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January 1st: Holy Day of Obligation

January 1, 2012

Today is a holy day of obligation in the United States. It is the celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Holy Days of Obligation require mandatory church attendance – failure to comply with the obligation is considered a grave sin.

Holy Days of Obligation have changed frequently. Here are the rules in the U.S.  As of 12/31/11, there are ten Holy Days of Obligation authorized by the Vatican. However, each nation’s Conference of Bishops may request that the number of these days and their observance be changed for their country. In the U.S., there are now six Holy Days of Obligation: the Solemnity of Mary (January 1), Ascension “Thursday” (40 days after Easter, but more on that later), the Assumption of Mary (August 15), All Saints Day (November 1), the Immaculate Conception (December 8), and Christmas (December 25).

Today’s Holy Day was changed from the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus (eight days after his birth), to the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in 1969. Also (effective after 1991) when this Holy Day falls on Saturday or Monday it is moved to Sunday. This “moveable rule” also applies to All Saints Day (November 1) and the Assumption of Mary (August 15).

Ascension “Thursday” is quite confusing (the rules changed in 1999). The day of observance depends on what “ecclesiastical province” you live in. In North Carolina, we are in the Atlanta province, which by a two-thirds vote of the province’s bishops decided to move the obligation to Sunday. Currently, attendance on Ascension “Thursday” is mandatory only in the provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and Omaha.

In the year of my marriage (I was married on All Saints Day in 1980), I was required to attend mass 58 times – on all Sundays, and all six Holy Days. In 2011, the Solemnity of Mary (1/1/11, a Saturday) was moved to Sunday. Ascension Thursday was moved to Sunday, the Assumption (8/15/11, a Monday) was moved to Sunday, and Christmas fell on a Sunday. So, only two “extra” days of mandatory attendance at mass. So, thirty years later required church attendance was reduced by 7%. Good news for most Catholics, since only about 13% attend mass on all the mandatory Holy Days. 

Seriously, these man-made rules and traditions (which must be observed by Catholics as their minimum spiritual duty to merit heaven) are an abuse of power by the Holy See. They deny the simple gospel of salvation by faith in Christ alone. They are an abomination.

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