QUAERITUR: satifying 1 January Mass obligation

From a reader:

Per the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is a holy day of obligation — one of the few non-Sundays throughout the year when Catholics are required to attend Mass.

Since I follow the Traditional Calendar, along with my church, Old St. Mary’s here in Washington, we celebrated this feast, known as the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on Saturday, October 11. 

Did I satisfy my obligation for attending Mass on the feast of Mary, in her role as Mother of God?


Going to Mass on 11 October does not satisfy the obligation to go to Mass on 1 January.

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  1. Mitch says:

    Does attending 1962 Mass for the Circumcision of our Lord fulfill the obligation? Or does it have to be a celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God?

  2. Will says:

    If I understand correctly, Summorum Pontificum says that there is only one Latin Rite celebrated in two forms, then it follows that there really should be some effort to harmonize the calendars. It seems odd having the same holy day celebrated 3 months apart.

  3. patrick finley says:

    Funny someone mentioned circumcision of the Lord. I wonder if Solemnity came out of that tradition of circumcision. If I recall in the tradition, there was a sort of festival had for the woman that coincided with the Child’s Circumcision.

    I also have in a novus order church, seen the date celebrated as the circumcision , believe it or not. And of course since I live in the states, half the time we conveniently miss the date.

    We definately need one calendar. Then the confusion goes away.

    The first question though is very interesting. If a person is in church that day, but the celebrant isnt fulfilling the novus ordo guideline for the day (in otherwords, not celebrating the holy day), is it the responsibility of the faithful to forgo tradition and attend the Novus Ordo mass? Wouldnt that fall under the validity of the sacrament clause?

    MY one qualm with the novus ordo approach, atleast in my parish is you are hard pressed to see more then one song for mary at a day dedicated for mary. Where as in the olde rite, you say prayers to mary after every single mass. Then on a Holy day to the Madonna, you might hear 3 or four different ave maria’s, stabet mater’s, etc, depending on the date. Something worth noting.

  4. Ken says:

    A clever question. The answer is: go to both, but 11 October for the Maternity of the BVM is not, and has never been, obligatory. In fact, that feast has been all over the place as far as the date it is observed: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10046a.htm

    The feast of the Circumcision / Octave Day of Christmas on 1 January is a holy day of obligation according to the 1962 calendar, with 1 January sort of being a holy day of obligation (depending on the year) for the novus ordo. I think the key here is the date, according to the letter of the law, and not necessarily the propers of the Mass, for the obligation.

  5. Tim Ferguson says:

    It does not have to be a Mass of Mary the Mother of God to fulfill the obligation. The law simply states (c. 1247) that “the faithful are obliged to participate in the 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” and further (c. 1248) “the obligation of participating in the Mass is satisfied by one who assists at Mass wherever it is celebrated in a catholic rite, either on the holyday itself or on the evening of the previous day.”

    So hearing Mass of the Circumcision of the Lord in the extraordinary form would fulfill the obligation, as would attending the Divine Liturgy in an Eastern Church, no matter what feast that particular Church is celebrating on January 1 (or the evening prior).

    I’d also encourage folks to take seriously the second half of c. 1247 – hearing Mass is not the only requirement for Sundays and holy days – abstaining from unnecessary work and relaxing the body and mind are also obligations. The British commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Letter and Spirit, p. 701) says “Modern commercial and economic pressures may not lie easily with this directive, but this canon is a clear call to Christ’s faithful to assert their fundamental belief in the spiritual values of the Gospel of Christ – values which may well be out of accord with the current trend toward material possessions as some kind of ultimate value, a value which nonetheless can so easily turn out to be nugatory.”

  6. newtrad says:

    I was told by a priest here in California that the obligation has been lifted in our area. What’s up with that?

  7. David says:

    Traditionally, I believe the obligation has been connected to 1 January being the Octave Day of the Nativity, which it still is no matter what other feast may also fall on that day (Circumcision in the TLM).

  8. Father Totton says:

    In California, all sorts of crazy things go around. In fact, regarding this same feast last year, I heard of two young parishioners of mine who were visiting their dad in Orange County. They asked to be able to go to Mass (dad is not catholic) and their (catholic) stepmother said the bishop (of Orange) had lifted the obligation for that feast. So maybe there is something to it. Strange things out there in California!

