The Vatican decreed that priests can celebrate as many as four Masses on several important…
Which feast days are holy days of obligation?
Question: A friend of mine told me that her pastor said Jan. 1 is not a holy day of obligation. Is this correct?
— Name withheld, Des Moines, Iowa
Answer: No, Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is a holy day of obligation, unless it occurs on a Saturday or a Monday, or if there is a dispensation, such as most dioceses are experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic. When that is the case, the obligation to attend Mass does not bind.
The statement of the American bishops on holy days of obligation goes as follows: “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 most of these solemnities fall on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated. Also in some dioceses, the Ascension is moved to Sunday, so that results in one less holy day of obligation.
To many, this system seems confusing where days bind in some years and not others. It was a kind of compromise the bishops made between two viewpoints. On view said that holy days were important and should be observed. The other view emphasized a pastoral solicitude wherein Catholics ought not to be required to come to Mass two days in a row.
Thus the holy days that fell in a given year on Monday or Saturday did not bind, otherwise, they did. However, Dec. 8 (because it is the patronal feast of the U.S.) always binds, as does Christmas and Ascension (where it is celebrated on Thursday).
As you can see, even experienced priests and parish staff struggle to remember all this. The old system, though more demanding, was easy to understand and remember. As you might suspect, attendance at holy days has plummeted in recent years. This is due as much to confusion as to a perception that most holy days are only relatively important (when they don’t inconvenience too much), not intrinsically important.
One may wish for a simpler rule in the future, but it seems unlikely we will ever have “high holy days” in the Church like we once did.
Funerals for non-Catholics
Question: I was surprised to hear that a non-Catholic can have a funeral Mass and burial. Is this true?
— Sally Berquist, via email
Answer: Yes, some non-Catholics can receive a Catholic funeral and burial. Code of Canon Law says that “[Church] funerals can be granted to baptized persons who are enrolled in a non-Catholic church or ecclesial community unless their intention is evidently to the contrary and provided that their own minister is not available” (No. 1183). The same canon also permits funerals to catechumens and infants who died before baptism and whom their parents intended to have baptized. For other non baptized individuals, the Church cannot offer a funeral Mass. However, a funeral service outside of Mass can be performed by Catholic clergy if requested. The usual situations that give rise to such requests are when Catholic families have a relative who was unchurched at the time of their death and the family requests a Christian burial for their loved one. However, a family should not simply override the intentions of a deceased member. It should be evident that the deceased would have been well disposed to have a Catholic funeral Mass and burial.