Sanctifying Holy Days of Obligation

Last November 1, I posted a blog about work on Holy Days of Obligation. Since we have a Holy Day this week — the Solemnity of the Assumption — I again want to direct people to that post and encourage them to consider seriously what is expected of us by our faith.

The Catechism reminds us about our obligation to attend Mass not only on Sundays but also on Holy Days, of which there are about five each year (give or take; it’s somewhat complex — alas). Then it goes on to tell us how we should sanctify those days also:

2185. On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

Thus, in my post, I encouraged people to use their time off wisely, so that they could ideally take a day off work for each Holy Day. Not everyone has a generous or flexible time off policy, but many do. If you find time for long weekends, family vacations, professional development, “mental health days”, and the like, but are not taking the day off work on the few Holy Days of Obligation each year, I invite you to start doing so.

I was delighted to learn of a local Catholic-owned business that made the decision to start closing on Holy Days of Obligation. This is an act of faith. Of course it means — perhaps initially — inconvenience for clients and even some loss of revenue. Tell me, though: will setting a good Catholic example and thus enabling employees and others to fulfill their obligations not be rewarded by our good God? Look at Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and other businesses that close on Sundays — are they hurting?

I was also pleased to hear of a local plan that is afoot. Some families want to start having a festive gathering in the afternoon on Holy Days, inviting as many families as possible to attend. Let’s call it a potluck-picnic-spectacular. These are the types of things where the adults get to visit, the kids go wild and run around, and someone’s house — God bless them — probably gets destroyed. But it is worth it. I am blessed to attend one such gathering at least once a month (on a Sunday) and it is always worthwhile and life-giving.

By having this “family festival” in the afternoon, it drives home the idea that you really have to take the day off work to be able to attend. By having it in the afternoon, it enables families either to go to a morning or mid-day Mass, or still be free to go to the evening Mass, to fulfill their holy day obligation. It also bears witness to others: non-Catholic neighbors might ask, “why did y’all have a big party on a Thursday afternoon?” — “It was the Feast of the Assumption, what’s your excuse!?

Living an authentic Catholic life, which means following the rhythms of the liturgical year (including not only feasts but fasts), is certainly a challenge in our time and culture. It require intentionality and an individual, family-by-family decision. The important detail is the recognition that one family can have a splendid effect. Invite a few others over, they get some ideas and run with it and host their own things in the future, etc. — it all spreads. THIS IS WHAT IS NEEDED.

So I post this again, to again challenge everyone. Authentic Catholic Culture is what built Western Civilization, and it is what Western Civilization, which has gone so far adrift, so desperately needs. It is lovely and it builds up families. It is wholesome and it creates memories that will last unto eternity.

We all know that there are exceptions — people who cannot get time off work, jobs that require their employees to be on-call, folks who have to work more than one job to make ends meet; yes, there are exceptions. I am not “judging” people with legitimate exceptions! I do want to encourage those, however, whose particular situation enables them potentially to make a difference!

It’s so easy with things like this to throw up our hands and conclude that our little efforts don’t matter. Tell me: where will the change begin? And do your efforts not matter to God? It is He whom we serve. He will bless any good thing we do in accordance with His Church’s teaching.

Finally, let me say, one of the things that is so gratifying to me about the above is that this new initiative — to have a sort of “family festival” — is lay-led. Priests can’t do everything. We have even messed up a fair amount, historically. The Church has a hierarchical structure but that does not exclude legitimate lay initiatives. All of the baptized have something to contribute in building up the Kingdom of God.

The Italians have a great expression: “ben venga”. Let’s translate that as “come right on”. Lay folks want to start something holy and good? Come right on. Go ahead! What a relief to me, as a fairly over-burdened priest, to know that others are fighting the good fight and responding to God’s grace. We’re all in this together. Thank you to those who have heeded the Church’s teaching and are trying to make a difference. It will bear fruit.

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