Catholic Bishops Change Policy on 3 ‘Holy Days of Obligation’

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

The nation’s Catholic bishops have voted to do away with three “holy days of obligation” when they fall on Saturday or Monday.

The decision was announced by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, after a tally of ballots mailed in by bishops who had missed the vote at the annual meeting of the conference last month.

The three holy days affected are the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (Jan. 1); the Feast of the Assumption (Aug. 15); and the Feast of All Saints (Nov. 1).

The three holy days are among six that U.S. Catholics have traditionally been expected to observe, according to church law. A historic American church gathering, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, set the number in 1884.


At their Nov. 11-14 meeting in Washington, the nation’s 300 active bishops rejected a proposal to drop the three holy days from the church calendar altogether.

The new policy required a two-thirds vote and still must be approved by the Vatican. It gives U.S. Catholics the option of passing up Mass when any of the three days occur back-to-back with Sunday celebrations of Mass.

Father Michael Walsh, the bishops’ top adviser on doctrinal and pastoral concerns, said he anticipates Vatican approval.

“There are many other bishops’ conferences that have taken this route on holy days, and the Holy See has given its approval,” the priest said.


Although the international Catholic Church calendar lists 10 holy days of obligation, the Vatican leaves it up to national bishops’ conferences to decide which days should be observed. In Canada, Catholics are obliged to observe two holy days; in Mexico, three.

Church officials estimate that attendance on holy days is less than half of regular Sunday attendance.