The Meaning of “A Holy Day of Obligation”

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a holy day of obligation for all Catholics. Why is it an obligation? Some may hear the word “obligation” and not understand the real meaning behind it.

My pastor at my parish had this wonderful explanation of what “a holy day of obligation” actually is and I thought I would share it…

“A holy day of obligation”, the word, obligation, is not always seen as something positive in our culture. For some it may seem to suggest “my free choice” is taken away and ours is a culture that is all about freedom. “I get to choose”, “no one can tell me what I should do”, “I’m not obliged to do anything, I get to decide”. However, for the Christian, obligation is part of our lives. Our freedom to choose, in regards to faith, what is our decision, is to be a follower of Christ or not, to be a part of a faith community, the Church, a parish or not. That is our free choice and once that choice, that free decision is made, obligations are placed in our lives as disciples. Just as people are free to marry or not marry, but once a person decides to marry, obligations come with married life. “I must be faithful”, “must be supportive”, I must be self-giving” “I must be open to children.” Nowhere in the marriage sacrament does it state “oh and you can choose to date another even after marriage.

Obligations are a part of life and a part of being a follower of Christ and once the decision is made to follow Christ we are to embrace the obligations in joy. To choose to follow Jesus, but then say, “oh it is no one’s business if I go to Mass on Sunday or not, it’s no one’s business if I pray or not, it is no one’s business if I participate fully in the life of the Church and its Sacaments, is simply a false teaching and a dangerous lie, dangerous for the soul as it is all our business to be concerned about another’s soul. Some of the most interesting conversations I have had have been when I remind someone of their “obligation” to attend Mass on Sunday. Reactions have ranged from “you know Father you are right”, which is humbling to hear and “Father what business is it of yours”, which is odd to hear as someone concerned about a person’s journey to heaven.

So as we hear these words, “a holy day of obligation” from the Church, a Church we have freely chosen to be a part of, may we thank God for placing in our lives that desire, that joy found in receiving these “obligations” of our faith and for bearing witness to others as we faithfully, joyfully fulfill them, which is for me, as I see so many in the parish fulfilling the obligations of faith, a true inspiration.