Questions have come to my inbox about Epiphany as a Holy Day of Obligation this year.
Apparently, some zealous participants of TLMs are saying that Epiphany is a holy day of obligation and therefore the faithful are bound under pain of mortal sin to attend Mass on Friday, 6 January.
I don’t like at all, by the way, the transferal of the feast. But I digress.
In the universal law of the Latin Church, the Solemnity of the Epiphany is a Holy Day of Obligation (can. 1246). That same law gives to conferences of bishops (with the approval of the Holy See) the right to abolish (abolere) certain holy days or transfer their observance to a Sunday.
In the United States, the bishops in November 1983 moved the observance of Epiphany to the first Sunday following January 1. This was approved by the Holy See on 13 February 1984.
In transferring Epiphany (and Corpus Christi) to a Sunday, the bishops (with the approval of the Holy See) abolished the obligation attendant to these feasts.
The faithful are already obliged to hear Holy Mass on Sundays. On “Epiphany Sunday”, there is no “double obligation.” This was confirmed on December 13, 1991 when the US conference of bishops decreed:
“In addition to Sunday, the days to be observed as holy days of obligation in the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States of America, in conformity with canon 1246, are as follows:
January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension
August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
November 1, the solemnity of All Saints
December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.”
This decree was approved by the Holy See (Prot. N. 296/84 Congregation for Bishops) on 4 July 1992.
Subsequent legislation, of which we are all sadly aware, also allowed for transferring the solemnity of the Ascension to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, similarly abolishing the obligation. BOOOOO! But I digress.
Therefore, for Catholics in the United States, the Solemnity of the Epiphany is no longer a holy day of obligation.
In any event, those Catholics who hear Holy Mass according the Extraordinary Form may be able to find a TLM on Epiphany itself, Friday 6 January 2012. If they can’t, however, they miss out on the rich liturgical celebration of Epiphany. The following Sunday in the traditional calendar is the Feast of the Holy Family. There is a lot of disparity between the older and newer calendar. Let us not forget that the Council Fathers said that no innovations, out of keeping with our tradition should be sought. The Council also said that changes shouldn’t be made unless they are really for the good of the people.
Nevertheless, those who prefer the Extraordinary Form should not be troubled in conscience in any way about attending Mass on 6 January under pain of mortal sin concerning an obligation. They are under no obligation to attend Mass on 6 January, nor even to seek out an Ordinary Form Mass (using the Epiphany formulary) on Saturday evening or Sunday morning.
We may respectfully disagree with the bishops decision to alter the traditional calendar.
We may pray earnestly for a return to it.
We may enrich our liturgical and spiritual lives by hearing an a TLM on 6 January, or by hearing both an Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form Mass on the weekend, or merely by praying the Office for Epiphany alone or with others.
We are not, however, under any obligation to do so.
We must not suggest that others are under such an obligation.