Will Christmas Be Transferred to Sundays?
Holy days of obligation during the week illustrate our proper relation to the world, and our proper relation to God.
According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Sundays are holy days of obligation. In addition, the Code lists 10 holy days of obligation in the Church: “the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter and Saint Paul the Apostles, and All Saints.”
Before you start to worry that you may have missed a few holy days of obligation recently, please rest easy. According to Canon 1246, “with the prior approval of the Apostolic See … the conference of bishops can suppress some of the holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday.” Thus, for instance, even though Epiphany (which was traditionally celebrated on Jan. 6) is a holy day of obligation, the decision was made to “transfer” it to the following Sunday.
Of course, this transfer causes understandable confusion among the faithful. After all, unless Christmas falls on a Tuesday, Epiphany will not be celebrated on the 12th day of Christmas the following year. In 2022, Epiphany was celebrated on the 14th day after Christmas. That seems odd.
Even odder is that, back in the 1990s, Ascension Thursday was transferred to the following Sunday in most dioceses. This caused plenty of consternation, with good reason. Does the liturgical calendar matter? Do days of the week matter? If they do, how could Ascension Thursday be celebrated on Sunday? If they don’t, could Holy Thursday be celebrated the Sunday before Easter?
These questions give rise to another question: Could Christmas be eventually transferred to the following Sunday?
Part of the reason for transferring feast days is said to be the work schedules of the laity. For instance, if Epiphany were celebrated on Jan. 6 — which would likely fall on a business day — workers would have a hard time making it to Mass. They might have to take a vacation day or ask for an extra hour off during the day.
Of course, there is some truth to that, and I would know. I am an Eastern Catholic (we sometimes say “Byzantine Catholic”), and our holy days of obligation are immovable. We are obligated to go to Mass (we say “divine liturgy”) on days such as Ascension Thursday, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29) and Epiphany (Jan. 6). Of course, those are workdays for many of us Byzantine Catholics. Some people might consider obligatory holy days an interference, but I consider them a great blessing as well as a wonderful opportunity for conversion.
On Jan. 6 of this year, I was scheduled to go to lunch with some friends at noon. I had planned on going to Mass at 9am, but I ran late, so I decided to attend noon Mass instead. I texted my friend to tell them I would be late because I had to go to Mass at 12pm. Instead, they kindly rescheduled for me. This change of plans led to a conversation about the Catholic faith, the feast of the Epiphany, and the beautiful basilica of Mary, Queen of the Universe here in Orlando.
That same day, my son told his employer that he could not attend a scheduled midday work meeting because he had to go to Mass at noon. Again, this created the opportunity for witnessing the faith.
We Catholics live in this temporal world, but Jesus reminds us that we “are not of the world” (John 15:19). Holy days of obligation during the week illustrate our proper relation to the world, and our proper relation to God. It is our duty to remind those around us of our baptismal promises. Even prior to that, it is our duty to remind ourselves. Holy days of obligation illustrate that some feasts are so important that they need to be celebrated outside Sundays. We Catholics should hope and pray not only that holy days remain in place, but that transferred holy days are restored to their proper place in the liturgical calendar.