Table of Contents
- Defining Holy Days
- Holy Days by the Vatican
- US Holy Days
- Holy Days in Different Countries
- Important Days that are Not Holy Days of Obligation
- FAQ about Holy Days of Obligation
How many Holy Days of Obligation can you name?
Your answer probably depends on where you live.
And when you were born.
The Catholic Church has such a rich history, and Holy Days of Obligation represent but a small part of the Church’s story. However, what they celebrate shines a light on the most beautiful truths of our faith.
They’re not merely requirements. Holy Days of Obligation might better be known as Holy Days of Opportunity–the chance to grow in faith and encounter God through the most important tenets of our faith.
Let Hallow help guide you through everything you need to know about Holy Days of Obligation in the Catholic Church.
What Is a Holy Day of Obligation?
Rather than defining Holy Days by what’s required (Mass attendance and a refrain from unnecessary work), we might think about Holy Days of Obligation by what they offer: beautiful reminders of important ways God has shown His love for us.
These are important days in the liturgical year in which we recognize God’s love for us. They
require us to attend Mass, just as we’re obligated to attend Mass each week on Sundays.
The 10 Holy Days According to Canon Law
Holy Days have a long history in the Church. In 1642, Pope Urban reduced the number of Holy Days of Obligation to 36.
In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, The Vatican listed the following 10 days as Holy Days of Obligation:
- Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas)
- The Epiphany
- The Ascension
- The Body and Blood of Christ (“Corpus Christi”)
- Holy Mary Mother of God
- Immaculate Conception
- St. Joseph
- Saints Peter and Paul
- All Saints
The Vatican also gave conferences of bishops the power to suppress Holy Days or transfer them to Sundays (meaning a person could attend Mass on Sunday and fulfill the obligation for the Holy Day.)
This means that Holy Days vary slightly by country.
Holy Days of Obligation in the United States in 2023
In 1991, the USCCB decreed the following Holy Days of Obligation, suppressing days like the Feasts of St. Joseph and Saints Peter and Paul and celebrating the Epiphany on a Sunday each year to come up with the following list of Holy Days of Obligation for American Catholics:
- January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
- May 18 (Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter) the Solemnity of the Ascension
- August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- November 1, the Solemnity of All Saints
- December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
- December 25, the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Additionally, the bishops decreed that when the Solemnity of Mary, the Assumption and All Saints fall on Saturdays or Mondays, the obligation to attend Mass on that day is canceled. Catholics can attend Mass regularly on Sunday.
The Epiphany has been permanently transferred to the first Sunday after January 1 in the U.S.
Finally, there are even differences in how each diocese handles Holy Days. In 2022, certain archdioceses in the U.S. observed the Ascension on Thursday as a Holy Day of Obligation, while others “transferred” it to Sunday and observed the day then.
Further, within the U.S., Hawaii has aligned its calendar with the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific (CEPAC)
According to the USCBB, “In a decree dated March 23, 1992, the Bishop of Honolulu designated Christmas and the Immaculate Conception as the only two Holydays of Obligation for the State of Hawaii.”
Holy Days in Different Countries
There is even more variety in Holy Days of Obligation because some countries recognize Holy Days outside of the list the Vatican prescribed.
On May 17, 1846, U.S. bishops adopted Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception–as the country’s patron saint.
Elsewhere, countries celebrate their patron saints on Holy Days of Obligation.
Days That Are Not Holy Days of Obligation
There are several important liturgical observances and holidays that might seem like they are Holy Days of Obligation but actually are not.
That list includes:
Of course, you can still go to church on these days!
Commonly Asked Questions about Holy Days of Obligation
This varies by country and even by diocese, but in the U.S. there are six holy days of obligation, three of which are observed regardless of which day of the week they fall on.
January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
May 18 (Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter) the Solemnity of the Ascension
August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
November 1, the Solemnity of All Saints
December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
December 25, the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Holy Days are opportunities for us to recognize important tenets of our faith as one body in Christ.
1917 Code of Canon Law set forth the modern, full list of Holy Days but there’s been a long history of observing special days, dating back centuries.
Since it always occurs on a Sunday, Easter–like all Sundays–are a day in which Catholics are obligated to attend Mass.