Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why no obligation on Ash Wednesday?

My sister shot me an email this morning with a question that I think many people might be wondering this time of year: "Why isn't Ash Wednesday a Holy Day of Obligation?" As she writes: "It just feels odd that the start to such an important season and a day you hear so much about is not an obligation. Just looking for a reason why!"

My somewhat educated speculation follows:

"My thought is that Holy Days of Obligation are joy filled events, and sorta represents mini celebrations of Easter throughout the year and offer significant moments that brought about our salvation. Ash Wednesday, as a penitential day, does not fulfill these criteria. Also, it does commemorate a significant event in Universal Salvation, but rather invites the faithful to recognize their need for salvation. Does this make any sense?"

Anyone have anything better for an explanation?


Adoro said...

I like what you said, and it makes sense. But another factor, is the fact that all the other Holy Days of Obligation are feast days. If a feast day falls on a Friday, one does not need to complete a penance as usual (please correct me if I'm wrong) because, as you say, it is a day that reminds us of the Resurrection.

Ash Wednesday is fully penitential; it's the opposite of a Feast day. And I think that's also why Holy Thursday and Good Friday are not Holy Days.

Although I've always thought they should be and we need to change our criteria of "Holy Day".

Um...I was always raised with the emphasis of these being Holy Days, ie they are just as important and we MUST go to Mass (or, on Good the service of that day...)

so...I basically say what you do.

Wow, what a waste of your combox space!

michael r. said...

I don't have a clue for the reason that it's not a day of obligation. But isn't it interesting that it always fills the pews, almost like no other day, except Christmas and Easter? I believe the Archbishop mentioned this same thing in his sermon yesterday. It's good to realize that most Catholics seem to recognize, in humility, the significance of Ash Wednesday.

Fr. Geoff in Dayton said...

As much as I hate to admit it, my esteemed ordination classmate and good friend makes an excellent observation.

It is an interesting question though.

Looking at the "Table of Liturgical Days," (according to their order of precedence) the Paschal Triduum, our holiest of holydays, are at the top of the list. Next - "equal to" Christmas, Epiphany, Ascesnion, Pentecost, and the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter - is Ash Wednesday. (Note, another non-holyday day, All Souls, falls into the third tier with other solemnities not in the first two tiers.)

Obviously, the celebration and/or commemoration of some days goes beyond obligation.

Anonymous said...

In reference to filling the pews for Ash Wednesday, it's true that people show up when they're "getting" something. Same thing happens on Palm Sunday - everybody wants one, even if they don't really know what to do with it. Still, this shows us that the tangible elements of our faith matter, and we should look for ways to retain those sensory aspects of our Tradition that have fostered the faith in so many who have gone before us.