Canon Law: Which holy days of obligation apply?


Hi there, everybody!

I have two questions which I would ask your help about.

  1. I live in the Diocese of Limburg, which has Corpus Christi as a holy day of obligation. Now, I am travelling during that time, and will be at my parents’ house in the Archdiocese of Hamburg, which does not have that. Am I thus obligated, because I live in a diocese which has it as such a day?

  2. Generally, do I have to go to Mass on Sundays I am travelling if I only arrive the night before? Like, say I was really tired from the trip?

Thanks. :slight_smile:


if where you travel there is no mass available you are not obligated. If there is, you should obey the bishop in your diocese and attend, even if you travel outside the diocese.


Can. 1245 Without prejudice to the right of diocesan bishops mentioned in ⇒ can. 87, for a just cause and according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop, a pastor can grant in individual cases a dispensation from the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance or can grant a commutation of the obligation into other pious works. A superior of a religious institute or society of apostolic life, if they are clerical and of pontifical right, can also do this in regard to his own subjects and others living in the house day and night.

Can. 1247 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.

Can. 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.


You follow the rules of the place where you are

Yes, you do.


Which raises the question: what is the obligation of a tourist to research something like local Holy Days of Obligation? Were I traveling in Germany, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that Corpus Christi would be a Holy Day, let alone that it was a Holy Day in some parts of Germany and not in other parts. And even assuming that I attended Sunday Mass on holiday the Sunday before, it’s reasonable to assume the Mass would have been in the local language, and any reminder of a following Holy Day could well not have been understood by an English-only speaker.


Where I “am”, meaning the diocese I am travelling to, correct?


Yes, wherever you are on that day.


Can. 12 §1. Universal laws bind everywhere all those for whom they were issued.

§2. All who are actually present in a certain territory, however, are exempted from universal laws which are not in force in that territory.

§3. Laws established for a particular territory bind those for whom they were issued as well as those who have a domicile or quasi-domicile there and who at the same time are actually residing there, without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 13.

Can. 13 §1. Particular laws are not presumed to be personal but territorial unless it is otherwise evident.

§2. Travelers are not bound:

1/ by the particular laws of their own territory as long as they are absent from it unless either the transgression of those laws causes harm in their own territory or the laws are personal;

2/ by the laws of the territory in which they are present, with the exception of those laws which provide for public order, which determine the formalities of acts, or which regard immovable goods located in the territory.

§3. Transients are bound by both universal and particular laws which are in force in the place where they are present.

Since the holy day of obligation in question is part of universal law, then Canon 12 applies.


I know we’ve discussed this before, but can you clarify the difference between travelers and transients?


A traveler is someone who actually lives in one place but is simply visiting or passing through another place. Someone on vacation or a business trip is a traveller because he actually has a home to which he can return.

A transient is someone who has no (stable) place of residence but moves around from one place to another. A transient might stay in a place for a few days or even a few weeks, but then goes to some other place, without having a stable home.


If the Archdiocese of Hamburg has been dispensed from the obligation, then you are also exempt when you visit there. Canon 12.2
This is because the Obligation is a universal law (canon 1246), but the bishop of Hamburg has dispensed the diocese from it.

On the other hand if you are dispensed in your home diocese, but the place where you visit is not exempt, you are sill exempt–because your own bishop has dispensed you from the obligation. Canon 91 Think of it this way you “carry the dispensation with you” when you travel. (This would not apply in a rare case where the bishop specifically excludes those who travel outside the home diocese. This is not likely, since they usually simply dispense the entire diocese from the Holy Day of Obligation without attaching conditions.)

If the place where you visit has its own particular law imposing an obligation, travelers to that place are not bound by that law. Canon 13.2.2


Question #2

Yes, you are obligated to hear Mass on every Sunday, even when you travel. Being “tired” does not exempt from the Sunday obligation.

However, you can request a dispensation from your own pastor before you leave, or request a dispensation from the pastor of the place where you visit.

