QUAERITUR: Is Epiphany 2012 a Holy Day of Obligation for those who attend the Extraordinary Form?

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. JonPatrick says:

    Another good reason to go to Mass January 6 is that it is also a First Friday.

  2. asperges says:

    The Bishops of England and Wales are reviewing the Holy Days and the much regretted transference of Epiphany and Ascension to Sunday. The changes only came about a few years ago. Fortunately there are many EF Masses celebrated on Friday 6th here including a High Mass in the Dominican rite locally for the Epiphany – complete with blessing of chalk at the end.

    The changes are another example of well-meant but foolish decisions: it panders to the “religion is only for Sunday” mentality and makes nonsense of the liturgical cycle. Interestingly, it is not just the more traditional who object to these changes. I am hopeful that our hierarchy will see common sense and change back to the old ways very soon.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    It is a Holy Day of Obligation in Ireland, but not a Bank Holiday. Masses are scheduled as on Sunday. It is so good to see this tradition at least in one place. Even in Malta, it has transferred to the Sunday.

  4. jaykay says:

    Epiphany is still a Holyday of obligation in Ireland – and there’ll be a High Mass (or a Missa cantata) in the Dublin Latin Mass Chaplaincy (TLM) on Friday evening with the blessing of chalk (low Mass at 8.00 a.m.)

    The Irish Episcopal conference did however “move” Ascension and Corpus Christi, some time in the 90s as far as I recall.

  5. akp1 says:

    Very well explained Father!

  6. introibo says:

    Was the Epiphany ever a holy day of obligation in this country? (the U.S.) I have many older books on the faith/catechisms, etc, and these do not list the Epiphany as a day of obligation.

  7. Roger Conley says:

    I bet I’m older than many of your books and I agree. The Epiphany was not a holy day of obligation in the United States even before the feast was moved to the Sunday.

  8. dcmike says:

    So, what does that mean for the status of Friday as a Solemnity those of us who are only able to attend the Extraordinary Form on Sundays? I assume I should plan on normal Friday penance rather than celebrating the Solemnity of Epiphany? Seems to me that by moving the Solemnity to Sunday, we’ve been robbed of a feast. [You might want to read the top entry.]

  9. mrose says:

    Just curious: may the novus ordo Epiphany Mass licitly be said on 6 January this year (or in general when 6 January is not a Sunday, in a place where the Feast has been “moved” to a Sunday)?

  10. wolfeken says:

    Introibo and Roger Conley are partially correct.

    Who, exactly, is arguing that Epiphany was a holy day of obligation in the U.S. with respect to the traditional Latin Mass calendar? It would have to be someone longing for the pre-1884 law, as U.S. bishops removed 6 January from the list of American days of precept at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore.

    Of the ten holy days of obligation observed in the universal Church since Pope Benedict XV, the Epiphany, Corpus Christi, Saints Peter and Paul and Saint Joseph’s feast days have been the four not observed in the U.S.

    As an aside, Pope Saint Pius X, in his 1911 motu proprio “Supremi disciplinæ,” also stated the fasting and abstinence disicplines for the vigils of holy days not observed by a particular country are also not observed.

    At the same time, I agree with Fr. Z that we should attend a traditional Latin Mass on 6 January. As a practical matter, those who exclusively attend the TLM will be hearing the Masses of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Sundays After Epiphany later this month, so it would make sense to also hear Mass on the feast of the Epiphany itself this Friday. And the (former) octave, which has the readings of the baptism, next Friday, the 13th. The latter concludes the liturgical Christmas season.

  11. jesusthroughmary says:

    Is there the possibility of celebrating the feast of Epiphany on Sunday as an external solemnity in the Extraordinary Form?

  12. wolfeken says:

    Jesusthroughmary — no.

    The only exception would be if your parish happened to be named Epiphany Roman Catholic Church, and, thus, your pastor could observe the patronal feast day as a first class external solemnity on Sunday.

  13. Cavaliere says:

    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.

    FYI, there will be a TLM on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Robbinsdale, MN.

  14. We just moved to Chicago Land in August.
    There are many Eastern Rite parishes in union with Rome near by, I wonder if this wouldn’t be a good chance to celebrate the Epiphany with our other Lung.

  15. My parish is having Low and High Latin Masses on Friday (Jan 6th), but it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation in the United States, but is so in Canada, UK, and Rome. I have an old prayerbook published in the early 1900’s that says Epiphany is not a Holy Day of obligation in the USA. It wasn’t then and still isn’t in the USA. However, the 1962 Missal does not transfer the Epiphany (Jan 6th) and the Baptism of the Lord (Jan 13th) to Sunday, so this Sunday (Jan 8th) is the Feast of the Holy Family.

