(taken from the Pastoral Manual, 1997 edition, Diocese of Rockville Centre)
Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church. Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God and her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints (canon 1246, §1).
United States: Holy Days of Obligation
- Christmas (December 25)
- Ascension (Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
- Mary Mother of God (January 1)
- Immaculate Conception (December 8)
- Assumption (August 15)
- All Saints (November 1)
Special Norm for the United States
- When a holy day of obligation falls on a Monday or a Saturday, the obligation to participate in the Eucharist is abrogated. The three holydays affected are:
- January 1, Mary Mother of God
- August 15, Assumption
- November 1, All Saints
- Note that these days remain “holydays,” solemnities. Even though there is no obligation to participate in the Eucharist, ritual Masses (e.g., Funeral Masses) may not be celebrated. The texts and readings are from the liturgy of the solemnity.
- Holy days not affected:
- Ascension Thursday
- Immaculate Conception (national feastday in the USA)
What is the obligation?
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body (canon 1247).
- Participate in Mass: The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holyday or on the evening of the preceding day (canon 1248, §1). [United States: 4:00 p.m. the night before (“vigil Mass.”)]
- Exception: If because of a lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the liturgy of the word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families (canon 1248, §2).
- Pastoral Faculty for the Priests of the Diocese: To dispense persons, in individual cases and for a just cause, from the obligation of observing a day of precept or a day of penance, or to commute such obligations into other religious acts (canon 1245).
- Catholics are to abstain from activities that impede worship.
Ritual Masses (Sacraments)
- On Sundays and Holydays of Obligation, no ritual Masses (e.g., Funeral Masses) can be celebrated. However, the readings and prayers of the Mass of the day may be used and the prayers of commendation may be used.
- However, on most Sundays of the year the nuptial Mass can be celebrated. The exceptions remain the Easter Triduum, Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, the Body and Blood of Christ, or solemnities which are holy days of obligation. On these days one of the readings for marriage may be chosen. On the Sundays of the Christmas season and on Sundays in ordinary time, in Masses which are not parish Masses, the wedding Mass may be celebrated without change. When a marriage is celebrated during Advent or other days of penance, the parish priest should advise the couple to take into consideration the special nature of these times.
In Catholic liturgical and spiritual tradition, Lent is a “preparation for the celebration of Easter. For the Lenten liturgy disposes both catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery.” (Roman Calendar, 27) This is accomplished through the liturgy itself, and by penitential practices such as fasting, almsgiving and intensive prayer. These are designed to foster conversion, reconciliation, purification, and healing with God, oneself and the community, especially for those preparing to celebrate the Easter Sacraments.
Abstinence from Meat
All Catholics who have reached their fourteenth year are bound to abstain entirely from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent.
All Catholics between the ages of eighteen and fifty-nine inclusive are also bound to observe the law of fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This means limiting oneself to a single full meal and avoiding food between meals. Two other light meals, which together do not equal a full meal, may be taken during the day.
Dispensations from Abstinence and Fasting
Catholics are not to consider themselves lightly excused from the obligation to fast and/or abstain. However, Catholics who have a good reason not to abstain or fast are not bound by the law. Although not required, they are encouraged to substitute another penitential practice, prayer, or work of charity.
The obligation to do penance and to observe the appointed penitential seasons is a serious one. Those whose work or health would be impaired are excused from fast and abstinence. Individual conscience should decide proper cause for excuse. A more serious reason is required to excuse oneself from Ash Wednesday and Good Friday fast and abstinence.
The priests who serve in the Diocese of Rockville Centre possess the faculty to dispense in individual cases.
Celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation
Just as the wound of sin is varied and multiple in the life of individuals and of the community, so, too the healing which penance provides is varied. Those who by grave sin have withdrawn from the communion of love with God are called back in the sacrament of penance to the life they have lost. And those who through daily weakness fall into venial sins draw strength from a repeated celebration of penance to gain the full freedom of the children of God. (Rite of Penance, 7)
Great care should be taken to both preach and promote the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance. Ample opportunity for the celebration of the Sacrament of penance, and, if possible, a variety of confessors should be provided in the parish schedule. Throughout Lent, additional opportunities for the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance ought to be provided in addition to the normal parish schedule. Many parishes have found a great deal of success in using Rite II of the Rite of Penance: Communal Penance Service with Individual Confession and Absolution.
As the attention of the church moves to the great events of our salvation, the early days of Holy Week are an ideal time for additional celebrations of Penance. These celebrations are to be encouraged and promoted. While the celebration of the sacraments on Good Friday and Holy Saturday is prohibited, this prohibition does not include the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick. Every possible opportunity should be offered for the people to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance. The bishop requests that celebrations of Penance be scheduled during the Triduum for this gives true meaning to the Paschal mystery in individual lives. As these days are significant moments for a change of heart, priests should be especially sensitive and responsive to the request of members of the faithful to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance, even when it is outside the normal schedule.
After they have been initiated into the Eucharistic banquet, all the faithful are bound by the obligation of receiving communion at least once a year. This precept should be fulfilled during the Easter season, unless for a good reason it is fulfilled at another time of the year. (CF. Canon 920). [The dioceses of the United States have an indult which allows the Easter Duty to be satisfied from the First Sunday of Lent to Trinity Sunday.]