QUAERITUR: Work or school on Holy Days of Obligation

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.

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  1. jkm210 says:

    I went to Catholic school and we always had school on holy days such as All Saints and Immaculate Conception. Ascension was moved to Sunday in that diocese and we were already on break for Christmas, Mary, Mother of God, and Assumption. We did usually even have at least a half-day school on Good Friday, though not a holy day of obligation, while many of even the public schools in the more rural areas of the state would have that day off.

    Now I work part-time at a Catholic university and students and full-time staff get all holy days of obligation off, even if they turn out not to be obligatory, as in the case of All Saints this year. Part-timers have to work if their department is considered part of the university’s “essential services,” as mine is.

    I think it’s a nice idea, and maybe in the case of the university, it’s more for the sake of the priests and religious on campus, but most of the students just go home for the weekend and use the holy day itself to travel back to campus, so I think a lot more of them would be attending Mass if they just stayed here. The same goes for the staff, as we have two Masses a day on campus during the week.

  2. wolfeken says:

    Part of this is about others, not just ourselves. On Sundays and holy days of obligation we are commanded not to work — or to make others work — with labor that can’t be done the next day.

    When we go shopping on Sunday, or the Immaculate Conception next month for instance, we make someone else work. There’s a good chance doing so gives him an excuse (rightly or not) to not hear Mass. The old blue laws may be Protestant in American history, but they serve a very good purpose. Labor on Sundays and holy days of obligation should be restricted to activities that can’t wait until Monday or December 9th.

  3. Peggy R says:

    When I was a child in the 70s, our Catholic grade school and diocese did not hold classes on Holy Days of Obligation. I think that the US didn’t have these “but not on Mondays” HDO policies then. We also went to daily Mass–the entire school, every day. I am mortified by how this is not done anymore and that an “all school” mass is the exception these days. Cancelling school had the added benefit of encouraging the parents to attend mass b/c they also needed to take the children. If the children went to mass with school, the parent might not go out at night to mass…and who stays w/the kids if they’re younger…?

    As an aside, a rant about the “old days.”
    Even though we celebrated the N.O. in the vernacular, it was a reverent affair and by the book in the 70s. No altar chicks, yes communion on the tongue, no lay EMHCs, etc. A lay man might read the readings, if the associate pastor did not. I think the progressives came into power, ie, as pastors etc., in the late 70s and early 80s and began implementing changes on their own de-mystifying the mass and making it about “us”, such as special masses for one grade where all gather around the altar and rely on guitar music. It began with little things. I see so much focus on “us” rather than Jesus at many masses these days.

    Today, it’s all focused on the idea that we’ll worship Jesus so long it is convenient to us and reflects us.

  4. Microtouch says:

    Since the TLM came to town several years ago ( I attended the inaugural TLM and never looked back) I have learned to embrace my Catholic faith more fully. This included informing my boss that I would no longer be working on Holy days of obligation. For a non-catholic he was most understanding. I go to Holy Mass and do my best to relax and enjoy myself, listening to music, watching a DVD or riding my silverwing. What a nice way to spend the day.

  5. spschultz says:

    Since the USCCB seems intent on making sure the Faith is never an “inconvenience” (never mind that slight “inconvenience” our Lord suffered) by suspending the obligation to attend Mass when Holy Days fall on any day other than Sunday, most “Catholic” parishes/”communities”/”worship spaces” (yes, that’s the latest one I’ve seen) are following suit by NOT even offering Mass on Holy Days for those who wish to attend regardless. Our FSSP priest had to jump through hoops in order to get permission to say Mass on Monday (All Saints Day). Is it always supposed to be “easy” and “convenient” or are we not told if we wish to be with the Father we must drink from the same chalice as the Son? Considering especially the blood spilled by the faithful martyred in Iraq, attending Mass on a Holy Day somehow doesn’t seem that big of an inconvenience to me…

  6. Here is a question for readers:

    How many of you would find it hard to pay the rent if you did not work on Sundays or Holy Days?