  9. Geo F. says:

    Last year, a friary that we attend celebrated the Jan. 1 Solemnity of Mary Mother of God with a TLM using the October texts (They got permission to do so from Ecclesia Dei, as they are a Marian order).
    Marian Friary of Our Lady of Guadalupe

  10. Liam says:

    Fulfillment of the preceptual obligation is not contingent on the use of certain propers.

    The OF calendar revived the oldest Roman feast of Mary in the calendar – it was something like an Eastern synaxis, but on the octave rather than the adjoining day.

  11. David Denton says:

    I concur, the Churches in Burbank were locked up on Jan 1st

  12. Eric says:

    To add more clarity to the issue, Canon Law lists the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, as a Holy Day of Obligation. The Code does not give the date of January 1, but the date is given in the decree from the USCCB.

  13. BathAlice says:

    Father Totton,
    Regarding those two young parishioners, at the time they called me (their mother) questioning it in disbelief. They had heard about it at the previous Mass, confirmed by their father and step-mother, and just couldn’t believe it. They insisted on attending Mass on the feast day, so their father took them. They later told me their step-mother went shopping instead. It is because of wonderful priests like you, and your teachings, that form the minds of our children in such a way that they feel strong enough to stand up for their faith.

    By the way, they later told me the Mass was crowded, “so everyone else must not have believed it too.”

    P.s. We attend the TLM, but when in CA that option has been refused to them. My not-so-little soldiers take it in stride, and seek out the priest for Communion.

  14. Mark says:

    The two Feasts, of Circumcision and Mother of God, are not as unrelated as one might at first think (though there is a definate change). The collect is the same for both Feasts. The Gospel of the new feast contains the Gospel of the old. They both have a very strong Marian character. If the texts of the Circumcision were used for the celebration of Mary the Mother of God, I would doubt that many people would find the traditonal texts very out of character.

  15. Ryan says:

    It may be worth noting that 1 Jan is a feast for Mary as Mother of God – Not just as a mother, or even just as mother of Jesus or mother of Christ. As a feast dedicated to Mary as mother of God, it is commemorating a specific doctrine that is more than just the maternity of Mary generally speaking.

    So naturally, other related feasts noting Mary as mother of Jesus would not necessarily cover the great mystery of how Mary is not just the mother of Jesus, but is indeed the mother of God himself.

  16. btb says:

    Sadly, the feast is not a Holy Day of Obligation in Australia. Given that the status of January 1st as a Holy Day of Obligation appears to be dependent upon the archdiocese and given I’ll be in Portugal over the new year it would be useful to know if it’s a Holy Day of Obligation in Lisbon or not. Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide.

  17. Fr. Angel says:

    The Metropolitan Province of Los Angeles, which includes the Archdiocese of L.A. and the suffragan sees of San Diego, Orange, San Bernardino, Fresno, and Monterey, has dispensed Catholics from the obligation to attend Mass on January 1st, by a decree of the bishops of the province.

    Archbishop Niederauer has also dispensed the Catholics of the Archdiocese of San Francisco from the obligation to attend Mass that day.

    Unfortunately, California has a dismal record for holy day attendance. Even before all these dispensations came around, Mass attendance on the holy days was bleak. When I announced the January 1st dispensation, a lady waited after Mass to berate me for this decision of the bishops.

    I told her that I was not happy with what was happening, but not to worry, because I had no intention of canceling Mass on January 1st. Of course, she didn’t show up on January 1st. She later explained to me the Sunday afterwards, like a good pharisee, that she would have been happy to attend if the Church had told her she had an obligation.

    I sincerely hope that people who complain about the laxity of laws will make the effort to attend anyway. Otherwise, the indignation is about the letter of the law instead of love of Our Lady

  18. Papabile says:

    My understanding was that OF Mary Mother of God for January 1 was a restoration of a 2-4th century Feast, and that the October 11 Divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary had been eliminated in the OF, and that these were two different Feasts.

    Now, One should remember, there WAS a Mass with Propers for the Feast of the Circumcision in the OF. Those existed from 1969-1972.

    Mary Mother of God was only imposed in 1972.

  19. Mike in FL says:

    I understand that at some point the calendars will be harmonized, but what a great loss it would be to lose the Feast of the Circumcision, Rogation days, Days after Epiphany and Pentecost and the allowance of “anticipated Masses” for the EF. I don’t look forward to this.

  20. Joshus says:

    Guys, you are getting it all wrong.

