How to Fulfill Your Holy Day Obligation

I have a new friend who is a Byzantine Catholic.

And I know, I’m butchering the terminology from line one, but I’m just figuring this whole Catholic rites thing out so gimme a break!

Anyways, I went to Mass on a recent Saturday and noticed it was the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

That Solemnity isn’t a Holy Day of Obligation for me (Latin Rite) but I happened to know (don’t ask me how) that it was a Holy Day of Obligation for my Byzantine friend.

So I got to wondering how she would fulfill her Holy Day of Obligation, since her Byzantine church is kinda far away.

Rewind to Ascension Thursday.

Ascension Thursday is a Holy Day of Obligation for me, and pretty much everyone else in the Latin rite, unless your bishop moves the day to Sunday.

Which, the bishops did in the U.S. military archdiocese.

I have some involvement in the military Catholic community, though we’re civilian, so the question of how exactly to fulfill the Holy Day obligation became important for me.

Since we’re under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of New York as a civilian family, we did have the obligation to fulfill the Mass requirements for Ascension Thursday.

I was of the understanding that in order to fulfill my Holy Day obligation, I had to attend a Mass that was celebrating the correct Ascension Thursday liturgy.

So here’s how it went down.

I drove an hour to a Mass on Ascension Thursday morning for the installment of the new officers of the Catholic women’s group. I had to (and also wanted to) go to this Mass, since I will be involved with the adult faith formation this upcoming year.

I was under the impression this Mass didn’t fulfill my obligation.

So when Mass was over, I grabbed my kids and we rushed to Mass at our parish within the Archdiocese of New York 40 minutes away – an Ascension Thursday Mass.

We were going to make it just in time.

Until we got stuck in traffic.

We made it to Mass at the Consecration.

Which I know is way too late to count as fulfilling your obligation.

So we went home, had some lunch to fend off the hangries, and rearranged the rest of our day to allow us to hit up the 7pm Mass as a family, finally fulfilling our Ascension Thursday obligation.

Phew. Is your head spinning?

Here’s the thing. I was wrong.

Or, I would prefer to say misinformed.

That first Mass I attended that morning, according to Canon Law, would have fulfilled my Holy Day obligation, even though it wasn’t the “correct” Ascension Thursday liturgy.

Back to my Byzantine friend.

After my Ascension Thursday debacle, I was wondering if my friend had to put herself through the same trouble I did to find and attend a “correct” liturgy on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, in a church that was in fact observing it as a Holy Day of Obligation.

And I hoped she wasn’t having as rough a time of it as I had on that crazy Thursday.

Thankfully, she wasn’t.

And if you ever find yourself in either of these (or similar) situations, you don’t need to have such a rough time about it, either.

Here’s the lowdown

What Masses fulfill the Sunday/Holy Day obligation?

I opened up my Catechism and for ya.

The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2181, emphasis added

That’s straight from the Catechism, my friends. It just says we need to participate in the Eucharist (so the Mass – which is the celebration of the Eucharist) on days of obligation.

It doesn’t get complicated.

It doesn’t say it has to be the proper liturgy for whatever holy day it is. It doesn’t say anything about having the right readings.

It just tells us to get thee to Mass.

But sometimes, Canon Law lays out the specifics moreso than the Catechism, so I turned there next to see if there was any more guidance.

Here’s what I found.

On Sundays and other holydays of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at 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 obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a catholic rite either on a holyday itself or on the evening of the previous day.

Code of Canon Law, 1247-1248, emphasis added

That’s what I was looking for, and also not what I expected or previously thought it was.

The Code of Canon Law says right there that any Mass within a Catholic rite satisfies the holy day obligation on that day, or on the evening before.

Cool beans.

So that first Mass I went to on the morning of Ascension Thursday satisfied my obligation. I didn’t need to run around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get to the “right” Mass on time.

And my friend in the Byzantine rite was A-Okay when she attended the local Latin rite Saturday morning Mass on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul (which was the same feast day, after all – albeit a different liturgical rite).

Which is not to say that attending the Mass with the proper liturgy wouldn’t be the best option.

