Dec 8 a Holy Day of Obligation?

Fr Z. has a post on the fact that in most Catholic countries, December 8, tomorrow, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is a holy day of obligation.

But not in Australia. To quote from a 2001 decree of the ACBC,

the only feast days henceforth to be observed in Australia as holydays of obligation are the solemnities of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It almost makes it too easy to be Catholic! {Nb. Easter Day is a Sunday, and hence a “day of obligation” because it is the Lord’s Day.}

And for non-Catholics who don’t get this whole “Immaculate Conception” business, here is a good post on the First Things blog.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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10 Responses to Dec 8 a Holy Day of Obligation?

  1. Paul G says:

    maybe I’m getting old or lax, but I don’t remember the Immaculate Conception ever being a HDO here. The rhyme I remember is “Christmas day, new year’s day Ascension Thursday and the Assumption, 15th of August”

  2. Paul G says:

    and All Saints’ Day

  3. Christine says:

    Not a holy day of obligation in Australia??

    I will be heading out to the noon Mass at my downtown Cathedral parish shortly, so I will extend my wishes for a holy and happy feast day nevertheless.

  4. Stephen K says:

    David, I read the post on First Things. To my mind, it encapsulates the kind of gymnastics and hindsight reasoning that I suppose arouses Protestant suspicion and dismay at several Catholic dogmas: Mary must have been sinless otherwise how could Genesis be right? (A selective harvesting of the Hebrew scripture to explain a later idea?) Jesus was God, so it was “appropriate” his mother was “pure”? (A kind of theological symmetry, like 12 apostles mirroring the 12 tribes of Israel?) Mary was free to accept the call of motherhood of Jesus, but coinstantaneous with her conception she was grace-filled as if in confident anticipation of her giving her “fiat”? What sort of freedom is that?
    You know, I think it’s very natural to ask the question, why is such a doctrine necessary (for either salvation or understanding)? I’m mindful of Ockham’s razor principle here. True, First Things mentions the development of understanding, but dismisses a view that such doctrines might be devotional extras. Yet our experience shows it is not only possible, but common to have a simpler, coherent faith in a salvific Jesus schema without what often seem rococo accretions or flourishes.
    Mind you, I’m not suggesting an assent to such a doctrine – even if it were adequately comprehended by the average Catholic – necessarily does anyone any harm but for the life of me, I can’t understand why a Marian feast could be a holy day of obligation but Good Friday or even something eschatologically basic like All Souls’ Day isn’t.

    • Schütz says:

      I too used to react like this to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I would ask “Why is it necessary?” But I think the answer to this is not that the doctrine was defined because it was theologically “necessary”, but rather because it was recognised by the Church to be true! Many have asked the question “Why was it necessary for Christ to die for our salvation. One could argue that God could have worked our salvation in any number of ways. The fact is that this is how he did it. Theology (starting with the New Testament and including Anselm of Canterbury) has then reflected on the question of the “necessity” for this.

      As for Good Friday not being a Holy Day of obligation, that’s because the Catholic Church does not celebrate the Eucharist on Good Friday, and the “obligation” relates to attending Mass. All Souls Day has never been a day of obligation, although in some places All Saints Day is.

      • Stephen K says:

        Thanks, David. But I’m not convinced. To say the Church defined such a dogma ‘because it’s true’ strikes me as circular. Let me rephrase my question: why is it necessary to accept the Immaculate Conception? Accepting – for the sake of the argument – that it is true, why, simply because it is true, is it “necessary” to believe it?
        On the lesser note, you’re right to remind me that obligation is strictly in relation to the Mass. However, let my query be understood as a proposal: if there is any place for or value in imposing obligation of attendance, would it not make more sense or be more salutary to require people to attend – not for Mass as such, but for commemoration and meditation – on Good Friday or All Souls Day and Easter-in-its-own-right-not-as-a-Sunday, before any other kind of day?

        • Schütz says:

          Regarding the Immaculate Conception as “true”, I would say that it has always been held by Christians since the earliest times (with a few exceptions – but these prove the overwhelming rule) that the Blessed Virgin Mary was pure and without sin. This is agreed by both Orthodox and Catholic, and goes right back to Jerome’s fury when someone dared to suggest otherwise! The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as such is “necessary” given the Western doctrine of Original Sin – some explanation was necessary as to how Mary could be “without sin” when normally all human beings are “conceived in sin”.

  5. Christine says:

    Also begs the question of whether Jesus was “harvesting” the Hebrew Scriptures when he opened them up to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and showed them how the Old Testament was fulfilled in the New in his life, death and resurrection. The word of Scripture is always rooted in the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ who is the Lord of history as well as the way, the truth and the life.

    As for Mary, God lives outside of temporal time as we know it so yes, he knew that Mary would consent to her call to be the Mother of God. But Mary didn’t know until she was asked.

    • Stephen K says:

      Thanks Christine. I do accept that the Hebrew Scriptures are foundational to a significant extent and in some essential way to the Christian Testament, and that they would have been for Jesus and the early Church before the Gospels were written and the Christian Testament canon finalised. I was questioning rather what seems to me to be strained theology in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which for me makes suspect its necessity or value. I’m sure erudite theologians and mystical contemplatives appreciate the doctrine at levels I never will be capable of; but I think it’s true enough to say that the Catholic-in-the-pew on the whole would very likely have only a rudimentary concept of it, and I suspect many would have a vague idea that Mary “had” to be “pure” and an “ever-virgin” in order to be Jesus’ mother. This is certainly the way that in my experience both childhood and much pulpit catechesis has gone. And I find such reasoning culturally anachronistic and theologically dubious. Indeed I think much Incarnational theology inadvertently encourages – in the way the layperson ends up conceiving it – a docetic idea of Jesus.
      Where Mary’s eventual ‘fiat’ is concerned, my questioning of her ‘freedom’ was, I concede, a little rhetorical and perhaps simplistic, for I do realise of course the problem or disjunction between time, free will, grace etc. but this is precisely an example of the kind of strained or complicated over-explaining that seems to accompany – or be required to accompany – a doctrine like this. Anyway, best wishes. Just thought I’d articulate some of the issues that occurred to me upon reflecting on David’s initial post. I don’t consider them knock-down arguments, just thoughts.

  6. Christine says:

    Indeed I think much Incarnational theology inadvertently encourages – in the way the layperson ends up conceiving it – a docetic idea of Jesus.

    Oh, I don’t know Stephen. It’s true that the laity may not formulate their belief in the Immaculate Conception in lofty theological terms but I think they get it. Actually, Marian teachings are more about Christ than about Mary per se. Ephesus, in delcaring Mary the Mother of God upheld the divinity of the Son, and the Immaculate Conception renews the original innocence in which Adam and Eve were created, sinless, although they too had the freedom to reject God’s will, which they did. This becomes even more significant when one considers that only One who was fully God and fully man could mediate and heal the breach caused by the Fall. And that One received his human nature and flesh fully from his Mother who nevertheless was also saved by his merits alone.

    If one wants to look for a docetic view of Jesus, at least Christ Crucified, I think Islam has a better handle on that.

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