From a reader:
I have a question regarding Holy Days. I am no longer a student, but when I was I always remember having school on Holy Days (and I went to a Catholic grade school and high school). Yet, my parents remember that when they were young, school was always cancelled on Holy Days.
According to Canon 1247, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.”
Wouldn’t these “works and affairs” include school work?? It seems like Canon Law is confirming the old practice of cancelling school on Holy Days. Of course, the counter-argument is that if you don’t have the kids come to school, they won’t go to Mass at all on those days.
Now that I work in a Catholic school, I’m just curious as to your thoughts on this issue.
At my home parish, the old pastor for years saw to it that there was no school at the parish school on Holy Days of obligation or half days, and would also have all school Masses. Something that complicates this now is that, in many instances, children are not walking to school. Also, if they have a half day, is there a parent or someone to pick them up? Is there a parent at home?
It seems to me that c. 1247 is pretty clear. People must fulfill their obligation. That may require them to set aside some other thing they want to do. They may have to make some sacrifice to fulfill their obligation.
The idea behind the canon is that people must have adequate relief from work and worldly obligations so that they can see to their spiritual obligations. This, historically, was also intended to defend the poor and workers from being set to work too much on Holy Days.
That said: I am not entirely sure why a student who goes to Mass on a Holy Day of obligation couldn’t also do some homework on the same day. I think that once your obligation is fulfilled, it is possible to do some “work” activities, though for the sake of the day it is best, if possible, to avoid too much that would be “menial” work.
And what is “menial”?
It is hard for me to imagine that washing the dishes after a meal violates the spirit of the Holy Day. There are things that must be done no matter what the day. Dairy farmers still have to milk the cows everyday, whether it is a holy day or not. It is okay to take out the garbage.
And how many people out there simply must go to work just like it was any other day? Is this the reason why bishops decide to suspend the obligation on some Holy Days? Perhaps. I still think it is not unreasonable to ask Catholics to go to Mass more than once a week, even if that requires planning and some sacrifice.
I also think it is possible to over-analyze and over-interpret “relaxation” of mind and body.
Perhaps the best approach is to make sure, even if you have to work, go to school, etc., that in addition to fulfilling the Mass obligation, you try to make something about that day special, different from your regular routine.