Q. With Christmas falling on a Monday this year, can I count Christmas Eve Mass on Sunday for both my Sunday and Christmas obligation?
A. Sorry to say there is no “two-for-one special” on this one. The Fourth Sunday of Advent is distinct from Christmas. The Sunday obligation holds. You may either attend an anticipated (vigil) Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent on Saturday, Dec. 23 or go to a morning Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent on Dec. 24. You may then fulfill your obligation for Christmas that evening at any of the anticipated Masses or the following morning on Christmas day.
You may even technically fulfill your Sunday obligation (for the Fourth Sunday of Advent) by going to one of the Christmas Eve Masses (before midnight). However, you must then fulfill the Christmas obligation by going to Mass the following morning, Dec. 25. The obligation is tied to time not text (prayers, readings, etc.). In other words, the Church says you must attend Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation but does not say you must hear the proper readings or prayers for those celebrations. However, liturgically, that is more ideal. We shouldn’t skip the Fourth Sunday of Advent just because it happens to be the day before Christmas. The Fourth Week of Advent is the shortest it can be this year, just a matter of hours, but it still exists.
“So, are you saying we have to go to Mass either twice in one day or two days in a row?” In a word: yes. But, let’s think about this some more.
Our faith often “inconveniences” us. In a way, it is meant to do so. It is meant to “mess” with our lives, to get us out of our comfortable rhythm. Also, let us not forget the many places in the world where, sadly, people cannot easily or freely go to Mass either because of a lack of priests, long distances to travel or because the Church is being actively persecuted.
When I was on retreat last month, the retreat director shared a story of a woman in Mozambique who had lost her legs due to a land mine explosion. Nonetheless, she would crawl, dragging her legs through the hot sand, two miles to get to church. Here’s the kicker: she was not yet Catholic. She said her greatest desire was to receive the Eucharist! Naturally, once this was discovered, the community arranged for her to be brought to Mass. She was baptized and received into the Church. To think of the lengths that she was willing to go to attend Mass should give us pause when grumbling about our “obligations.”
When we think of the word “obligation,” we should think less of a burden imposed from the outside and more of a deep interior need. Think of the old expression, “Much obliged!” This is another way of saying, “Thank you!” We give thanks to God not because we “have to,” but because we need to. As we say in every Mass: “It is right and just.”
What about Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God? The Church has given us some latitude on this, at least in the United States. Often when a holy day of obligation (other than Christmas) falls on a Monday, the bishops dispense with the obligation. There will still be Masses on Jan. 1 for the solemnity, but the obligation is dispensed. Even so, what better way to start the New Year than going to Mass and asking for the prayers from our Blessed Mother!
(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Send questions to email@example.com)
The obligation to attend Mass applies to the day, not the Mass being celebrated or the texts used. For Sundays and solemnities, the observation of the liturgical day runs from 4 p.m. of the calendar day before to midnight of the day itself — a period of 32 hours. For example, attendance at a wedding Mass after 4 p.m. on Saturday would fulfill the Sunday obligation. Likewise, if a parish celebrated the Ritual Mass of Confirmation on Sunday, the obligation would be fulfilled. Ritual Masses are not permitted on the Sundays of Advent, Lent and Eastertime.
Back-to-back obligations occur only when Christmas and the Immaculate Conception fall on a Saturday or Monday. Situations arise, of course, in which fulfilling Mass obligations on consecutive days is either impractical or impossible for an individual or a family. The Church allows parish pastors to “grant in individual cases a dispensation from the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance or can grant a commutation of the obligation into other pious works.” The dispensation must be for a just cause and is subject to regulations laid down by the diocesan bishop. Members of the Catholic faithful who can only attend one Mass to fulfill their obligations (whether that of Sunday or of the holy day) should speak with their pastor to seek alternate accommodations.