Holy Days of Obligation explained

Editor’s note: Today, Aug. 15, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Deacon Frank Agnoli, director of liturgy for the Diocese of Davenport, shares this information on Holy Days of Obligation:
Q. What is our obligation to attend Mass?
A. We have the obligation (duty) to join with the Christian community for the Eucharistic liturgy (Mass) on Sundays and on those solemnities that are designated as Holy Days of Obligation. Attending Mass from 4 p.m. the day before through midnight of that day, in any Catholic Rite, fulfills the obligation.
Q. What are the Holy Days of Obligation?
A. In the United States, the Holy Days of Obligation (also called Solemnities of Precept) are: Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1); the Ascension (in those places where it is celebrated on Thursday); the Assumption (Aug. 15); All Saints (Nov. 1); the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8); and Christmas (Dec. 25).
Q. Why do we have an “obligation” to go to Mass?
A. If we could go back in time to the very early Church, the whole idea that we had to have a “rule” to go to Mass on Sunday or receive Communion once a year would have seemed absurd. It would have been inconceivable for a Christian not to celebrate the Eucharist with their community — even if that meant martyrdom. As Christianity became the religion of empire, the faith lives of many individuals became lukewarm. Therefore, over the years, the Church had to lay out “the very necessary minimum” that a Christian needed to do in order to grow in love of God and neighbor (Catechism #2041). These are called the “Precepts of the Church.” The obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is one of those precepts (Catechism #2042). Of course, we would hope that, loved by God first, we would celebrate the Eucharist out of our love of God in return, not just as a minimal requirement.
Q. What are the other precepts?
A. To confess one’s (serious, grave, mortal) sins at least once per year (before receiving Communion); to receive Communion at least once per year in the Easter Season; to observe the days of fast and abstinence as laid out by the Church; and to provide for the needs of the Church (Catechism #2042-2043).
Q. Does attending a “Communion service” on a Sunday or Holy Day fulfill the obligation?
A. No. Communion services have never fulfilled this obligation. The obligation is to attend Mass, not just to receive Communion. If at all possible, Catholics must attend Mass on these days. For some, that may mean travelling to a neighboring parish, even at some significant inconvenience or even hardship.
Q. But what if it is truly impossible for me to go to Mass somewhere else (because of travel problems, or illness, or work schedules)?
A. If one cannot meet the obligation, then the obligation itself is lifted. The faithful who cannot make it to Mass elsewhere may gather to pray together and even share Communion (see our diocesan policy on such matters at www.davenportdiocese.org/lit/litlibrary.htm for details), but that is not the same as saying that attending such gatherings fulfills the obligation.

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