It’s probably in our best interest to participate in the liturgical calendar to the fullest extent possible.

But that’s a more pastoral concern.

As far as the law is concerned, any Catholic Mass on a Holy Day gets the job done.

Crossing Rites

Researching this question also shed some light on another question I’d been considering in my mind.

As you may know, our family recently discovered a local Latin Mass (the Extraordinary form) being offered in our area.

We were interested in – or should I say, drawn to – attending this Mass. But at the same time, it’s hard for us to give up the familiar Ordinary form and hearing and understanding all the prayers of the Mass.

So we’ve been flip flopping. Latin Mass this week, English Mass next week.

But one thing that’s been on my mind is the fact that the calendars are different, the readings are different, the feast days are different.

So I wondered what that meant in terms of my Sunday obligation. What if I attend a Mass that’s not celebrating the “right” feast day?

And I began to toss around the same question regarding Catholics belonging to other rites. What if the Byzantine or any other rite’s calendar doesn’t line up with ours, but it’s more practical for them to attend the local Latin rite? Is there any problem there?

My research laid all these worries to rest. It’s okay that our calendars and feast days and observances are different.

We are still the same Church.

The Mass is the Mass, and it satisfies our Sunday and Holy Day obligations, no matter what “rite” it follows.

And whatever rite you belong to, as long as you’re attending a Catholic Mass every Sunday, and on all the Holy Days of obligation, there’s no need to get scrupulous about what readings or form of the liturgy is being followed.

That concern is extraneous to the requirements of the law.

So if you’ve been wrestling with this question, put your mind at ease.

Saturday or Monday Holy Days – Two Birds with One Stone?

There’s one more case I want to take up.

What about (as was the case in a recent year) when a Holy Day happens on, let’s say a Monday.

Christmas.

What if Christmas is on a Monday?

According to what we just read in Canon Law, any Mass on Monday or on Sunday evening fulfills the Christmas obligation.

And any Mass on Sunday or on Saturday evening fulfills the Sunday obligation.

So how about, I just go to one Mass on Sunday evening, and we kill two birds with one stone. It’ll fulfill my Sunday and my Christmas obligation.

Right?

Wrong!!!

It’s true, the Mass that occurs on Sunday evening in this case could fulfill either obligation, but it cannot fulfill both at the same time.

This is because there are two obligations in this case.

We have to get to both a Mass that counts for Sunday, and a Mass that counts for Christmas.

Now, I almost typed, “We have to get to both a Sunday Mass and a Christmas Mass.” This is where I think the confusion comes in.

If we shorthand using terms like this, it can lead us to the conclusion that we have to get to a Sunday Mass – or, a Mass celebrating the proper liturgical form/readings/etc. for that particular Sunday; and a Christmas Mass – or, a Mass celebrating the proper liturgical form/readings/etc. for Christmas Day.

While this is probably the best idea, and the one most likely to play out given the popular options offered at these available times by most parishes, it’s not by Canon Law strictly the case.

If your Church happens to offer a regular Sunday Mass at 5 pm on Sunday evening, and you attend the vigil Mass or a Sunday morning Mass, plus the regular Sunday Mass at 5pm in the evening – you’ve technically fulfilled both your Sunday and Christmas obligations.

But the bottom line is, you can’t fulfill two Mass obligations with one Mass attendance.

And the same goes if the Holy Day of Obligation falls on a Saturday.

There’s no two-birds-with-one-stone here.

You have to go twice.

More resources on the Mass Obligation

You might be interested in reading some commentary on this from a few resources that have more more weight or authority than I do as your everyday Catholic blogger and average Catholic woman just trying to figure these things out on my own.

Here’s an article from a Canon Lawyer, who goes into detail about interpreting the specifics of Canon Law. He has links to a continuation of this discussion over several posts on his blog, that you can find and follow in his article.

Here’s one from Catholic Answers about the Mass Obligation – they’re usually my go-to search when I have questions about the Catholic Faith that need clearing up.

And here’s one from EWTN. This one was helpful especially because of the follow-up and clarification included at the bottom of the article.

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great post

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