People sing carols during midnight Mass on Christmas in 2014 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. (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.
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.
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 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.