A good point about Holy Days of Obligation and our Catholic identity

At The Catholic Thing, John M. Grodelski makes an obvious but NOT thereby less valuable point.  Let’s see.

January 1, 2022 was a Saturday. January 1, 2023 is a Sunday. January 1, 2024 is a Monday.

Only one of those January 1’s will be a holy day of obligation – 2023 – and that’s only because it falls on Sunday.

The mishmash is a result of the “Complementary Norm” adopted by the United States Catholic Conference back in 1991 which abrogated the obligation for the holy days of January 1, August 15, and November 1 if they fell on a Saturday or a Monday.

The logic behind the decision seems to be that, if a feast abuts a Sunday, one would have the obligation to attend two Masses. Apparently, the bishops find that excessive, though it’s not clear for whom: the laity or the diminished numbers of clergy in many American dioceses?

Furthermore, with the post-1969 “vigilization” of Sundays and holy days (Mass being offered the evening before the day itself), there would be liturgical confusion, e.g., is 5 p.m. Mass on Saturday, January 1, 2022 still the Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God or anticipating the Solemnity of the Epiphany (which itself has been transferred from January 6 to a Sunday)?


We live in an increasingly secular society. God is not so much the “enemy” (unless you actually start living like a Catholic in public) as much as irrelevant. Stripping away the religious dimension of January 1 only advances that secularization.


The bishops have only succeeded in telegraphing to people is that being a Catholic isn’t all that important, not important enough to do anything about.

Some action items come to mind.

  • Restore obligations: Holy Days, longer Eucharistic fast, Friday penance
  • Diminish Saturday vigil Masses
  • Phase out Communion in the hand
  • Sideline Traditionis custodes, etc.
  • Return to ad orientem worship.
  • Multiply devotions: novenas, processions, Forty Hours
  • Overhaul music: repertoire and get choirs out of view
  • Return to traditional confessionals
  • Require silence before and after Mass
  • ¡Hagan lío!



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Pingback: A good point about Holy Days of Obligation and our Catholic identity – Via Nova Media

  2. KSC says:

    Oh, I so agree with your “action items.” I’m traveling this weekend and went to a church that I’ve never attended before. Tabernacle was to the right of the sanctuary…crucifix to the left (hand sanitizer was present in the center directly behind the altar though). Not a single statue in the whole church. The congregation held hands during the Our Father and people using the orans position. No respect at the time of receiving the Lord in the Eucharist. Sigh…very sad.

  3. majuscule says:

    My parish had Saturday morning Masses for the holy day. Two of the three churches in the parish are Sunday/Holy Day of Obligation only, so it was quite obviously an extra Mass.

    Some other parishes in the diocese did not observe the holy day on Saturday. Was it left up to the pastor? I don’t think my parish is especially pious but two of the churches are named for our lady, so it was fitting!

  4. Joe says:

    Establish a dress code for mass attendance. put it in the bulletin and on on the church wedsite.h

  5. Josephus Corvus says:

    And speaking of Holy Days, some pastors need to understand that people have jobs that are not within 10 minutes of home (or their parish) and do not have the ability to take vacation days on every Holy Day.

    When I was an altar boy (early 80s) the priest would indicate that the Holy Day was at least as important as Sunday by essentially having the Sunday Mass schedule for the Holy Day. Two changes were implemented to account for the fact that people had jobs. The anticipation was moved to about 7:00 or 7:30 and likewise one of the day Masses was moved to the evening at around the same time. The early morning (7:00) Mass took into consideration that people might need to go to work so there wasn’t a 10-15 minute homily (more like 2-4 minutes) and the music was abrogated to just what was needed – no need for all the verses or fully singing the Psalm.

    Then he retired….

    New guy comes in. Down to two Masses. One at 8:00 AM (full homily and music – Mass MUST take an hour) and one at 6:30 PM. You better move it if you want to get home in time to attend that one. His comment? “Well, if you really can’t attend Mass, there is no sin”.

    And people wonder why certain priests are referred to as lazy.

  6. In today’s environment, I can’t help but wonder if a request from the USCCB to restore the previous discipline would be approved by the Apostolic See. I certainly wouldn’t bet the ranch on it.

  7. dinsdale says:

    Many years ago, a priest discussed this very topic at our TLM on All Saints. To the best of my memory, he said, “This year in the Novus Ordo, All Saints falls on Saturday and there is not an obligation. Next year it will be on a Sunday and there will be an obligation. However, the year after it will there will not be an obligation since it will fall on a Monday, but the following year it will be on a Tuesday and it will be an obligation.” (He paused for a few seconds.) “And people say there is no longer any mystery in the Novus Ordo.”

  8. hwriggles4 says:

    Our pastoral administrator is a former Episcopal priest. He really made it clear that even though Christmas Day was a Saturday and December 26 was a Sunday, all Catholics are obligated to attend both Masses. Our parish even had a 5pm Mass on Christmas Day and our pastoral administrator and the parochial vicar made it clear that the 5pm Christmas Day Mass is for Christmas and DOES NOT fulfill the Sunday obligation.