    January 1 is a Marian feast even in the old rite. Just look at the propers!! The II Vespers is that of our Lady. In the old rite the feast is very much that of several mysteries intertwined. The naming of Jesus (as it was called in some versions of the Roman rite), the octave day of Christmas, the Circumcision, the Motherhood of Mary are all part of this feast.

    The Introit,Offertory and Communion are that of Christmas (3rd Mass). II Vespers, The Collect and the Postcommunion are of Mary´s Motherhood.

    O God, who by the fruitful virginity of blessed Mary hast bestowed upon mankind the rewards of everlasting sanctification: grant, we beseech Thee, that we may experience her intercession for us, through whom we have been made worthy to receive the Author of Life, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity

    May this communion, O Lord, cleanse us from guilt: and through the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, make us sharers of the heavenly remedy. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost

    The Secret seems to commemorate all the mysteries. The Gospel is that of the Circumcision and indirectly the naming.

    To better highlight some of this individually the feast of the Motherhood (Oct 11), Holy Name of Jesus (Sunday after or Jan 2 if the Sunday falls on the 6th or after) have there own feast too. But the beauty of the Jan 1 Mass is the intertwining of all of them. I would be scandlised if some traditional Mass used the wrong texts and took them from Oct 11

  21. Joshus says:

    Also the Station is at a Marian Church!

  22. Hugo says:

    California: They don’t call it the Land of Fruits & Nuts for nuttin’

  23. Brad says:

    I mean this with all love and seriousness. Please help a brother out. How is all this talk not Pharasaical? Didn’t Jesus rail against putting so much effort into ‘the law’?

  24. Canon Law requires all Catholics to attend a Catholic rite on Sundays and holy days of obligation. If you attend a Catholic rite on Sunday or a Holy Day of obligation (or at any time the Church allows the Sunday or the precept to be observed, e.g. Saturday evening or the evening before a HDO), then you have fulfilled your oblligation.

    The law on this matter is not complicated, and the reader\’s query was a legal one. The rest, regarding calendar alignment, etc., is a matter for the Holy See – one we hope CDW will address sooner rather than later, to be sure, but it is not strictly pertinent to the legal question at hand, and discussion of extraneous and/or tangential matters tends to obscure the simple answer to the important, and simply resolved, legal query.

  25. Fr. Angel: you say, \”She later explained to me the Sunday afterwards, like a good pharisee, that she would have been happy to attend if the Church had told her she had an obligation.\”

    Fr. Angel, what is pharisaical about explaining that one acted within one\’s rights?

  26. David says:

    “I mean this with all love and seriousness. Please help a brother out. How is all this talk not Pharasaical? Didn’t Jesus rail against putting so much effort into ‘the law’?”

    Our Blessed Lord was also concerned about those attempting to remove specks.

    That to which Our Blessed Lord referred, don’t forget, had nothing to do with the Catholic Calendar or Christian feasts, but Jewish oral tradition that later were codified in the Talmud. If there is a lack of sincerity, or someone above who is forgetting what is at the center, then I don’t see it. Sorry if your tastes or sensibilities are offended by the discussion, but that doesn’t give you the right to insult. To use Our Blessed Lord’s words in reference to any discussion of anything dealing with Church law is becoming, and I mean this in all charity, a bit obnoxious. I suggest stopping it, and leaving it to the poor progressives who first inflicted us with this horribly flawed misinterpretation.

    Great posts, otherwise. Very informative. Allow me to add that the diversity in the calendars is a source of strength, not weakness, in the Roman Rite. If we were to make changes other than adding new saints to the 1962 calendar there would be screams (from me as well), but it doesn’t seem to be the way the PCED is leaning anyway.

  27. Geo. F. says:

    Mary Mother of God was only imposed in 1972.
    In this diocese (Central MA)there was a Holy Family feast day between The Circumcision of Our Lord being removed and the
    Solemnity of Mary Mother of God being added (or re-introduced from ancient times)for January 1. Was this a UCCB mandate or something particular to my Diocese ?

  28. Brad says:


    First of all, let me make it clear that I am not trying to insult or be obnoxious. I am merely trying to understand how you can square a very intense focus on law with the teachings of Christ. Please accept my apologies for any offense you’ve taken.