Of course, it’s always better to put the greatest possible effort into going to Mass.


If you ask your priest, and he gives an answer that he doesn’t have to dispense - a person can choose whether they can go or not - they still have to meet that obligation, right?

I had that happen to us, no dispensation, but we ended up not being able to go because the map we used was not correct - could not find the Church (spent over an hour searching).


We cannot simply choose to go to Sunday Mass or not go. That’s not an option, it’s an obligation.

It could be that the priest said more, or there’s more to the situation than what you posted in your brief question, especially considering your next paragraph. Certainly, no priest can legitimately say that the Sunday obligation is merely optional.

It seems that what you’re asking about is a situation where someone is not able to go to Mass, and what the priest was explaining is that you can decide for yourself whether or not you are truly able—in that, I would agree. One can ask a priest for advice and guidance on making the decision, but this is not necessary.

I had that happen to us, no dispensation, but we ended up not being able to go because the map we used was not correct - could not find the Church (spent over an hour searching).

In a situation like that, you obviously intended to go to Mass and you obviously put effort into going to Mass. I’m sure that you would have gone had you found the church. That was not your fault, so you aren’t culpable of anything.

I’m not sure I’m completely understanding your questions, so if my responses don’t address your question, let me know.


I think you did.
He doesn’t give out dispensations. He thinks a person can decide for themselves if they are able to go or not. Since we were traveling, and not familiar with the area (having small children also), I thought maybe we could get a dispensation.
Since he didn’t give us one, we were still obligated to do what we could, which ended in us not able to find it anyway!
When you ask a priest for specific dispensation, and they do not say “I dispense you, etc”, you are still obligated to go to Mass, right?


If you don’t have a dispensation (from the parish pastor or the bishop) then yes, you are still obligated to go to Mass.

However, if you are not able to get to Mass (physically or morally impossible), then you are excused from it. One may decide for himself (prudently and honestly, not casually) whether or not this applies (although consulting a priest, when possible, is always a good idea, especially if it’s about future travels). Since you are excused, you do not need a dispensation.

Dispensations are only for situations where it is possible to get to Mass, but someone has a legitimate reason to ask to be excused from it.

It seems to me that what your priest is saying is this:
A. If you can go to Mass, then go. No dispensation.
B. If you cannot go to Mass, then you’re already excused. No dispensation necessary.


Since I could get a map ahead of time, and could do all the things, then I had NO legitimate reason to excuse myself so, that is why I asked for dispensation. It ended up not mattering anyway as the map was no good (lesson learned).
I had no good excuse, in my mind. That is why I asked for it. But I guess they don’t have to give it? A prerogative?


Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about 2 different time-periods.

  1. Before you left for your trip, you thought you could (or might, whatever) be able to get to Mass, but it might be (or could or could become, etc.) difficult, so asking for a dispensation was fine.

  2. Once you reached the point where you were unable to go to Mass despite the fact that you did try, you became excused, so you did not need a dispensation.

Yes, giving or not giving a dispensation is a prerogative, but one that has to be exercised pastorally (not just arbitrarily). One who can give a dispensation is not obligated to dispense.


Ok. Thanks.


Sorry, still not understanding. How can a Holy Day of Obligation which doesn’t even apply to a whole country, but in the cited case to only PART of a county, be considered “universal law?” And if § 2 of Canon 13 states that “Travelers are not bound by the laws of the territory in which they are present,” how does that relate to your earlier response that “You follow the rules of the place where you are?”

Your citations would seem to say that Catholic travelers have a moral obligation, on pain of mortal sin, not just to attend Mass on Sundays wherever they may be, which is undisputed, but an equal obligation to research local Church law relating to Holy Days - so that if I find myself in Guadalajara on Thursday December 9 (St. Juan Diego), or in Ljubljana Slovenia on
Tuesday August 6 (Our Lady of Czestochowa - hypothetical example), then I am morally responsible to know whether in that city or district - and not necessarily even in that entire country - the local Ordinary has declared a Holy Day?

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