It can get downright confusing. Each year, parishioners in U.S. Roman Catholic churches must determine which dates represent holy days of obligation and which are moveable feasts on the liturgical calendar.
In most dioceses, an online calendar shows important dates. However, sometimes a diocesan calendar doesn’t separate the moveable feasts from holy days (days when the faithful must go to church and attend a service marking the occasion). While a moveable feast is also an important occasion, its date typically shifts from one year to the next.
To add to the confusion, U.S. Catholics who follow the Latin Rite (most do) are not required to attend mass on certain holy days when they occur on a Saturday or a Monday: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and All Saints Day.
Holy Days of Obligation for 2014
Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (January 1). For Catholics, January 1 is more than New Year’s Day. In 2014, it falls on a Wednesday. It coincides with the eighth day of Christmas.
Easter Sunday (April 20). It’s the culmination of 40 days of Lent. Catholics must receive the Eucharist at least once during the season of Easter.
Ascension (May 29). It commemorates the ascension of Christ to Heaven, 40 days after the resurrection. In 2014, it falls on Thursday and is transferred to Sunday, June 1, in most U.S. dioceses.
Assumption of Mary (August 15). This holy day occurs on a Friday in 2014 and marks Mary’s death and assumption without bodily decay into Heaven. This observance dates to the sixth century. Churches of the Eastern Rite typically refer to it as the Feast of the Dormition.
All Saints Day (November 1). Since this holy day falls on a Saturday, U.S. Catholics are not required to attend mass on November 1. Commonly confused with All Souls’ Day, All Saints always immediately follows Halloween and celebrates the memory of all Catholic saints, both named and unnamed.
Immaculate Conception (December 8). Many Catholics mistakenly believe it commemorates the conception of Christ. The holy day marks the conception of Mary, who was born without sin according to Church doctrine. It probably dates to the seventh century and falls on a Monday in 2014.
Christmas (December 25). It occurs on a Thursday. Catholics celebrate the birth of Jesus. In U.S. churches, the largest masses usually occur on Christmas Eve.
Moveable Feasts for 2014
While these are important commemorations on the Church calendar, they are not holy days of obligation.
Ash Wednesday (March 5). Catholics attend church and receive ashes patterned in the sign of the cross on their foreheads to signal the start of Lent. This marks a somber time of preparation leading to Easter.
Palm Sunday (April 13). A reminder of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, it’s always the Sunday preceding Easter.
Holy Thursday (April 17). Also called Maundy Thursday, this moveable feast is the oldest celebration associated with Holy Week and marks the Last Supper. It’s also a reminder of the institution of the mass, the Eucharist, and the priesthood.
Good Friday (April 18). Of all the moveable feasts, this one is most frequently mistaken as a holy day of obligation. It commemorates Christ’s passion and crucifixion and is marked by a day of fasting and meatless meals unless personal circumstances dictate otherwise.
Holy Saturday (April 19). Marked by the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, this feast in most Catholic churches is the only service held that day. This is the usual time when the Church receives new members.
Divine Mercy Sunday (April 27). The first feast was observed in 2000, when the Vatican affirmed the sainthood of Maria Faustina Kowalska, now known as St. Faustina. Commemorating the day helps Catholics keep in mind the divine mercy of Christ.
Pentecost Sunday (June 8). Also recognized as the birthday of the Church, Pentecost marks the reception of the Holy Spirit by Christ’s disciples, who then began to preach in all the languages used by the crowd present.
Trinity Sunday (June 15). Always on the Sunday after Pentecost, this feast is actually a solemn observance. It reminds the faithful that the three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) cannot be separated and are all equally God.
Corpus Christi (June 19). It falls on a Thursday in 2014 and commemorates the birth of the Eucharist during the Last Supper. Most parishes will celebrate it on Sunday, June 22.
Sacred Heart of Jesus (June 27). Observed on a Friday, this solemn celebration dates to the 11th century.
First Sunday of Advent (November 30). It’s always four Sundays before Christmas. Popular culture sees it as a time of joy and celebration. In reality, Advent is a somber period of waiting similar to Lent as Catholics reflect and prepare for the Christmas celebration.