Thursday, November 4, 2010

Holy Day of Obligation Canceled?

Mike DeChant, a parishioner at St. Malachy and also a coach at Cardinal Ritter asked a question that I thought would make for a great blog post. He wondered if I might address the issue of Holy Days of Obligation being made "non-obligatory" if they fall on a Saturday or Monday, which happened with All Saints Day this week.

Most Catholics usually assume the decision to allow Catholics out of their obligation to attend a Holy Day Mass is is just the Church being more reasonable, flexible, and realistic in realizing that Catholics just aren't going to go to Mass two days in a row. However, although not on the Bishops' committee that made the decision, I think there is more to it than just the Church accommodating laziness.

The Church teaches that, out of a desire to allow celebrations to last as long as possible, solemnities can be observed from 4 p.m. the night before up through midnight the next day. This in fact is what happens every Sunday (every Sunday being a solemnity); there is a Saturday evening Mass at most parishes because the celebration of Sunday has already officially begun. This tradition in our Church is a nod to Judaism, which teaches that the Sabbath begins at sundown the day before.

Since the Second Vatican Council began allowing the celebration of Masses the evening before Solemnities (including Sundays), our country has grown to almost prefer those Masses to the Masses celebrated on the actual day of the solemnity.

Here we need a quick sidebar. The Church does teach that the preference should be for the Mass on the day of the solemnity, except for those solemnities which have an actual Vigil Mass with different readings, prayers etc. Off the top of my head, these solemnities would include Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, realizing there may be others. So, if possible, one should go to Mass on Sunday, but it is perfectly okay to go to a Christmas Eve Mass or the Easter Vigil, even if you are equally able to go to Mass on Christmas morning or Easter morning. Also, then, the regular Saturday evening Mass is not a VIGIL MASS, it is better to refer to it as an ANTICIPATION MASS because it isn't the case that the Saturday night Mass has its own readings - it is just Sunday celebrated early - a vigil implies a difference from the day's Mass itself.

Let's now look at an example. Let's say Dec. 8th falls on a Saturday. The Church now says that the Immaculate Conception in this case is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Part of the problem is that now, in the U.S., the custom is a Sunday anticipation Mass, which would now be held while the celebration of the Immaculate Conception is still going on. This is confusing theologically. Plus, we have the issue in the U.S. that most parishes have one priest (if they aren't sharing a priest with other parishes) and a priest can only celebrate three Masses a day. That is another consideration that surely led to the bishops' decision. If we say that a Monday Holy Day of Obligation MUST be observed, there will be some who will be unable to get to Church on Monday, but the priest can't celebrate Mass on Sunday night as an anticipation for the next day's Holy Day - plus it is still the solemnity of Sunday!

These are some reflections from where I sit that I hope help clarify the issue a little, and at least highlight the fact that I believe it wasn't a decision just based on accommodating a perceived unwillingness of people to go to Church two days in a row that led to the decision to "cancel" the "obligation" part of a Holy Day if they are too close to Sunday.