Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Holy Days of Obligation

I recently received a question from a person inquiring into the Catholic Faith and planning on entering into full communion. It was about the Solemnity of the Assumption, the "Vigil" being held on Thursday evening and the Mass being held on Friday. What's this all about? What's the difference between the Vigil and the Mass? You get the idea. I later realized my response was written in such a way that it could easily be posted to the blog. So, if you so desire, enjoy!


The Assumption is one of the special Holy Days of Obligation throughout the Church year. Like Sunday, there are some days on which we celebrate special feasts which help us remember some of the greater events or points of our faith. There are 10 of these days, aside from each Sunday throughout the year. Each country's group of bishops, after praying and discerning, decide on a number of these which they maintain as Holy Days of Obligation--on the other days, the feast is still kept and the event or truth remembered, but the obligation is lifted.

The Assumption (which is celebrated on August 15 each year) remembers the event of the Jesus' mother Mary being assumed (Assumption) into heaven both body and soul. She, and maybe a couple of Old Testament figures (Elijah, Enoch, etc...) were the only ones to be taken into heaven both body and soul before Jesus comes to Earth for the second time. At the moment of death, body and soul separate. The body for almost everyone (except these couple exceptions) are committed to the ground, to decay and return to dust. Their life is judged and their soul consequently experiences hell, heaven or purgatory (which always ends up in heaven after each person's soul has been purified of the stain of sin)--however it is that they are judged by God.

The obligation aspect is that, like Sundays, these days remember very important events and are meant to be days of rest in which we recall this event and revel in it. We rejoice on Sunday at the fact that Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, and as Sunday is the new Sabbath, we take the day as rest and relaxation as God did on the seventh day of creation. So too, we rejoice in the fact that God assumed the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven both body and soul. This is a special grace for her because she is a specially chosen servant of God who responded in a unique way, but it also reminds us of the fact that we too--if we hold out and remain faithful to God--will share in the glory of heaven which Mary already experiences. We revel in that, we allow it to sink into our souls and we find confidence in the love of God which calls us to that final resting place with peace and joy, not only of soul but also of body.

So this week: the Masses and the Vigil. They are all the same thing. There will be three Masses: Thursday evening Vigil Mass, Friday morning Mass and Friday evening Mass. Vigils always fall the evening before the day of the feast. It hearkens to the idea of being vigilant (vigil-ant; keeping watch through the night). There's a vigil Mass offered on this day so that those who cannot make it on the day of the feast can fulfill their obligation by attending the evening before. The ideal, however, is to go on the day of the feast. There is no reason to go to both, since either fills the obligation, either remembers the same event, and either is the same (different only in that it's at a different time).

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