Yes, you have to go to Mass twice this Christmas (Sunday and Monday).

People sing carols during midnight Mass on Christmas in 2014 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. A newsletter issued in February by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship reminded Catholics that they have the obligation to attend Mass on the fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 24, and on Monday, Dec. 25, which is Christmas. (CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters) People sing carols during midnight Mass on Christmas in 2014 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. A newsletter issued in February by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship reminded Catholics that they have the obligation to attend Mass on the fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 24, and on Monday, Dec. 25, which is Christmas. (CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although Christmas this year is the day after the fourth Sunday of Advent, Catholics looking to count a Sunday evening Mass Dec. 24 for both that Sunday obligation and Monday's Christmas Mass obligation will have to think again.

The U.S. bishops already saw this coming at the beginning of the year and said Catholics should attend separate Masses for the two days.

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A newsletter issued in February by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship noted that a "two-for-one" Mass cannot occur in the very rare circumstances when two of the six holy days of obligation -- the feast of the Immaculate Conception or Christmas -- fall the day before or after Sunday.

"When consecutive obligations occur on Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday, the faithful must attend Mass twice to fulfill two separate obligations," the committee said.

The reason Catholics might consider the idea of receiving dispensation from a Monday Mass likely stems from the U.S. bishops' vote in 1991 to lift the obligation to attend Mass on holy days of obligation that fall on Saturdays or Mondays. But that vote was only for three of the six holy days: the feast of Mary, Mother of God, Jan. 1; the feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15; and the feast of All Saints, Nov. 1.

When consecutive obligations occur on Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday, the faithful must attend Mass twice to fulfill two separate obligations.

This does not apply to Christmas and the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is Dec. 8. Most dioceses have transferred observance of the feast of the Ascension from the Thursday 40 days after Easter to the following Sunday. 

The committee's newsletter offers a nuanced explanation of the required Mass attendance on holy days falling before or after Sundays, noting that a "dubium," which is Latin for a request for clarification, about the possibility of "simultaneous fulfillment of obligations was answered in the negative by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy and approved by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1970." The committee notes that this clarification was not issued as a conclusive and authoritative interpretation, but it has weight since it was backed by the Vatican and the pope.

The newsletter also points out that in the absence of a "definitive interpretation by the Holy See, attendance at the evening Mass shared by the two holy days is indeed sufficient to fulfill both obligations, " but the caveat here is that the church's intention in providing vigil Masses was "never envisioned as a legal loophole, and, hence, separate obligations remain."

The divine worship committee also holds out hope that Catholics would want to go to Mass two days in a row, saying: "It would be hoped, of course, that Catholics foster a love for the sacred liturgy and hold a desire to celebrate the holy days as fully as is reasonably possible."

It would be hoped, of course, that Catholics foster a love for the sacred liturgy and hold a desire to celebrate the holy days as fully as is reasonably possible.

There also is the tiniest amount of wiggle room. The committee acknowledges that situations arise where fulfilling Mass obligations on consecutive days is either impractical or impossible for an individual or a family and in these cases pastors can grant individual dispensations. Similarly, diocesan bishops "may examine their regional circumstances and grant general dispensations or commutations, while permitting their pastors to make judgments in individual cases," the committee said, but such judgment calls are exceptions to the general rule.

The bishops' committee also has looked ahead to when this will happen again. In the next 12 years, Christmas will fall either on a Saturday or a Monday four times and the feast of the Immaculate Conception will fall on either of those days three times.

Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin, said he hasn't heard anyone ask about a dispensation for the Christmas liturgy, but he suspects some will try to combine the Sunday and Monday Masses. They also might go to the Saturday evening vigil for Sunday and the Sunday vigil for Christmas, which is OK. 

He said the big challenge for parishes this year will be decorating for Christmas liturgies, especially parishes with afternoon Masses on Sunday that will only have a few hours to "turn the church over from Advent to Christmas." Another challenge will be getting volunteers to help set up churches for Christmas Eve.

Some parishes are moving up the time of their Sunday Masses on the fourth Sunday of Advent to accommodate the quick turnaround.

Father Rice told Catholic News Service the rare event of a Monday Christmas "sounds to me like an opportunity to simplify, although Christmas isn't generally a time people are looking for that."

Justin Ramza
6 days 17 hours ago

"saying: "It would be hoped, of course, that Catholics foster a love for the sacred liturgy and hold a desire to celebrate the holy days as fully as is reasonably possible."

