ASK FATHER: Who can dispense Holy Day of Obligation?

lords leapingFrom a reader…


A friend of mine just informed me that the Solemnity of Mary isn’t [wasn’t] a Holy Day of Obligation in the whole state of California. What ecclesiastical body has the authority to grant such dispensations?

In light of can. 87 of the 1983 Code for the Latin Church, a diocesan bishop can dispense from the obligation of a particular Sunday or Holy Day.

I suppose one might wonder when such a move would be appropriate. Off the top of my head, I can imagine a scenario wherein a major earthquake has devastated a city of the diocese. In that case, the people can simply can’t get to Mass are relieved of the obligation anyway, but there may be marginal cases that are harder to decide.


On a related point, another person asks…

My wife and I will be traveling to Los Angeles on New Years Day and were flabbergasted to learn that Jan 1st is not a Holy Day of Obligation in the Archdiocese of LA. We have a very busy day on the 1st and were hoping to find a church with a early Mass time. This is proving impossible (many of the churches in the area we will be staying in are even closed that day)!

If you travel to a place where the obligation to attend Mass has been lifted or dispensed, you do not have an obligation to hear Mass.

You are free to lament the zeitgeist that has so confused the liturgical calendar such that Holy Days are regularly moved, suppressed, or ignored, and that has twisted the calendar so far that, for example this year, the Three Kings arrive, not on the Twelfth Night, but on the Tenth Night … therefore lifting the obligation placed on true loves from sending Ladies Dancing and Lords a’Leaping to their sweethearts this year.

But, in those places where the obligation has been legitimately lifted by the authorities who have the power to do so, there is/was no obligation.

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  1. Nicolas Bellord says:

    Now that the Bishops of England & Wales have managed to reduce the number of Holydays of Obligation to one (Christmas) for 2015 can we expect them to abolish obligation on Sundays in 2016?

  2. raininnewark says:

    In the San Fernando Valley, there were at least 6 churches with Mass times ranging from 8:15 – 10:00 am, but then, it is a large Archdiocese, so that might have been more the exception than the rule.

  3. Imrahil says:

    I suppose one might wonder when such a move would be appropriate.

    Off the top of my head:

    – for some faithful humbly requesting to be relieved of the obligation for St. Stephen (where it locally is and where it does not, say, fall on a Sunday) under the condition of attending both the Mass in noctem and the Mass in die (or in mane) for Christmas (which, if the latter is in the afternoon, suffices anyway, but not if it is in the morning). Similar for Easter and Pentecost,

    – there is a local pageant around here celebrated by some on a large scale with some grand effort by costumed participants, and not entirely without religious meaning, and which may bring difficulties with making it to Mass on the Sunday. For some faithful humbly requesting dispensation, under the condition that they attend at least some other non-obliging Mass within the time of a month after the end of the celebrations, and in the understanding that they still try to get to a Saturday Eve Mass if possible (but wish to be relieved on their conscience if they cannot make it)

    – if they go on a cruise for their legitimate vacation, to ease up on their conscience (is that a sufficient excuse or isn’t it? I read in the comments here that some authors did mention vacation, back in the ossified manual days… if we land on a Sunday, must I press the issue with the Captain to allow me sufficient time for attending the local Church? and so on), again under the condition to visit weekday Masses afterwards instead or so.

    perhaps where the Ember Saturdays are celebrated in their full ancient glory (with all the lessons and so on), but in the morning, for attenders w. r. t. the following Sunday…

  4. granitroc says:

    January 1 was a Holy Day of Obligation in the Diocese of Sacramento.

  5. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    No wonder we’re being besieged by the Godless secularists on one side, and the mohammedan horde is on the advance from the other side! The Church is too soft on us laymen.

    I think that if one wants to be a Catholic, it should hurt a little bit.

    One should WANT to be Catholic, and one should be made to EARN the title “Catholic”. People would appreciate the Church, and the Eucharist, more if that were the case.

    If I ran the circus… I’d announce to one and to all to not go to Mass. That they were not welcome. That this is the most sacred event that human beings can do, and if you do not believe that that is really the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Creator-King of the Universe, and by consuming Him you not only acknowledge that fact, but you also agree to Everything that the Church teaches and holds, then please not come to Mass.

    Along with that, if they do not believe that Jesus gave his Disciples the authority to Absolve sins, to not go to Confession.

    I figure, the one thing God told Adam and Eve NOT to do is the one thing that they actually did, and did pretty well.

  6. Spade says:

    Dispensing a holy day when it’s also a federal day already is laaaaaammmmmeeee and the people that do it are laaaaazzyyyy

  7. Geoffrey says:

    January 1st, the Octave Day of Christmas, is not a Holy Day of Obligation in the Ecclesiastical Province of Los Angeles, and it seems that all of its suffragan dioceses have followed suit. My parish offered only one Mass yesterday, and it was packed.

    However, the deacon happened to tell me before Mass that the ordo for the province did list it as a holy day of obligation. Misprint?

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It’s downright weird for an archdiocese with a Marian name (El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Portiuncula) to not celebrate Marian feasts.

    Of course, it’s also weird for the Church to get rid of celebrating Jesus’ bris, so there’s that.

  9. Imrahil says:

    What Spade said.

    I see, and generally defend, dispensing from HDOs that are days of work. In the understanding that these dispensations are “for the time being” and the ideal and long-term goal is – of course! what else? – to reintroduce their celebration as public holidays where normal work is forbidden (i. e. give it the status that, if I’m rightly informed, Independence Day now has.)

