Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. There was considerable confusion among my friends over the recent feast of the Immaculate Conception (Saturday, Dec. 8). My own parish announced it as a holy day of obligation, but the church in the next town over simply called it a “holy day.”

Both parishes had only one Mass on that Saturday morning, whereas in times past, churches used to have two or three morning Masses on a holy day of obligation and perhaps another one in the evening.

But this time on Saturday evening, churches had only the vigil Mass for Sunday, and some people thought that by attending that they were covering both obligations. I thought that any holy day pertaining to the Blessed Mother was never done away with. Can you clear this up for us? (Somerset, N.J.)

A. As often as it is explained to them, Catholics in our country are still uncertain as to the holy days of obligation, but let’s lay it out once more. In the U.S., there are six holy days of obligation, i.e., feast days on which Catholics must attend Mass.

They are: the Mary Mother of God, Jan. 1; Ascension (of the Lord) 40 days after Easter; Assumption (of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Aug. 15; All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1; Immaculate Conception (of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Dec. 8; and Christmas, Dec. 25.

Now comes the confusing part. In most areas of the country, the celebration of the Ascension has been transferred to the following Sunday, so there is no obligation in those dioceses to attend Mass on that Thursday.

On three of the feasts — Jan. 1, Aug. 15 and Nov. 1 — when the feast day occurs on a Saturday or a Monday, you get “two for one.” That is, the obligation to attend the feast day Mass is lifted and attendance at a weekend Mass covers you both for the feast and for Sunday.

But (and this seems the hardest part for people to grasp) during two feasts, Catholics are still obliged to go to Mass no matter what day they occur. Those feasts are Christmas (because of its centrality as the birthday of Christ) and the Immaculate Conception (in part, at least, because it is the patronal feast of the United States.)

For those two feasts, you can’t get “double credit” by attending one Mass as some people thought in the question you posed. (Since I’ve now reviewed the rules in the simplest and shortest way I can and it’s still taken more than 200 words, confusion should come as no surprise.)

As for the scheduling of parish Masses on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012: Since most parishes in the United States now have only one priest, I can understand why you would have only one Mass on that Saturday morning, especially since the same priest had to celebrate the Sunday vigil Mass later that day (maybe even two vigil Masses.)

Some parishes wisely scheduled a vigil Mass for the feast that Friday evening to make it easier for people to fulfill their obligation for the Marian holy day.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.