Fulfilling the Obligation of Mass Attendance
In the parish coffee shop a discussion developed regarding the present-day regulations for fulfilling the obligation of Mass attendance. There was quite a divergence of opinion, with some people holding the view that it is no longer necessary to go to Mass on holy days. In fact what the holy days actually are was also a subject for disagreement, with Christmas Day and St. Patrick’s Day being the only ones that everyone was sure about. Is New Year’s Day a holy day of obligation? It was formerly the Feast of the Circumcision and now it is the feast of Mary, the Mother of the Church or is it the Mother of God? What about all the saints of Ireland? Is that a holy day of obligation? Surely All Souls Day is a Holy Day of Obligation?

It is not too surprising to see that all the participants in this discussion were senior citizens. But they were also daily Mass attendees, men and women who love their Church and want to do what is right. Long ago they claim, there was no confusion. Everyone knew what was what, but now nobody is sure what the rules are or if indeed there are any rules.

One lady remarked that she comes to Mass every day but on Saturday she goes for Sunday. “Sunday is the only day I don’t go to Mass.”

On the face of it, one might wonder if there is anything wrong in this. The lady in question does fulfil her Sunday obligation by her vigil Mass attendance. The fact that she goes to Mass every weekday shows she is a person of faith. Still, there is something amiss. When we understand that Sunday is not like any other day it means that our intention is not just to abide by the Church’s rule that we have a serious duty to attend Mass unless there is a grave reason. Really understanding the meaning of Sunday enables this day to appear as something shining out of our ordinary mundane week.

Why is Sunday not like any day?
Let us see what Saint Pope John Paul said about this:

“Sunday is a day which is at the very heart of the Christian life” (Dies Domini 7). It is“the festival of the new creation” (DD 8). It is the day of Christ’s resurrection. It is a weekly celebration of Easter. Every week, on Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death. We celebrate the dawn of the new creation.”

It is doubtful if many people are thinking of words such as these if they try to “get Mass over” on Saturday so they can have Sunday off. Looking at the issue of the vigil Mass itself, unless it is clearly stated, which it rarely is, it is hard to know if this is Saturday Mass or Sunday Mass. If a person attends in the morning it is safe to assume that this is weekday Mass. But what happens if one attends a wedding or a funeral on Saturday which might take place later in the day? Does this suffice as fulfilling the Sunday obligation?

There are differences between countries but the ideal is that a vigil Mass is celebrated in the evening before a Sunday or an important feast like a holy day of obligation. It is an anticipation of the following day’s celebration.

We must always consider the intention behind the rule. Let us take the example of a holy day falling on a Saturday. Technically, attendance at the Saturday night vigil will fulfil the holy day obligation or the Sunday obligation, but not both.

So if a person went to the Saturday evening Mass to fulfil his Saturday obligation, he would have to attend another Mass to fulfil his Sunday obligation.

Ideally, however, one should attend an early Saturday Mass, as the Liturgy of the Word will differ. This occurred in recent years when the Feast of the Immaculate Conception fell on Saturday with the Second Sunday of Advent being celebrated on the following day.

Holy Days of Obligation
A solemnity does not automatically mean a day of obligation. Some examples of this would be The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul and many more feasts which  are solemnities but not days of obligation.

Holy Thursday, Good Friday and All Souls Day are notable for the large numbers of Catholics who come to Church, yet there is no obligation to do so.

In Ireland the six holy days of obligation laid down by the Bishops’ Conference, starting from the beginning of the liturgical calendar are as follows: November 1st All Saints Day; December 8th  Immaculate Conception; December 25th Christmas Day; January 6th Epiphany; March 17th St. Patrick’s Day; August 15th  Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the United States there is a slight difference in that they hold the Solemnity of the Mother of God on January 1st as a day of obligation and omit the obligation for St.Patrick’s Day.

Holy days are important and that is why the Church designates them as being days when the faithful have a serious obligation to attend Mass. Nevertheless, no day is more important than Sunday because it is the day of the Resurrection – the unique event in human history. Our entire Christian faith is rooted in this fundamental happening.

The heart of Catholic observance, the celebration of Sunday, is Sunday Mass. Jesus at the Last Supper commanded us to do this in His memory. But as Catholics know, Mass is not simply a memorial celebration. It is the real enactment of the sacrifice of Calvary.

We also gather to listen to the Word of God and to be nourished spiritually by the Word and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is actually Christ who gives his Body and who pours out his Blood for us. This divine nourishment gives us the strength we need to live our faith the rest of the week. At Mass, we unite our lives, our prayers and works, our sufferings and joys, with Jesus. At the end of Mass, we are sent to glorify the Lord by our lives, to announce the Gospel of the Lord in the world.

But let us return to the coffee shop group and the necessity of making a few strong points.

As we have seen, liturgically nothing is as important as Sunday. If other feasts or memoria happen to occur on a Sunday, as happens fairly frequently, they are not celebrated that year. A recent example is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows which fell on a Sunday so it was not celebrated.

The lady who claimed she didn’t go to Mass on Sunday has forgotten that the Vigil Mass of Saturday evening is actually Sunday Mass. Failure to understand this can lead to the belief that any Mass on Saturday will do for Sunday which of course is wrong.

It is also an absence of understanding about the readings of the day. Do people realise that because the Catholic Church is One, the same readings will be heard in every Catholic Church across the world, albeit in various languages?

For catechesis and liturgical formation: