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Holy Day of Obligation

Basic Information and Definition


A holy day of obligation, in the Catholic Church, is a day where the faithful are required, under penalty of sin, to attend Mass. It may seem strict, but in reality, the concept essentially reminds us that our first priority is to God. A country's bishops determine which days in the calendar become a holy day of obligation in their country. Usually these are universally recognized feasts (like Christmas) or festivals important to the country (for example, the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the USA). Also, each Sunday is a day of obligation.

pentecost stain glassBishops of a country will often transfer a holy day of obligation to the nearest Sunday to make mass attendance easier since every Sunday is also obligatory. Orthodox Churches have special holy days, but don't use the term "holy day of obligation." Protestant communities, with their emphasis on individual salvation, don't typically make any day a person must attend as a rule, but they encourage church attendance.

Although the Catholic Church speaks of sin in reference to missing a holy day of obligation, most theologians prefer to speak of them in more positive terms. In spite of the required attendance, the faithful should want to attend the holy day Mass for the purposes of greater spiritual growth, community cohesion, and worship of God, even if it is an obligation.

The number of holy days of obligation are few. The days in the United States, outside of Sundays, are Mary, Mother of God, Epiphany, The Ascension, The Assumption of Mary, All Saints Day, The Immaculate Conception, and Christmas. The dates may differ in other regions.

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