April 5, 2001
volume 12, no. 95

First Commandment of the Church

"To assist at Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation"

    On holydays of obligation, just as on Sundays, we must hear Mass and abstain from unnecessary servile work. If without any grave reason one fails to sanctify the holy days of obligation he commits a mortal sin. Those obliged to work on holy days of obligation should at least hear Mass before going to their work or after work when Masses are available either the night before or the evening of, or in some areas, a noon Mass during the lunch hour. Catholic employers have a serious obligation of making it easy for those under them to sanctify holydays of obligation. All are children of the same Eternal Father.

    A Catholic, who through his own fault misses Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation, commits a mortal sin.

    The precept is not binding on one who must care for the sick, or lives rather far from a church, or who has urgent work, or is ill.

    The first precept of the Church requires us to sanctify Sundays and holy days of obligation. Then we render to God and the saints some of the honor due them. The early Christians celebrated many festivals so that they might keep alive the memory of certain events or benefits from God. The aim of instituting holydays is to have the faithful remember for all time the important events commemorated, and to have them give praise and thanksgiving to God for them. This is why we should always try to celebrate holydays in a becoming manner. Some persons unhappily treat holydays as merely days to eat and drink and be merry, without regard for the occasion commemorated.

    The civil law does not recognize as holy days some of the Church holy days of obligation; factories, offices, and schools stay open on those days. But even if Catholics must go to work on such holydays, they should at least try to hear Mass. Again, in many churches, there is Mass at an early hour in the morning, at noon, in the evening, and at night.

    Persons not obliged to work on holy days of obligation should avoid doing so. But those who must work need remember only Our Lord's words: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28).

    The holy days of obligation in the United States are these seven:]
1. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8). God Himself proclaimed Mary's spotless purity in Paradise (Genesis 3:15); the archangel Gabriel announced it, calling her "full of grace." Christians throughout the ages have called Mary immaculate; the dogma was declared by the Pope in 1854. It is an article of faith to believe that Mary was conceived entirely free from Original Sin.

2. The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day (December 25). On this day we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ I the stable at Bethlehem. "And it came to pass while they were there, that the days for her to be delivered were fulfilled. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:6-7).

3. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. (January 1). This used to be celebrated as The Circumcision of Our Lord. When Jesus was eight days old. He was circumcised, according to the custom of the Jews. "And when eight days were fulfilled for His circumcision, His name was called Jesus" (Luke 2:21). In Hebrew, Jesus means "Savior." The name most commonly given to the Messiahs by the Prophets was "Emmanuel," which means, God with us.

4. The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven This is celebrated on Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter). Forty days after His Resurrection from the dead, Our Lord ascended into Heaven from Mount Olivet. "Now He led them out towards Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. And it came to pass as He blessed them, that He parted from them and was carried up into Heaven" (Luke 24: 50-51). And when He had said this, He was lifted up before their eyes, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing up to Heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white garments, and said to them. 'Men of Galilee…this Jesus Who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you have seen Him going up to Heaven" (Acts. 1: 9-11).

5. The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15). After her death, the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary was reunited to her incorrupt body, and she was taken up to Heaven by the ministry of angels. No one has ever claimed possessing any relic of Mary's body;' if she had not been assumed into Heaven, would not the Apostles, who revered her highly, have kept her relics?

5. The Solemnity of All Saints (November 1). On All Saints' Day we honor the memory of all the Saints in Heaven and implore their intercession. There are four other holy days of obligation in other countries such as the Feasts of Epiphany, Corpus Christi, Saint Joseph, and Saints Peter and Paul. With the approval of the Holy See, these four feasts are not holy days of obligation in the United States.

    The Church obliges us to abstain from servile work on holy days of obligation, just as on Sundays, as far as we are able. On these days Catholics should keep away from housework like washing and housecleaning. Holy days were instituted by the Church to remind us of the mysteries of our religion, and of the important events in the lives of Christ and of His Blessed Mother, and to recall to us the virtues and the rewards of the saints.

    The Church appoints festivals in honor of Our Lord, in order that we may recall the principal mysteries of our Redemption, thank God for the graces received through these mysteries, and make them bear fruit in our lives. The feasts of Our Lord that are always on Sunday are Easter and Pentecost. Other feasts of Our Lord that should be properly celebrated are: the Epiphany, January 6; and the Feast of Corpus Christi - the Body and Blood of Christ, and Trinity Sunday. The Epiphany celebrates the adoration of the newly-born Child by the Magi, the Wise Men from the East, Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthassar. The feast is called the Epiphany (or "manifestation") because it celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

    The festivals in honor of Our Lady and the Saints are prescribed, that we may reverence them as God's friends, and profit by their intercession and example.

For past installments of this catechetical series on My Catholic Faith, see APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH Archives

April 5, 2001
volume 12, no. 95
Return to Today's Issue