Alas. When children refer to visiting their father as an "obligation" and a "requirement," I don't think it promotes an attitude that engenders anything more than scrupulosity in the earnest but myopic effort to avoid hell. My son is Eastern Orthodox. They have no such rules as we do in the west. (They have rules; but their rules are not connected with mortal sins/ penalties of hell). I admit, there are times I envy them. A religion should offer a host of creative, inviting avenues for salvation; what has happened in western christianity that we attach opportunities for hell to so many man-made rules? Do we really value Christ's suffering so little, that we would create more opportunities that effectively make the merits of his sacrifice meaningless to even more of his children?

Robert Helfman
1 day 23 hours ago

This is an astute comment. I was considering, after reading America's Advent reflections going to Mass more often. Only seconds later I saw the link for the above article and rightly thought I'd better read it before I do.
The truth is, the Roman Catholic church is a cult. Rules like this are not found in the Gospels or the Epistles, and are nowhere found where a healthy expression of Christianity is found.
On the other hand, this kind of mind control and intimidation is found in cults, where one is expected to obey authority without question and suffer extreme penalties for disobedience. They do emotional and psychological and, and second only to the sexual abuse crisis is the spiritual abuse still visited on the so-called "faithful", who behave, to their shame even should they be highly functioning adults in the secular world, like victims of brainwashing-slightly out of it, a little demented, not quite on the level of the developmentally retarded but its close cousin.
I dare to throw the gauntlet back to these false shepherds and hypocrites: you shall bear the judgement you mete out to the ignorant and the gullible; for every rule you enforce with the threat of hell you shall be accountable fourfold; for every time you falsified the Gospel and made a mockery of mercy you shall risk the damnation you would have others believe is theirs due to the perfidy of your souls and the corruption of your spirits. (I am inspired by the writings of the Prophets in the OT.)
There is no proper worship of God in these contexts, just futile legalisms and pious repetition of vain prayers. According to the Gospel, Jesus said "The last shall be first and the first shall be last". "Faithful" Catholics are riding caboose on the train to glory, if they haven't lost their ticket in the crush.
For the sake of clarity, I have Baptism and Confirmation certificates on file in my local parish. I go to Mass when I please and whether. I go for Christmas. If a Bishop doesn't like it he can look me up. My email is on file and my name and # is in the phone directory. Make my day.

Jim Lein
13 hours 38 min ago

Scrupulosity--that most Catholic of tendencies. It was drilled into us. I first learned the word when I went to confession as a college freshman way back in 1958. The priest was patient and kind and informative, helping me to ease up on the legalism.

Helene Guilfoy
1 day 14 hours ago

You must be joking? As a 'cradle Catholic' I feel no such sense of obligation. This sort of decree is what drives people away from celebrating at the liturgy. With Mass attendance at an all time low, I would think that those who make these kind of decisions would consider the impact they have on the 'faithful'.

Rhett Segall
1 day 1 hour ago

St. Peter to applicant at the Pearly Gates: "Sorry my son but you must go to Hell. You chose not to go to Mass the Sunday before Christmas."
Applicant: "But I've been going to Mass every Sunday for years. I thought it would be okay to stay home with my wife and children."
St. Peter: "So many make that choice to their eternal horror. You know that canon law has declared it a grave obligation to go to Mass on Sunday and you freely and deliberately chose to go against that law. That's the definition of a mortal sin. Now you must bear the consequences of your choice."
Applicant: "Is there no hope then?"
St. Peter: "As Dante said: 'Abandon hope....

Stan Blackburn
22 hours 20 min ago

I love some of the wry comments above, especially Rhett's dialogue.

The way I look at it, however, is that we should call it a holy day of "privilege," for the liturgy is a privilege for each of us to celebrate, love, and offer ourselves to the God who offered himself to us. I know some curmudgeon bishops stomp their feet with canon law in hand and statements that bind us to "obligations." But these irritations are on the periphery. I love attending Mass, and yes, I have young kids that run me through the ringer sometimes during the liturgy. Being part of the celebration, being in the vicinity of heaven and earth, receiving Christ himself, and communing with the rest of the imperfect body often bring me to tears. I thought about this dictum of attending two Masses in two days, and although I initially felt irritated about it, after reflection I realized that it is really an opportunity and a gift -- a challenge with three kids, but a privilege.

Jean Miller
2 hours 21 min ago

Are you kidding me? I thought we had evolved to understand that our God loves us and we are blessed. What loving parent would issue rules re Sunday dinner i.e. to say if you miss it you will be cut out of the will. Love evokes love. Commands evoke fear. Re Holy Days of Obligation, how about Holy Days of Celebration? I would come more joyfully to celebrate and learn more about a Saint if it were an attraction instead of a command.

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