    I believe what you’re saying is that Christ’s concerns were not with Christian law, but with Jewish law. While this seems obvious as there were no Christian or Catholic laws when he was physically with us, isn’t that splitting hairs? How can you be certain that Catholics aren’t ‘forgetting what is at the center’ when the law requires so much effort, energy, and precision?

  29. Joshua says:


    Jan 1 was about Mary the Mother of God before 1972. Granted the focus changed then, but engrain that to memory, that it has always been Marian.

    Second, in the old rite Holy Family is the Sunday after Epiphany. The Holy name of Jesus the Sunday after Jan 1, unless that Sunday be on or after the Epiphany (Jan 6), in which case it is on Jan 2.

    And Epiphany was not a Holy Day of Obligation in the US even before Vatican II. It is the Novus Ordo Missal itself, not the USCCB, that transferred it to the nearest Sunday when not an HDO

  30. Bernie says:


    No offense taken on my part. SALVATION iteself “requires so much effort, energy, and precision” along with true love and humility. It isn’t a smooth road.

    Between the two extremes, laissez faire and law for the sake of law, the Church wisely stands in the middle. The obligations required of a Catholic, even those who follow traditional practices (Friday abstinence outside of Lent, 3 hour fast, etc) are VERY mild if you think of it.

    Not to have them would not mean negation of pharisaism but it would mean lack of prudence, lack of charity on the Church’s part which would become an absentee landlord, a careless shepherd and irresponsible mother. These few obligations are just reminders of our great commitment to live holy lives. In a 7-day we are asked to attend ONE Mass. In a 365-day year how many (few) are set apart as days of obligation? Are these unreasonable?

    Regarding the precision and detail of liturgy and codes, these are necessities of a complex world, of a truly universal Church, who must care for the spiritual lives of the faithful in so many instances but also pay bills, educate and train clergy, etc. live practically. Besides, one can look at carefully prepared liturgy as a burden or as a beautiful act of love. A beautifully wrapped gift may hide a cheap, last-minute-bought-by-my-secretary gift or a precious item chosen with so much love for my wife. The wrap may thus be just a wrap but I would never, intentionally, give her the precious item packaged in a used brown box just for the sake of avoiding the elaborate, the fanciful, the externals. I will try my best in both; the gift inside and the external.

    Like everything (including the desire for simplicity and detachment) this can (has been and will be) be taken to extremes
    by some and some can (have and will) regard religion as checking items in a list no matter how strict or how lenient the Church is and She is very sensible if we fairly look at it.

  31. Bernie says:

    One last thing, Brad.

    Our Lord did not come to rewrite any laws though He said clearly what was lacking in those laws, or even to abolish them, not a iota He said. He then left us a Holy Church guided by the HS+ to carry on the job down here. Besides His infinite valued Sacrifice, He came to leave us a Church, an institution with authority to rule over the faithful and not just any institution but a transcendent one, which is Himself and grace dispenser. The opposite to pharisaism is Catholicism and NOT “listen guys: no laws, no obligations, no priests, no temples, no organized religion, no books, no codes, no liturgy. Just you and I in a ‘personal relationship’.”
    He did NOT say that!

  32. Fr. Angel says:


    The point the parishioner made when she remonstrated me for the bishops’ relaxation of the law was that church precepts must help enforce devotion. “Even though people don’t want to attend Mass on New Year’s day, they should make the sacrifice to honor Our Lady and the bishops are discouraging this devotion to Mary.”

    If she wants to live her faith by the letter of the law, that is her decision. The pharisees practiced their faith with the same attention to the letter. But then, do you not see the contradiction as she wishes to assume a higher moral ground than her fellow Catholics?

    I don’t mind if someone waxes eloquent on the lamentable state of Catholics being less Eucharistic in their spirituality and more guided by a desire to lawyer themselves out of Mass attendance, if that person is actually living the Devout Life in their own right. In other words, take the log out of your eye before you complain about the splinter in everyone else’s.

    I am not so sure I would speak of missing a Mass, even when legally permitted, as a “right,” as in “I have a right to skip Mass on this day because there is no precept.” It seems to me that the term “rights” should be applied to those actions and options which are morally right.

  33. Brad says:


    Thank you for your thoughtful and considerate responses.

  34. Brian Mershon says:

    Fr. Angelo, with all due respect, I fail to see your point.

