For practicing Catholics around the world, observing holy days of obligation is part of their Sunday Duty, the first of the Precepts of the Church. Depending on your faith and where you live, the number of holy days per year varies. While the number of holy days of obligation has fluctuated over time, there are currently six recognized in the United States. Holy days that fall on a Sunday (such as Easter) are not considered separate holy days of obligation, as the duty to attend Mass on those days falls under the regular Sunday Duty.
On holy days of obligation, Catholics are obliged to participate in Mass. Every Sunday is a holy day of obligation, as are six other days throughout the year. In addition to attending Mas the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse a person from the obligation of Sunday rest.
The six holy days of obligation recognized in the United States are:
Solemnity of Mary | January 1
Celebrated on January 1, this feast day recognizes the role that the Blessed Virgin played in the plan of salvation. In her “yes” to God, Mary brought our Savior into the world to redeem us and deserves our honor.
The Ascension of the Lord | 40 Days Following Easter Sunday
On this day, the faithful celebrate Christ’s ascension into Heaven on the 40th day after Resurrection. Depending on the year, this day falls between April 30 and June 3.
Assumption of Mary Into Heaven | August 15
The solemnity of the Assumption of Mary teaches that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
All Saints Day | November 1
Officially the Solemnity of All Saints, is celebrated on November 1, to remember all saints and martyrs from throughout Christian history. It is a solemn holy day dedicated to the saints of the Church and all those who have reached heaven. The day tends to focus on known saints, who are recognized in the canon of saints by the Catholic Church.
Feast of the Immaculate Conception | December 8
This Catholic feast day marks the Immaculate Conception – which many may imagine was Mary’s conception of Jesus. But in fact, it actually marks the conception of Mary herself. Her mother Saint Anne became pregnant in the usual, biological way, Catholics believe, but the conception was ‘immaculate’ because God intervened, absolving Mary of original sin. Never tainted by original sin, Mary was kept “immaculate” from the moment of her conception because God knew she would one day give birth to Jesus Christ.
The Nativity of Our Lord | December 25
The word Christmas derives from the combination of Christ and Mass; it is the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It took a while, though, for the Church to develop the feast of Christmas. While it may have been celebrated in Egypt as early as the third century, it did not spread throughout the Christian world until the middle of the fourth century. It was first celebrated along with Epiphany, on January 6; but slowly Christmas was separated out into its own feast, on December 25.