  7. Rob in Maine says:

    At my Jesuit High School in the 1980’s, I seem to recall on Holy Days we had an 11am Mass in the gym, then got out at noon. During Lent, we had a mass on Wednesday, then got Holy Thursday and Good Friday off.

  8. I probably could, and probably should, take off from work for all Holy Days of Obligation. But I’ve been working the same job for quite a while, and have accrued a lot of annual vacation days.

    Re: not working on holy days, there’s some pretty hilarious/spooky Catholic legends in German culture, in charge of enforcing a prohibition of servile work. (Possibly because Germans were medieval workaholics.) Woe betide the person who put hand to a saw or a spindle on a holy day! It would probably be withered off by the day personified as a magical old woman. Similar legends applied to fasting.

  9. thymos says:

    I work at a school affiliated with Opus Dei, and here we have school on Holy Days of Obligation. I think, from my experience with the students and their families, that without our day of school (with its all-school Mass), there are many who would not otherwise attend Holy Mass on that day.

    Also, on the Feast of All Saints, we take a break from our normal routine, and have a day filled with feast, poetry, and games (in addition to worship).

  10. wolfeken says:

    Concerning holy days of obligation, there are only six of them in the U.S. — and two of them (12/25 and 1/1) are federal holidays.

    Assuming one or two of the remaining four land on a Saturday or Sunday (as was the case for the Assumption this year), we really are only talking about three business days per year. Not everyone works only business days, of course, but it’s important to note how relatively minor the holy day of obligation burden really is for the majority of employees.

  11. Jayna says:

    When I was in Catholic school, we had half days on Holy Days and all school Masses (which were rather huge, considering that we were in the cathedral parish). The school did not provide transportation – no buses or anything – so parents always had to drive their kids to and from school. Field trips were few and far between, let me tell you.

  12. RichR says:

    As a dentist (and my own boss), I decided to take off work on holy days.

    However, I can’t force my employees to take vacation, and for most of them, it’d be hard to miss a day of pay if I closed the office all together. So I leave it up to them. Since my decision to do this, all of my Catholic employees have decided to follow suit and they take off on holy days, too. I try to lead by example.

    As wolfeken said above, the obligation is very minimal.

  13. Supertradmum says:

    I once asked an employer, for Good Friday off without pay and was told “no” as the other Catholics worked on that day and why shouldn’t I. That was in the 1980s. I took the afternoon off without pay. As to not being able to pay rent, I have purposefully chosen jobs which would allow me flexibility in my faith; that is, to go to Church on Holy Days of Obligation and Sundays. Because of this choice, we make much less money than most people, but it is a choice.

    I would hope Catholic children could grow up in homes where lesser pay is taken for days off on Holy Days. The same principle should be a guide if parents decide to home school, or send their children to private, Catholic schools. My parents never took a vacation, but sent all of us to Catholic elementary and high schools. Examples are important in families.

  14. Catherine says:

    There are so many opportunities to attend daily Mass and Holy Days of Obligation in my archdiocese that I cannot imagine a bishop who would not encourage us all to attend Mass on Holy Days. I attended Mass on All Saints’ Day and the priest began Mass with the statement:
    ” This is the feast of All Saints’ Day, BUT IT IS NOT A HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATION!”

    Why on earth would he have felt the need to have made that point? Shouldn’t priests and bishops be calling us to holiness and not laziness? Should we all have just stood up and said “Oh, OK….” and walked out of the church???

    BTW, I am handicapped, but I remembered how important that feast day was when I was in Catholic school.

  15. bookworm says:

    I once worked for a diocesan newspaper and it was our practice to take holy days of obligation off… unless they fell on Wednesday, which was our deadline day for getting the paper to readers on Friday (the official publication day). If the holy day was Wednesday, we had to work if the paper was to get out on time. Otherwise the only alternative would have been to make the deadline earlier — which we did in the case of major holidays such as Christmas, July 4, etc., but not holy days.

    When I first started working there, we got Ascension Thursday off, which was really nice. However, when our region’s bishops moved Ascension to Sunday, that stopped.

    Now I work for the state. Of course we didn’t get All Saints Day off, but we got All Souls Day off because it was ALSO Election Day!

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