Putting the ‘Holy’ in Our Holy Days

Mark the Church obligation well.

Fra Angelico’s The Forerunners of Christ With Saints and Martyrs, 1420s
Fra Angelico’s The Forerunners of Christ With Saints and Martyrs, 1420s (photo: Public domain)
A year ago, the Rumore brothers, Charlie and Terry Jr., heard Father Bryan Jerabek, the rector of St. Paul Cathedral in Birmingham, Alabama, challenge a group of listeners to celebrate holy days of obligation in the manner the Church instructs. The Rumores took up the challenge. Co-owners of Southern Armature Works in Birmingham, the brothers closed their busy auto-repair shop to properly celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption in August. Now they’re looking forward to closing again, in order to fully celebrate All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1.

“If we’re not going to do it, how can we expect others to do it?” Terry asks rhetorically, adding: “Although there are financial implications and we incur certain worldly costs, the heavenly gains far outweigh those. To celebrate those great feasts gives significance to the work we do as businessmen. You can’t celebrate properly working all day.”

The brothers, who are the third generation to run their family’s auto-repair business, were edified to learn more about this aspect of celebrating the faith. Charlie shared how when he heard Father Jerabek explain the obligation to honor holy days of obligation, he “was particularly moved by the knowledge.” He was “unaware that the Church is called to celebrate those feasts in the same manner as we do the Sabbath.”

Charlie had been reading Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture and learned one of the “underlying premises is that culture is built upon the way communities celebrate feasts. It resonated with me that the Church has long recognized what this philosopher captured. This religious duty actually transmits the faith in tangible ways.”

For the Rumore brothers, that meant not only closing the business for the holy day and attending Mass, but also celebrating the feast with family and others.

“We said, ‘Lord, not only do we need to take off, we need to incorporate some festival,’” Charlie explained. The brothers invited other families whose working members were taking off for the same reason to a luncheon to celebrate the Assumption. His children made a little Marian altar, and the family decorated it with a Marian theme.

It’s important to “transmit those special things about our faith to our children,” Charlie said. “If Catholics don’t celebrate the feast appropriately, how do we expect our children to believe in this? My children knew Dad was taking off work, and Dad doesn’t take off work unless something serious is going on. This was. We were celebrating the feast of our Blessed Mother.”

“For Catholics who love our faith and particularly our Blessed Mother,” he added, “it just made sense and could not have been a more enjoyable and authentic celebration.”

Among those celebrating was the Donellan family. Dad Scott credits his daughter Lena with getting him “to think about the importance of taking holy days off from work.” By celebrating properly, he discovered “a tremendous amount of grace available. Just slowing down and detaching from the normal was eye-opening to me.”

Lena herself values the holy days of obligation. “The Church had a reason in giving us the great feasts and setting them apart,” she said.

When she discussed the idea of taking off work with her father, she said, “It caught his attention, and he made it a priority.”

Lena looks forward to celebrating All Saints in a similar way. “Things like this bond us closer to Christ in celebrating the source of the good things we share.”

“There are great feasts in the Church,” said Terry, who looks forward to enlarging the holy-day festivities to a local park and opening it to a large crowd, sharing a potluck meal, carving out some time for prayer, and inviting priests to participate with the gathered families.

Father Jerabek said the August gathering at Charlie’s house “deliberately and intentionally to celebrate the holy day … was a beautiful moment for families. It comes back to living out what the Catechism says as best we can.”

He pointed to the Catechism’s section covering holy days (2185): “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.”

Father Jerabek noted that in the same section the Catechism states, “Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life and health.”

“We have to make the deliberate choice to keep the day holy,” the priest said.

Keeping holy the holy days of obligation is not as difficult as it sounds. There are only six holy days of obligation a year in the United States: Jan. 1, Mary, Mother of God; Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the Ascension; Aug. 15, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day; Dec. 8, the Immaculate Conception; and Dec. 25, the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Businesses normally close for Christmas Day. Some localities transfer the Ascension to Sunday. That leaves only four or five days a year outside of Sunday set aside for special honor. (What can confuse matters is that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decreed in 1991 that when the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the Assumption or All Saints fall on a Saturday or a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated, or suspended.) Still, Father Jerabek encourages people to always go to Mass on all these holy days, even when they are abrogated.

Following the example of the Rumore brothers, Father Jerabek encourages businesses “to close on feast days.” 

Noted Terry, “Too often we view the endgame is for profit, some type of financial advantage. What Charlie and I have come to understand is that there’s much more to life than work.”

Yet closing the business to celebrate the holy day with proper festivities in addition to going to Mass resulted in unexpected benefits.

The brothers recorded a message on their business voicemail that they were taking the day off to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Customers “were either fascinated by or complimentary of our courage to do this,” Charlie recalled.

“They really saw it as a rejection of modern culture,” and they “asked a ton of questions.”

Terry reported that they “had significant conversations ... the next day asking why we closed, but also asking what the significance of the feast day was. It initiated a pretty significant opportunity for conversation and engagement.”

Such opportunities for evangelization extended to their own workforce.

Because only one of their 17 employees is Catholic, with the rest Protestant Christians, Charlie found that “you can try to evangelize people all day long by explanation, but if you give someone the day off they don’t expect, with pay, they start asking a lot of questions [beginning with] ‘What is this feast?’”

Father Jerabek said if we take God at his word, arranging our lives around the Church year, “we can expect only good things, especially if there is some sacrifice involved. It will only bring blessings upon our families and teach our children well.”

And by honoring God in this way, giving him those holy days, he “will bless us in abundance.”

The Rumores agree wholeheartedly.

“The Lord cannot be outdone in generosity. We have to trust the Lord is going to bless our business entity, our customers, our employees,” Terry said.

“In today’s world, we have to be countercultural as businessmen. We have to be beacons in the world. We hope to challenge others by our example.”

Joseph Pronechen is a

Register staff writer.