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What are Catholic Holy Days?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Catholic holy days, which may also be called feast days, are certain days within each year that commemorate spiritual things. These days may celebrate the lives of saints, apostles or martyrs, or may be commemorative of the Virgin Mary. Other times, they are celebrations of specific days in the life of Jesus Christ.

There are a vast number of Catholic holy days, but these may be considered as distinct from what are called holy days of obligation. Holy days of obligation are days when practicing Catholics must attend church. They are also asked not to participate in work that would interfere with church attendance. Many Catholics do work on these days, but still find time to go to mass too.

There are a few Catholic holy days of obligation that are easy to remember. Easter and Christmas immediately spring to mind. Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday, however. Regular churchgoers are not likely to miss mass. Conversely Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December and going to church the Sunday before or after Christmas does not lift obligation for church attendance on Christmas. One exception exists: if Christmas is celebrated on a Saturday, a priest may give dispensation to attendees to not go to Mass the following day, especially if they attend an evening service.

The other Catholic holy days of obligation include the following:

  • All Saints Day on November 1
  • The Feast of the Assumption
  • The Ascension into Heaven
  • Epiphany
  • Immaculate Conception
  • Solemnity of Mary

There may be other days considered holy and depending on where you live, and dates may differ for yearly celebration of these days. Many of them can be moved to Sundays before or after when the church actually dates the holy day. This is common in a variety of countries. Sometimes a country will observe a holy day or consider it a day of obligation because it reflects on the life of someone important to that country. The way St. Patrick’s Day is treated in Ireland is a good example of this.

As previously stated, not all Catholic holy days are also days of obligation and there is confusion on two of them. Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, and Good Friday are extremely important days to many. Nevertheless, they are not Catholic holy days of obligation, though they are holy days. Church attendance is not mandatory, but many people certainly attend church on these days.

Holy days are not unique to Catholicism. Many religions have days of special reverence or days of feasting. In all religions that have holy days, emphasis may be on spiritually reconnecting with the tenets of a person’s faith.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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