The First Precept of the Church
The first Precept of the Church requires regular attendance at Mass on Sundays and, over many centuries, the observance of Holy Days of Obligation has generally been seen as part of the Sunday Duty.
Leave everything on the Lord’s Day and run diligently to your assembly, because it is your praise of God. Otherwise, what excuse will they make to God, those who do not come together on the Lord’s Day to hear the word of life and feed on the divine nourishment which lasts forever? (from the Didascalia, 3rd cent.)
Current Holy Days of Obligation in England & Wales
As of autumn, 2017, there are six Solemnities of the Church which are established in England and Wales as Holy Days of Obligation. These are:
- The Epiphany 6 January;
- The Ascension Thursday, 40 days after Easter;
- St Peter & St Paul 29 June;
- The Assumption of Our Lady 15 August;
- The Solemnity of All Saints 1 November;
- Christmas Day 25 December.
These Feasts, apart from Christmas Day, transfer to the Sunday if they fall on Saturday or Monday.
Other Countries; Other Holy Days
A great profusion of other Holy Days – Feasts of Our Lady and the other Saints as well as numerous anniversaries and birthdays – might appear to overwhelm the calendar!
The observance of specific Holy Days of Obligation is one way of helping us to keep these things in proportion: after all, the Feasts of the Lord (all the Sundays and the four Holy Days of Obligation) are generally the most important.
Individual countries have long been allowed to decide which particular Holy Days shall be observed as ‘of Obligation’ and, for example, some of our neighbouring countries include the Feasts of Our Lady on January 1st & December 8th; of St Joseph on March 19th; and March 17th is of course the Feast of St Patrick is of great relevance in Ireland. Indeed in many countries these Holy Days of Obligation are also recognised as “Public Holidays”.
Order of Precedence
The significance of an ‘order of precedence’ in the celebration of major feasts is often seen when Easter falls early. The Solemnity of the Annunciation, which falls nine months before Christmas on March 25th, is a Feast of the Lord – though not an official Holy Day of Obligation – because its observance reflects the meaning of Christ’s Nativity, as revealed to the Mother of God. If the day of the Annunciation occurs within the Easter Triduum or Octave (three days before or eight after Easter), observance of the Annunciation is then postponed to the second Monday after Easter (as in 2016).
Finally, celebrations of local Saints have their place in the church calendar, and some parishes have permission to celebrate their Patron on the Sunday nearest to the date of the Patronal Feast. At St Benet’s, we often honour our Patron St Benedict (Feast Days: March 12th & July 11th) on the Sunday nearest to July 11th