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Observance of holy days adds meaning to all the rest

Leon Suprenant is the co-director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate. He may be reached at

by Leon Suprenant

Well, it’s the “holiday season,” but really, the next holiday is always just around the corner. We have 10 national holidays sprinkled throughout the year, and we are always looking for creative ways to get a three- or even four-day weekend.

I enjoy holidays as much as the next guy. I especially appreciate Independence Day and Thanksgiving as days to be grateful for my many blessings and to share experiences with family and friends.

While we seem to be adding holidays at the drop of a hat, we may be less enthusiastic about Sundays and other “holy days” of obligation: Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1), Assumption (Aug. 15), All Saints (Nov. 1), Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) and Christmas (Dec. 25).

The church teaches that on Sundays and other holy days of obligation we are obliged to go to Mass. We are also to abstain from activities that hinder our worship of God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

Let’s see. On holy days, we’re called to worship God, experience joy with loved ones and rest from our labors. I don’t know about you, but that’s an “obligation” I can live with!

Imagine the outcry if most people had to work on Thanksgiving. Those required to work would expect double- or triple-time or some other benefit. After all, holidays are not something we give up easily.

Yet, do we have the same mindset when it comes to holy days? Are we aware of holy days? Can we do a better job of observing them?

The interesting point is that when we observe holy days, we’re not only giving glory to God, but also doing something good for us. Our observance of holy days adds meaning and vigor to all the rest of our days.

What did Moses — the patron saint of union bosses, I suppose — initially ask of Pharaoh? More wages? Better retirement packages? Universal health care coverage?

 While those are good things, that’s not what Moses said. Instead, he demanded that the people be free to observe a holy day: “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast for [God]” (Ex. 5:1).

I think sometimes we’re in Pharaoh’s camp on all this. We can’t relax, we can’t shut down our motors to focus on the things that matter most. Or we’ve filled up our weekends such that there’s little room for God. So what gets emphasized is the “obligation” part.

We do well to stress the “holy day” part instead. Maybe we should speak of “holy days of celebration” rather than “holy days of obligation,” as we “work” for a good and loving God, not a hard-hearted pharaoh.

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Leon Suprenant

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