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Consecutive Holydays of Obligation - What to Do?

Consecutive Holydays of Obligation:
The Solemnity of Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family

In a little over a month, we will celebrate the birth of our Lord and this year Christmas happens to be on a Saturday. The next day (Sunday) is the Feast of the Holy Family.We know that every Sunday is a holy day of obligation and the Code of Canon Law (CIC) no. 1247 states, “On Sundays and other holydays of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.” Christmas is one of the other days decreed in CIC 1246 §1 to be a holy day. By now some may be thinking, “If Christmas is on a Saturday, am I obligated to attend Mass on Saturday and Sunday?” The answer is “Yes.” A second question which sometimes follows the first is, “Can I fulfill both obligations by attending only one Mass?” That answer is “No.” Since there are two days which hold obligations, each obligation must be fulfilled by a separate Mass.

To the left, you can see our Mass times for these two days. We will have four Masses for Christmas between the eve and day and two Masses on Sunday for the Feast of the Holy Family. There will be no 4:30 Mass on Saturday, December 25.

Canon 1248 §1 states:

“A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass” (emphasis added).

“On the feast day itself” is self-explanatory, but what constitutes “in the evening of the preceding day”? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have set “evening” as beginning at 4:00 PM. Therefore in normal circumstances—and using Sunday as an example—attending any Mass between 4:00 PM Saturday and 11:59 PM Sunday fulfills the obligation. In particular circumstances, bishops may permit Masses as early as 3:00 PM on Christmas Eve to “count.” If you are traveling to another diocese to celebrate with family, check the bulletin or website of the parish and/or diocese to see if that permission has been given.

So how does it work with consecutive holy days of obligation in regards to Canon 1248 §1? Wouldn’t there be some overlap on the evening of the first feast day? Yes: for a period of eight hours—in this circumstance, between 4:00 and 11:59 PM on December 25—attending a Mass could fulfill either obligation. If someone attended two separate Masses in that timespan, it would fulfill both! While Saint Wendelin will not hold a Saturday evening
Mass on Christmas, other parishes may; so, if attending an evening Mass on Christmas Day better fits your schedule, know that it can fulfill either of the obligations!

A final note: fulfilling the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days depends only upon the day and time of the Mass. Whether the obligation is fulfilled is not determined by what Mass is celebrated. The principal reason for this distinction is the differences in liturgical calendars between Rites, religious orders, countries, dioceses, and even parishes. Especially in regards to Sundays, some feasts which pertain to the different groups listed above can outrank celebrations listed in the General Roman Calendar and whichever feast ranks highest is what is celebrated. In regards to December 25 and 26, if you were to attend an evening Mass on Christmas Day, the Mass celebrated would be the Mass for the Solemnity of the Nativity because it ranks higher than the Feast of the Holy Family. Similarly, if you attended a church under the patronage of Saint Stephen on December 26, they would celebrate his feast day rather than the Feast of the Holy Family; but remember that the obligation is tied to Sunday, not the Mass celebrated! I pray this helps as you plan Christmas weekend Mass plans! Blessings!


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