    By the way as a former altar boy from the same timeframe as Joseph Corvus, I can relate. Although the parish three blocks from my office normally does a 6:30 PM or 7 PM Mass on Holy Days (I do attend these) I wish I could go earlier (9 AM is the normal daily Mass, and the parish does have two priests now) sometimes on Holy Days. Years ago two parishes that were on my way to work normally did a 6:30 am or a 7:00 am Mass on Holy Days, so there were times I would go to Mass at those parishes on Holy Days. My regular parish is in an area with several businesses and adds a 12:10 PM Mass on Holy Days in addition to the regular daily Mass schedule of three Masses.

  9. grateful says:

    I’d like to be at this mass.
    “As described on the page on Twelfthnight, this Feast — also known as the . “Theophany” or “Three Kings Day” — recalls Christ revealing Himself as Divine in three different ways: to the Magi, at His Baptism, and with His miracle at the wedding feast at Cana.”…
    …”At today’s Mass, there will be a blessing of gold, frankincense, myrrh, Epiphany Water, and, after Communion, a blessing of chalk. Bring small special items of gold to have with you during the Mass, and they will be blessed if they are exposed as you sit in your pew with them (wedding rings, rosaries, an heirloom piece of gold jewelry, for example).”…

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  11. Littlemore says:

    Although we live in the North of England, we were in Scotland seeing my husbands family this last weekend. At the TLM yesterday, the priest was announcing the coming week Masses, and then said that although the Epiphany is a Holy Day of Obligation (HoD) in England and Wales not so in Scotland however, there is Mass on Thursday at this church.
    It’s no wonder then that people don’t know if they’re coming or going regarding the rules for fulfilling their obligation. Quite a few HoDs are different in Scotland than England and Wales.

  12. JonPatrick says:

    I think eliminating vigil masses is only possible with more priests. Here in Maine we have many parishes that are large geographically due to the rural nature of much of the state and the merging of parishes due to the priest shortage. So priests have to drive long distances to say mass. Having the vigils breaks that up somewhat rather than having a priest trying to schedule them all on a Sunday. Plus isn’t there a limit on how many masses a priest can say in one day?

  13. Andrew Hollingsworth says:

    The position in England and Wales is where holydays of obligation (except Christmas Day) fall on a Saturday or a Monday they are transferred to the Sunday. As it happens 1 January is not a holyday of obligation. In some rural areas in order to offer Mass in each location within a wide parish area the one priest offers a Saturday vigil Mass, two Sunday morning Masses and a Sunday evening Mass. If a holiday of obligation were celebrated on a Saturday or Monday then it might not be possible for Mass to be offered in each of the locations where the faithful normally attend for both the Sunday and the holyday. I think the Bishops’ position is now reasonable and at least Epiphany is now celebrated on 6 January if it is Tuesday to Friday. The extreme position of always moving it to Sunday really distort the Christmas season.

  14. Philliesgirl says:

    This year I shall be able to celebrate the Epiphany at a TLM. We have a former parishioner who is now a priest in another part of the country, but he returns to visit on a regular basis. He’s here this week, so TLM today, and Wednesday and Thursday. Our parish priest is very supportive. He felt he should write to the Bishop for his OK after TC was issued. But he told me that he emphasised in his letter that his parishioners who attended the TLM were not in any way divisive or separated from parish life! The Bishop replied ‘that’s fine, keep it going’. Which seems to have the response of most English and Welsh bishops (with one very sad exception- Declan Lang). We shall see if anything changes with the DD.
    Fr Z suggested restoring Friday penance. The bishops of England and Wales restored Friday abstinence a few years ago but as far I can see most people ignore it. How difficult it is to put the genie back in the bottle.

  15. sjoseph371 says:

    While I agree with most of your action items, I have the following thoughts:
    1. For some people, due to our schedule, the Vigil Mass is the only way we can fulfill our Sunday obligation. No, it isn’t being lazy, nor can many switch our jobs – it is more of either we can make the Vigil or we can’t make it at all.
    2. Many of these action items are good, but what I think many need to focus on is just getting back to basics (like ensuring the faithful believe that the Eucharist IS the true body and blood of Christ for one) before taking any of these advanced steps. We can all agree that these action items would greatly enhance the solemnity of our worship, but if we can’t even ensure that Catholics believe just the basics, these items will do nothing for the faith. Kind of like making sure your roof doesn’t leak before even addressing your crumbling foundation.
    Just my humble 1-1/2 cents worth.

  16. Tradster says:

    Stop being “nice”, man up, and restore the preaching of missing Mass, without valid exceptions of course, as Mortal Sin – which means Hell! The rare times sin is mentioned at all for missing Mass on Sundays or Holy Days it is invariably referred to ambiguously as “serious sin”. People need to understand that it not just serious but soul-damning.

    And, yes, dress code including no hats for males and *gasp* head coverings for females.

  17. Verygrateful1 says:

    Can anyone top this? For New Year Day at my parish there is only one priest and he said a 7pm vigil, a midnight, a 7am, 8:30, 10:00, noon, and 5:30.

    He heard 45 minutes of confessions before and after the 7pm.

    He said these masses in 3 different languages.

    He is almost a senior citizen, and he has a potentially terminal illness.

  18. sjoseph371 says:

    Verygrateful1 – either your parish priest has Betty White’s gene’s or he had a direct IV drip of Red Bull for the weekend! Good to hear that there are still Vatican 2 era priests who still do it right.

  19. johnwmstevens says:

    I agree with what I understood of the list. Just one question:

    What is a traditional confessional?

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