The transfer of feast days

As each Easter Sunday arrives, commemoration of the Ascension of Christ into heaven looms. In both the Nicene and Apostle’s Creed, the Ascension of Jesus is mentioned in close proximity to profession in the Lord’s resurrection.

Traditionally it is believed that Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after the resurrection. St. Luke’s Gospel says that the ascension took place Easter Sunday night, but in the Acts of the Apostles a 40-day period is mentioned.

For centuries, the Ascension of Our Lord was celebrated on the Thursday which occurred 40 days after Easter Sunday. Days such as Corpus Christi were equally fixed to days of the week after the celebration of a major feast. Corpus Christi was always celebrated on a Thursday since it was on that day of the week that Christ instituted the sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Given the demands of modern life and the ability of believers to make more than one holy day Mass in a single week, the reformed Liturgy’s guidelines suggested national collections of bishops determine the suitability of transferring to Sunday certain feasts integral to the faith.

Today, for instance, only six of the 32 ecclesiastical provinces, or small collection of dioceses under one archbishop, retain Ascension on Thursday. Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia, and the dioceses under each of their respective archbishops, observe Ascension on Thursday. All other archdioceses and the dioceses transfer Ascension to the following Sunday.

What follows is a list of the days on which Mass attendance is obligatory in the Diocese of Charleston, in addition to all Sundays.

  • Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
  • The Ascension of the Lord — Ascension Thursday is perpetually transferred to the following Sunday in the Diocese of Charleston.
  • Aug. 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  • Nov. 1, the solemnity of All Saints.
  • Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
  • Dec. 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whenever the Jan. 1, Aug. 15 and Nov. 1 holy day observances fall on a Monday or a Saturday, the obligation is removed entirely and Mass attendance is a pious practice.

Unless transferred to another date, Dec. 8 (occasionally transferred) and Dec. 25 (never transferred) are always holy days of obligation, no matter on what day of the week they fall.

In addition to all Sundays, Jan. 1, Aug. 15, and Nov. 1 are always holy days of obligation unless they fall on a Saturday or a Monday, or are transferred to another date.

In the Province of Atlanta, if a solemnity or feast is perpetually transferred to a Sunday (like Epiphany, the Ascension, and Corpus Christi) then they are presumed obligatory since they will be observed on the following Lord’s Day, each annual 52 of which are all holy days of obligation.

Mysterious? Yes! So is the full meaning of Christ!