Holy Days of Obligation are major feasts of the Church’s year on which – in addition to Sundays – Catholics are obliged to go to Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body (The Code of Canon Law 1247).
In the medieval period, days off work for the workforce in Catholic countries, consisted of Sundays and single days off on major feasts of the Church. So for the workers holyday, was the same as holiday. A combination of the Protestant work ethic and the industrial revolution brought an end to this system of time off from work in the secular world, introducing one extended summer break.
The Church has retained a number of its feasts, the major ones are known as Solemnities. Some of these Solemnities are known as ‘Holy days of Obligation’, when those who are able are expected to attend Mass.
Holy Days in Ireland
•Immaculate Conception (8th December)
•Christmas Day (25th December)
•Epiphany (6th January )
•St Patrick (17th March) (2008 – 15th March, because 17th falls in Holy Week)
•Assumption of Our Lady (15th August)
•All Saints (1st November)
In Ireland since October 1996, the Irish Bishops’ Conference removed the obligation on the feasts of Ascension and the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), and the consequent transfer of these two feasts to the following Sundays in accordance with universal liturgical law. This decision has been confirmed by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship.
Holy Days worldwide
The Roman Catholic Church in the Latin rite has 10 obligatory holy days. With its approval the Apostolic See allows national Bishops’ Conferences to abolish the obligation of some of these or transfer them to Sundays.
•Mary Mother of God
•Ascension of Jesus
•Sts Peter and Paul
•Body & Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
•Assumption of Mary
The rule of precedence
If a Holy Day Solemnity falls on a Sunday in ordinary time, it replaces the Sunday liturgy. But if the Sunday is one of Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter, then the Sunday should take precedence.
Participating at Mass: Canon 1248
This canon explains what is required to satisfy the obligation of participating at Mass:
§1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.
§2. If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the Word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.