). A sacramental seal or spiritual mark that can never be taken away is a sign that we will always belong to Christ. The baptized person is consecrated for Christian sacred worship. Since we are consecrated for the worship of God, this spiritual seal invites and obliges us to return love for love. God has loved us first and has called us to himself. The obligation to worship is our response of love and gratitude for all that we have been given, not only natural life but also the supernatural life of grace and the gift of eternal life.
How are we to worship?
Through prayerful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The days of “obligation” are every Sunday. Sundays are days set aside for worship as the Lord’s Day. We gather as a community in the Church as living stones to be nourished by the true Body and Blood of Jesus Himself in the Holy Eucharist. This bond of unity with Christ brings about a greater bond of unity and charity among us in the one Body of Christ.
Our liturgical year offers even more opportunities than Sunday to gather and return love and gratitude to God. These days are in the Universal Liturgical Calendar of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. This Liturgical Calendar is first approved by the Roman Pontiff and is then given to the Conference of Bishops to modify according to the particular liturgical celebrations that have been approved as significant for the people in the United States. For example, we celebrate a special day of prayer on January 22 to offer the Mass “For Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life”. Among these days in our Liturgical Calendar are those which we consider “Holy Days of Obligation”. This is the first precept of the Church. A precept is an obligation in the context of the moral life which is nourished by the liturgical life. This “guarantees to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, and in growth of love of God and love of neighbor” (CCC 2042).