  16. Darren says:

    Let’s not forget the other Holy Days of Obligation-no-longer in the US… St. Joseph and Sts. Peter and Paul. Poor St. Joseph… why is he so forgotten by so many? Even in my parish named after him, no Novena to St. Joseph… …probably the greatest of the saints after Our Blessed Mother. (Definitely so according to Ven. Mary of Agreda’s Mystical City of God)

  17. Johnno says:

    In Canada practically all the Holy Days of Obligation have been abrogated or moved save Christmas and Easter and maybe one or two others. This is a highly disturbing trend over the last couple of years.

    It makes Catholics ignorant about many aspects of their faith with concern to the treasury of the saints, and of Mary and several other feasts that are important and help emphasize dogmatic teachings; and it makes it a mentality that holiness and God are only reserved for Sunday and the rest of the week we can act however we like.

    It’s understandable that many might be working and cannot attend Mass. But I’d argue that that number might be insignificantly low and rare. And by having an early morning Mass and a late evening Mass, it should adequately serve most everybody. I know when I have to occasionally work on Saturday and Sunday I try to make up for it by going sometime during the week.

    I find it wholly ironic that a Muslim can approach his boss at work and boldly say, “Gotta go! Need a Day off to observe my religion!” And they get it! They ask for prayer spaces and breaks to observe their prayers, and they’re likely to get those too! But us Catholics have made it a habit to be complacent and place the work of the world before that of God and the bishops have complied… Seriously, doesn’t this trouble anyone?

    Sure you’re no longer obligated to go… but you’d be a fool not to take advantage of any dispensation of graces the Church can offer you whenever you freely can. Likewise, you’re not ‘obligated’ to go to Heaven either… The saints and souls in Purgatory lament how many people ignore and throw away the graces, indulgences and vast treasury of the Church freely open to them. “If only they knew… they would make it a point to be there every single day!”

    If the bishops treat past days of obligation as non-essential for the sake of serving the needs of the Pharoahs of the world, then they shouldn’t be surprised when many don’t take the saints, the Queen of Heaven, and other essentials, historicity and dogmas of the faith, for which these feasts are dedicated to, seriously either…

  18. As others have pointed out, the Third Council of Baltimore listed the following as Holy Days: The Immaculate Conception, Christmas, Circumcision of Our Lord (New Year’s Day), Ascension, Assumption, and All Saints’ Day. This was in 1884, so complaints about “removing” the obligation for Epiphany, St. Joseph, Corpus Christi, etc. are silly. However, Epiphany was not transferred, and was celebrated on the proper date (However Corpus Christi, I believe, was transferred).

    I am all for returning Epiphany to its proper day, and making it a day of obligation. But maybe we could couch it in ecumenical terms. After all, the Anglicans and Lutherans celebrate it on the 6th, and its very insensitive of us Catholics to move the date unilaterally!

  19. Alice says:

    Christopher M,
    Looking at your blog it looks like you may live close to my in-laws. I can recommend Immaculate Conception Ukrainian in Palatine as being very friendly to Latin refugees. We only go occasionally, but it has made quite an impression on my 3 year old.
    Their schedule is on their website: http://www.ukrainianic.net/

  20. bourgja says:

    At my FSSP parish, the feast of the Epiphany is celebrated as an external solemnity on Sunday, as are all transferred feasts within current U.S. practice.

  21. Stephen Matthew says:

    Just out of curiousity, if by an action taken under the universal law moves the feast to a Sunday, why does this not then apply to both Forms of the Roman Rite?

    I am sure I am missing something obvious here, but it seems to me that if, for example, the Pope decreed that such and such feast will now be celebrated on such and such day throughout the church, then that would be the case regardless of which liturgical books one were using, providing there were rubrics for the celebration of that feast.

  22. Alice-

    Thanks so much for the information – We will have to check them out!

    I appreciate it.


  23. Joshua08 says:

    It should be noted that Epiphany has never been, at least since the 3rd Plenary Council of Baltimore, a Holyday of obligation in the US. The law from the 1870’s to the New Missal for the US was

    1. Christmas
    2. January 1
    3. Ascension Thursday
    4. Assumption
    5. All Saints
    6. Immaculate Conception

    Corpus Christi, while not transferred, was celebrated as an external Solemnity on the Sunday provided the procession took place. January 6th was not an HoD and was not transferred nor solemnized externally. So St. Joseph, Ss. Peter and Paul, etc sorry…we didn’t have them as HDO’s before Vatican II. The one only change the US bishops have made to the list in general, is suppressing the obligation when a feast falls on a Monday or Saturday

    As for as transferring them to a Sunday. That is Rome’s doing, not the US bishops. By choosing to keep the same exact list of 6 that we have always had, we were required by Rome to transfer Epiphany, Corpus Christ and (where it isn’t a HDO) Ascension to Sunday. That requirement is a rubric in the Missal itself, found in the De Calendario section that where these three feasts are not of obligation they are to be transferred. That is why they are transferred in the New rite but not the old. The transference is a requirement of the new rite’s rubrics.

  24. ppb says:

    Stephen Matthew: according to Universae Ecclesiae 28, post-1962 liturgical laws that are incompatible with the liturgical rubrics of the 1962 missal do not apply in celebrations of the Extraordinary Form – that would include things like the calendar and the question of whether feasts can be transferred. If the Pope wanted to change the date of celebration of a feast for the entire Latin rite, it seems to me that it would have to be explicitly stated that the change also applied to the EF missal, despite UE 28. (That’s just a guess, I’m not an expert on these matters by any means.) But that would open a big can of worms with most traditionalists at this point.

  25. Joshua08 says:

    Just to provide citation

    7. Where the solemnities of Epiphany, Ascension, and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ are not kept by precept, they are assigned to a Sunday as if their proper day, under this account:

    a) Epiphany, the Sunday occurring from the 2nd through the 8th day of January
    b) Ascension, on the 7th Sunday of Easter
    c) The solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, on the Sunday after Most Holy Trinity

    7. Ubi autem sollemnitates Epiphaniae, Ascensionis et Ss.mi Corporis et Sanguinis Christi non sunt de praecepto servandae, assignentur dominicae tamquam diei proprio, hac ratione:
    a) Epiphania, dominicae a die 2 ad diem 8 ianuarii occurrenti;
    b) Ascensio, dominicae VII Paschae;
    c) sollemnitas Ss.mi Corporis et Sanguinis Christi, dominicae post Ss.mam Trinitatem.

    So even by keep the exact law as before Vatican II in the US, the Roman Missale requires these transferring

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  27. John Nolan says:

    When SP appeared in 2007 the English and Welsh hierarchy had just moved Epiphany, Ascension and Corpus Christi to the nearest Sunday. Ecclesia Dei ruled that if the bishops had transferred the feasts, this applied also to the EF. This meant that in 2010 and 2011 the Feast of the Holy Name was displaced in England and Wales, though not in Scotland. In a subsequent ruling it was deemed permissible to use the Mass and Office of the transferred Holy Days on their correct days in the EF, but without the obligation.

  28. gloriainexcelsis says:

    At my FSSP parish we will celebrate Epiphany on Jan. 6 and Holy Family on Sunday. Father always has two Masses every Friday, 7 a.m. and in the evening after Adoration and Benediction at 7 p.m. It will also be First Friday, so my Friday evening will be doubly special.

  29. Stephen Matthew says:

    ppb – that makes a certain degree of sense, but when something is unqualified it would seem to be most logically universal in scope unless something, such as context, clearly shows otherwise. There is of coarse the problem that the 1962 missal was largely forgotten about in the legislative process for a few decades, (and all the other various particular traditional liturgies as well for that matter…) so it is difficult to discern the intent of the legislator in this matter.

    John Nolan – that is interesting, as it would seem to suggest some acts do in fact apply to both forms, and that calendar adjustments of this sort may be just such an item.

    On the one hand the 1962 missal probably shouldn’t be forever frozen in time, nor should some entire parallel system of liturgical law permanently be created, but on the other there would be problems if all that has happened since 62 were to be applied retroactively to it. I have a feeling this is one of those things that will take quite some time to sort out fully. Getting used to the time span the church works in can be quite an adjustment for some of us.

  30. Darren says:

    Copied from: http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/holy_days_of_obligation.htm

    Latin Rite

    The Code of Canon Law provides the following general norm for the Latin Rite of the universal Church:

    Canon 1246
    1. Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church. Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God and her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints.

    2. However, the conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See.

    Depending on one’s nation one could have more or fewer than the ten listed in the Code. For example, the United States adds her patron (The Immaculate Conception), as does Ireland (St. Patrick), Canada (St. Joseph) and many other countries, while dropping several from the list. The following is the complementary norm for the United States, providing for 6 holy days, in addition to all Sundays:

    On December 13, 1991 the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of American made the following general decree concerning holy days of obligation for Latin rite Catholics:

    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:

    1) January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
    2) Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension
    3) August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
    4) November 1, the solemnity of All Saints
    5) December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
    6) December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ [list numbers are not in original]

    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 of the Conference of Bishops was approved and confirmed by the Apostolic See by a decree of the Congregation for Bishops (Prot. N. 296/84), signed by Bernardin Cardinal Gantin, prefect of the Congregation, and dated July 4, 1992.

    It should be noted that the Ascension is celebrated on Sunday in many dioceses of the US (in accordance with a decision to allow this transfer), reducing the practical number to 5 in many places.


    I guess the US Bishops abolished St. Joseph & Sts. Peter & Paul a long time ago. It’s sad that any HDO is ever abolished anywhere. Since my parish is named St. Joseph, we almost always have a special mass on March 19 if it isn’t a Sunday.

  31. Dr. Eric says:

    What’s the plan? Are we Feasting or Fasting today- 6 January 2012?

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