Christmas falls on Monday this year, as does the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. As these are both Holy Days of Obligation for Catholics, this situation can create some confusion when a Holy Day follows a Sunday. Considering this confusion, a few parishioners have asked me to clarify how we as Catholics celebrate these upcoming Days of Obligation.
The first thing to remember is that the Church establishes these days of obligation to emphasize their importance, not to make our lives difficult. She believes that certain celebrations in our life of faith are so significant that she calls all her children to gather as a family to celebrate them together. Only a grave reason excuses us from such obligations.
A simple analogy can help us understand this grave obligation. Consider a sibling’s wedding day. I can use my own sister Samantha’s wedding as an example. For me to have missed a celebration of such great importance would have been an offense and an embarrassment for my family. Unless I had a grave reason (e.g. I was run over by a bus), my absence from Samantha’s wedding would have been damaging to my relationship with my sister, my parents, and the rest of my family, especially since I was supposed to be the priest celebrant!
Now, if I chose not to show up for my sister’s wedding and instead decided to stay home and watch sports, or go fishing, or entertain friends, I would thereby damage my relationship with her and the rest of my family, and I would need to offer my sincere apology before those relationships could be healed.
Similarly, these celebrations of faith that we call Holy Days of Obligation are so significant that failure to attend Mass on those days (without a serious reason for our absence) is damaging to our relationship with our Father in heaven and with our ecclesial family. That is why when we fail to attend Sunday Mass or a Holy Day of Obligation, we need to go to confession before receiving Holy Communion because, in fact, we are not in communion with our family of faith; we have damaged that relationship. Therefore, we need to be reconciled with God and with our brothers and sisters
How do these obligations apply to our upcoming celebrations? Put simply, we need to gather together as a family of faith for each day of obligation. We need to be present at Mass once for Sunday the 24th, once for Christmas, and once for Sunday the 31st. Because the Church realizes that we already have a lot of “family time” at the end of December, she has removed the obligation for the 1st of January—the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
Therefore, we will need to be at Mass 3 times at the end of this month. For the Sunday/Christmas Holy Days the options would be as follows:
Saturday 23rd (Evening) or Sunday 24th (Morning)
Sunday 24th (Evening) or Monday (Morning)
The combination we choose is not important; what is important is joining our brothers and sisters in faith, giving praise and thanks to God as we celebrate the great mysteries of our redemption.
Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!