    Whether this means we need to go into tampering with the liturgical year (viz. transferring to Sundays in any form that is not the ancient “external celebration” mode) is another question.

    But if it is a public holiday, I cannot see why in the world the obligation would be lifted. (New Year? For now some 60 years or so, Mass can be held at other times than in the morning.)

    Also, I seriously think that whatever to be said about dispensations for the laity – clergy should treat all HDOs mentioned in the CIC as just that. People are dispensed, say, from attending Mass on St. Joseph’s Day – but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be just as many opportunities to nevertheless attend as there are on HDOs.

  10. everett says:

    Whoever told your correspondent that it wasn’t a Holy Day in all of California is mis-informed. As mentioned above, it is in Sacramento, and is in Santa Rosa, which is the entirety of California north of the Bay Area. So far as a I know it’s also a Holy Day in Oakland and San Francisco. The past two years our parish (hardly the bastion of traditional practice of Catholicism) has had both a vigil mass and mass during the day for the Holy Day.

  11. Clinton R. says:

    Here in the LA Archdiocese, we don’t go to Mass to honor our Blessed Mother on January 1, but later this month the parishes will be open for Martin Luther King Masses. We are indeed in the age of apostasy and insanity. Domine, miserere nobis. +JMJ+

  12. Elizium23 says:

    It’s a weird thing in the land of fruits and nuts. I heard that there was a long-standing dispensation from this HDO and that all suffragan dioceses in the province were eligible. My particular case is the Diocese of San Diego. Two years ago I was in town and mightily curious why it was not an HDO. I made a cursory survey of parish websites and half said it was, and half said it wasn’t. I called the chancery and they said it wasn’t. Possibly the habitual fear of earthquakes has brought the number of HDOs to a record low there.

  13. janeway529 says:

    From my research, the bishops of the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Los Angeles (Fresno, CA; Monterey, CA; Orange, CA; San Bernardino, CA; San Diego, CA; and Los Angeles, CA) and San Francisco (Honolulu, HI; Las Vegas, NV; Oakland, CA; Reno, NV; Sacramento, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Jose, CA; Santa Rosa, CA; Stockton, CA; and San Francisco, CA) had been dispensing, in concert, the Jan 1 HDoO since at least 2002. In 2012, when San Francisco had a new archbishop, +Cordileone reinstated Jan 1 as an HDoO and a some of the suffragan dioceses followed suit.

    So this year, if you live in the Ecclesiastical Province of Los Angeles, your obligation is dispensed. The Ecclesiastical Province of San Francisco is where it gets tricky. If you live in the Dioceses of Honolulu, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Stockton your obligation is dispensed, but in the Dioceses of Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco the obligation to attend Mass is in effect. Not sure about the Diocese of Reno. I saw one parish where it said the obligation was dispensed and another where it wasn’t.

  14. janeway529 says:

    As for the bonus question, the difficulty in Los Angeles on Jan. 1st is that most parishes will usually only have their normal daily Mass time or only one special Mass time in the morning (usually 9 or 10am). Correct me if I am wrong, but the parishes are under no obligation to offer extra Masses, even though some of the larger parishes (10k+ parishioners) will offer more than one Mass during the day and sometimes even a Vigil Mass.

  15. Wiktor says:

    I wonder, do they have a plan to move Christmas to a Sunday too?

    In Poland, January 6th is a national holiday since 2011.
    They did not want to celebrate Epiphany so badly, though. It was meant to _reduce_ the number of holidays in the long term: a fixed holiday date in exchange for some other calendar quirks.
    That maneuver has been proven unconstitutional though, but the Jan 6th stayed, essentially for free.

  16. Stephen Matthew says:

    I don’t find it being a day of obligation in any way objectionable, though I do object to the renaming of the feast.

    This should be, as the octave day of Christmas, focused on Christ, His birth, His circumcision (significant for being the entry into the covenant with God, in this case on our behalf), and His naming. If we must, add another Marian feast on some other date within the Christmas season.

    I know, in theory Marian feasts are Christological, but as they are in fact celebrated they tend to lose that focus and the crisis in catechesis has made that only worse, the average pew sitter thinks all these things are about Mary and half thinks their Protestant neighbors are right and so just happens to not actually show up that day. (Then there is the issue of the Gospel of the day not tying to the feast particularly well, which is an additional reason to move the feast and restore the previous names for the octave.) This is particularly an issue in the USA where other than Christmas there are ZERO holy days of obligation that are not Marian in focus (the others almost always get moved to a Sunday or some such). My own mother recently remarked (she is a convert) that when in RCIA they were told if you can’t remember what is being celebrated for some particular Holy Day just remember it is something about Mary, that is more or less the level of understanding of the cradle Catholics, too.

  17. +JMJ+ says:

    OK, so here’s my (extension) of this question: Who (if anyone) can dispense a SUNDAY obligation?

    I’m aware that if the circumstances make it impossible, we’re not required to go to Mass (i.e., a firefighter who may work a 48- or 72-hour shift, which spans a weekend may legitimately not be able to get away for Sunday Mass, due to the requirements of the job). But let’s say that someone doesn’t check his schedule and doesn’t realize it until too late to get out of the double-booked obligation, can the Sunday obligation be legitimately dispensed by his Parish Priest? Or is this one of those practices that has no grounding in reality. (Note: Any resemblance is purely coincidental.)

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