Another Holy Day of Obligation is just around the corner. The US has a number of Holy Days that supersede even what Canadians are bound to per their respective Bishops’ Conferences. These Holy Days, like the Immaculate Conception or All Saints Day are elevated to the level of Sunday, but to many, they are a drag and an inconvenience. The sense of obligation often gets looked at in legalistic terms – go to mass on Monday or else. Yet, following the Immaculate Conception a few weeks later is another holy day of obligation known as Christmas Day and rarely do you sense the same grumbling for Christ’s birthday!
One point I want to make about the Holy Days of Obligation is that they are not so much God or the Church making a parishioner do extra, but to provide more occasions to celebrate! There could be just as much grumbling to adjust one’s schedule to make a child’s recital or even leave work early to go to a nice dinner to celebrate an anniversary (hopefully not so soon in a new marriage!) But obligations are how we show our love to each other – celebratory putting our own interests aside to serve those we love. Attending Mass to celebrate Mary’s conception, the glory of the Saints, or Jesus’ birthday are joyous occasions that call for celebration. The obligation is encouragement to not miss the party!
Secondly, our culture, which Pope Francis has called a “throwaway culture” tempts us to want to throw away exceptions to our busy routine. The recent atheist billboard depicting a little girl wishing to not go to church for Christmas wishes away the holiday, wishes away the knowledge of the fact that our Saviour was born, so that they can continue undisturbed in their mundane routine. When I moved to the US, one of the most surprising things was that Good Friday is not a statutory holiday. In place, my employers have allowed for floating holidays of our choosing. When a culture, secular or otherwise, gives people the leeway to attend to their Holy Days of obligation, it reduces the grumbling and allows more opportunity for joy in the celebration of their core beliefs.
There are other days that the church has not deemed as obligatory yet a local culture has made them nearly obligatory simply because of the desire to celebrate those occasions. Ash Wednesday is ingrained in Catholic culture but it is not a Holy Day of Obligation. In the US, Hispanics will flock to celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In my own parish, people have the Feast of St. Dominic marked down, not only because of the amazing Solemn Mass in the Dominican Rite, but because of his patrimony of the religious community of our parish and we simply desire to celebrate the life of a great saint.
I thank the Church in Her wisdom to give us a liturgical calendar that takes us out of the mundane and encourages us to look forward to the next great celebration.