Obligation and Opportunity

I first heard my previous pastor distinguish between holy days several years ago, citing that observances of Thanksgiving, Ash Wednesday, and Holy Thursday were “holy days of opportunity” that many believers would take advantage to celebrate some aspect of their faith. It was later that I read disparaging remarks online about these being applied to the more traditional days of “obligation.” These criticisms miss the mark. Truthfully, there is even opportunity in obligation, as we have known it. And if faith communities were serious about taking advantage of the opportunity, I think we would do “better” with days like yesterday.

The Legion of Mary at my parish provided a substantial spread after yesterday’s 9AM Mass: sandwiches, sweet rolls, lumpia, casseroles, salads, and fruit. Yum. Most parishes feel no obligation to provide celebratory fixings for major non-Sunday observances–unlike the more ancient traditions of respite from work, and festive celebrating. My sense is that liturgical obligation has been practically abrogated by the lack of solemnity seriousness attached by institutions and parishes to these days. Really: gone are the days when obligation has any appeal whatsoever–at least in today’s society.

In a way, the whole discussion about restoring holy days to their original weekdays is jumping the gun. Most parishes just aren’t prepared to begin to think about serious celebrations of Epiphany, Ascension, and Corpus Christi. How we bumble Immaculate Conception shows us that.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Obligation and Opportunity

  1. Liam says:

    The beginning of the bumble for Immaculate Conception in the US is that the idea of that being a national patronal feast has never fully taken root. (Compare/contrast four days later in many parts of Catholic Amurka, including folks who are not ethnically Mexican or Latino.)

    Lucky you’re professionally able to attend a Mass during the workday. Unfortunately, not feasible for me; it’s invariably a 7PM Mass at a parish near my home (my parish of choice for weekends not being a logistically suitable alternative during the workweek). (I am happy to note one of those parishes stopped only having a 9AM Mass on holydays.)

    Are celebrations of Epiphany or Ascension on Sunday notably splendid? I wish they were, but in my experience, most parishes blow all their energy on Christmas (Eve), Easter Sunday and maybe Pentecost, and that’s about it. (The USA, btw, long had an indult before Vatican II for celebrating Corpus Christi on the following Sunday, because it was hard to do processions in workday traffic – the USA not being a Catholic land where the day was a public holiday, unlike some of the Old Countries, where it was a splendid holiday.)

    And what about the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God? That’s a public holiday, after all. And see how common liturgical splendor is for that one because of it.

    • Liam says:

      PS: The funny thing about Immaculate Conception’s place in the calendar (both East and West, though it’s one day later in the East (as is the case with the Eastern feast of the conception of St John the Baptist – in both cases, the feasts of the conception are intentionally one day less than 9 months to show that only God is perfect – so only the Annunciation of the Lord is 9 months before the Nativity….) is that it’s ruddered by a different historical event – the dedication feast of a church in Jerusalem to the BVM (eventually becoming associated with her mother, St (H)Ann(ah), on September 8th, so that the feast of her conception was worked back 9 months – and we get readings about her conception of Jesus to make things even more recursive. So many days for saints we don’t have historical dates for are driven by dedication dates of early important churches for them, and then other feasts ruddered off those. Like the feast of the Holy Cross on September 15th originally being the dedication feast for the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Feast of the Transfiguration being set 40 days before that as a kind of echo-Lent (in the Eastern Tradition)

  2. FrMichael says:

    I just heard about the term “Holy Day of Opportunity” last weekend from a Catholic high schooler. It is apparently how her (liberal) Catholic high school refers to these days. At least they have a Holy Day Mass. New campus ministers have led to Eucharists now being celebrated in a fashion recognizably the Roman Rite. For a congenital pessimist like me it is good to see improvements now and then.

    I’m fortunate in a traditional parish that I have a high percentage of Sunday Mass attendees attend HDoO. I estimate about 60% attend one of the half dozen parish Masses (Sundays we have four). Add the school Mass with students, teachers, and interested parents and my combined HDoO Mass attendance exceeds a typical Sunday. That certainly is a good motivator not to mail-in a homily those days.

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