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Why “Holy Days”?

Why “Holy Days”?

By Sr. Denise Herrmann, CSA

Many of us are familiar with the term “holy day of obligation.” Why is this term used in relation to some days on the yearly Church calendar?

The Third Commandment states “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day” which we know refers to Sunday, the day that the Creator rested and the day of the Lord’s Resurrection. We recognize Sundays as days of obligation to attend Mass for the “communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and his Church…Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2182)

Besides Sundays, the Church, from its earliest days, has passed on to us the tradition that there are other days “to keep holy.” These are significant days in the life of Christ and his blessed mother which are key moments in the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. The celebrations of these historical events have been set apart as “holy days” so that we pay particular attention to their meaning in salvation. Tradition has marked these days with as much solemnity as Sundays. As faithful disciples of Christ, we honor the obligation to attend Mass and to keep a joyous ambiance to the day, even if the holy day falls on a workday.

Upcoming holy days of obligation are December 8, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary (this day signifies that from the moment of her conception by her parents, God preserved Mary free from all stain of original sin in preparation for her to be the Mother of Jesus, his Son) and December 25, the Nativity of the Lord (the day of Jesus’ birth as true God and true man). These two days are always holy days of obligation on which we are to attend Mass and worship God in praise and thanksgiving for these key moments in the life of Christ and his mother.

Another significant day to keep holy is January 1, the concluding day of the Octave of the Nativity. On this Solemnity the Church honors Mary with the title Holy Mother of God because Jesus is both God and man. This Solemnity is a holy day of obligation except when January 1 falls on a Saturday or a Monday. However, even when the obligation is lifted, we are still highly encouraged to attend Mass so that together with all of the Church we give praise to God for choosing Mary to be the Mother of his Son Jesus Christ.

Honoring the holy days—both those of obligation and those when the obligation is lifted—by attending Mass is a part of our living out the Third Commandment of keeping Sunday and other significant days holy and sacred to the Lord. The keeping holy of such days comes from the earliest days of the Church. What a beautiful tradition to keep and to pass on to the next generations!

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