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Today’s Holy Day Causes Confusion

January 1, 2011

Today is the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church. It is mandatory for Catholics to attend Mass on all Holy Days of Obligation – to willfully fail to attend is a mortal sin. Or is it?

Catholic canon law provides five precepts that must be followed – these are the minimum requirements to observe for one’s spiritual well being. One of the precepts is that servile work should not be done on a holy day of obligation. A second is mandatory attendance at Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days.  There are ten official holy days, but the bishops are given discretion to determine which one’s apply to their country, to move them around, etc. For example, the feast of  the Immaculate Conception is a holy day of obligation in the US, but not in Canada.

Now, today is a holy day of obligation in both countries. However, people in the U.S. today are not required to attend Mass because when the Solemnity of Mary falls on a Saturday or Monday it is moved to Sunday. This is not the case in Canada, where the obligation remains.

What happens if  a Canadian living in Windsor, Ontario is visiting family today in Detroit, Michigan? It is unclear, but most believe that the obligation depends on where you are, not your citizenship. Therefore, if you are visiting Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day you are bound by the rules of the Irish bishops which require church attendance.

For most Catholics, however, this is all a moot point. In a recent survey of 1,007 Catholics by Georgetown University only 12.2% of those surveyed always attend mass on Holy Days. Still, according to the papacy the 87.8% are committing a mortal sin which if left unconfessed will send the poor Catholic to hell!

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