    You said: “Unfortunately, California has a dismal record for holy day attendance. Even before all these dispensations came around, Mass attendance on the holy days was bleak. When I announced the January 1st dispensation, a lady waited after Mass to berate me for this decision of the bishops.

    “I told her that I was not happy with what was happening, but not to worry, because I had no intention of canceling Mass on January 1st. Of course, she didn’t show up on January 1st. She later explained to me the Sunday afterwards, like a good pharisee, that she would have been happy to attend if the Church had told her she had an obligation.”

    Well, let’s apply this same logic to other things. 90 percent plus of all Catholics who are married contracept, yet 90 plus percent of all Catholics receive Holy Communion (of those 30 percent of Catholics who “regularly” attend Mass.

    If everything must be reduced to the lowest common denominator and the bishops, are supposed spiritual shepherds, don’t give a damn and continue to lower the bar, why in the world should the average lay Catholic give a damn about attending Mass on a day that is no longer aobligatory?

    What a vast wasteland of apostasy (seriously)we live in in the U.S. Church. Thanks be to God for a few solid parishes and priests we have in the Bible Belt of South Carolina.

  35. Fr. Angel says:


    My point is that we do not need a precept from the Church to force us under pain of sin to honor Our Lady by attending Mass on January 1st. We can attend because we love her and wish to give glory to God.

    Numerous priests celebrate special Masses for Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th. They do not have to be ordered to do so, even though it is not a holy day of obligation. They do so because numerous people out of love for her request special Masses in her honor and attend Mass on this day.

    Removing the precept for January 1st is sad, because it does mean that even fewer will be motivated to attend Mass on that day. However, the response to this sadness is not to complain and critique the bishops, but for devoted sons and daughters of Mary to find other ways to keep the importance of the Solemnity alive.

    You asked, “If everything must be reduced to the lowest common denominator and the bishops, are supposed spiritual shepherds, don’t give a damn and continue to lower the bar, why in the world should the average lay Catholic give a damn about attending Mass on a day that is no longer aobligatory?”

    Are you serious Brian? The average lay Catholic must do their part to reform the Church in holiness and sanctity–that is why they should give a damn. Because your love and my love for Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and the Church is not determined or dictated by what lax bishops do.

    What good does it do to complain about everything sinking to the lowest common denominator and then use the new found laxity as an excuse to skip Mass that day? How is that helping Our Lady or increasing the holiness of the Church? The answer is that such an attitude helps no one. To say, “well, the bishops don’t give a damn, so I don’t either” is to cut off your nose to spite your face. If we love the Church, we give a damn, no matter who else doesn’t.

  36. Gareth says:

    I missed Epiphany one year. I attended the Extraordinary Form Mass on the Sunday, and the Ordinary on the Thursday. In the celebration of the Ordinary calendar, Epiphany had been translated to the Sunday.

  37. Brian Mershon says:

    Fr. Angel,

    My comment about “not giving a damn” was imprudent and unwise and I retract it. It was supposed to be rhetorical, but I see I failed miserably.

    The point you make in your response to me is exactly correct and is what Catholic laymen SH”O”ULD be doing. My family yearns for more high Masses and more attention given to the traditional calendar at our Novus Ordo parish that has the TLM on every Sunday now at 11 a.m. We try to attend Mass every day (if it were offered regularly at our parish), so you of course are right.

    However, that does NOT excuse the recalcitrance of diocesan Ordinaries lowering expaectations to the lowest common denominator.

    If there is one thing I know for certain and INFALLIBLY, in an age of apostasy in the United States as we are current in with the culture of death as well as many within the Church (including priests and bishops), the one way NOT to build the “kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven” is to remove all of the Holy Days of obligation down to nearly nil.

    THAT will certainly NOT serve as a public witness to building the Kingship of Christ–wof which we all should be striving.

    Again, my rhetorical point was poorly made and I withdraw it.

  38. I removed a comment posted as “Anon”. I don’t allow “anonymous” comments. You must use some name or handle.

  39. Baronius says:

    So-called “Harmonisation” of the calendars between the TLM and teh NO must NEVER be allowed to happen! Moving the TLM in the direction of the NO in any fashion whatsoever brings us right back to square one. THe butchery of the ancient calendar is one of the many features of the NO whichmake it compeltely unacceptable.
    I can guarantee that “harmony” is the last thing that will result from any attempt to bowdlerise the TLM. All such attempts must be fought tooth and nail and resisted where practicable.

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