Giving in to the Solemnity of the Occasion
Everyone knows about them, but we try not to talk about them — Holy Days of Obligation, a.k.a. (for the most part) Solemnities. These are days that typically fall during the work week when we’re suppose to rest, not work, pray, and of course, go to Mass.
Yeah, sure. Try explaining that to the boss!
In all seriousness, whereas at one time, Solemnities were something everyone followed and a whole nation would essentially shut down for, now there seems to be no time for them, and trying to observe them appears to be far more trouble than it’s worth. Easier just to “forget” about them and go to Confession afterward, right?
I have been fighting the familiar inner battle against Solemnities for years now. The guilty voice in my heart says, “You should go.” My mind says, “I have work. I have school. It’s too far.” There’s a psychological barrier against making time for church on any day that’s not a Sunday, as if God is a burden we have to go out of our way for, instead of what should be the foundational structure of our day that everything else works around. “I will pray in private; I can worship God just as well on my own as I can in Church.” There are a thousand different variations I have used over the years to keep myself from having to observe a Solemnity.
I can’t exactly say what changed this time, but as August 15 approached (the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary), I finally decided to stop making excuses. I decided to stop running. It wasn’t a grandiose, Enough!” moment. I sat at my computer, researching exactly what Solemnities were and how many there are (about 10, not counting normal Sundays, which are always Holy Days of Obligation), some part of me hoping to find a way out of them, and I finally just added the one on August 15 to my Google calendar. Then I added the next. “I can always ignore the reminder,” I reasoned, but as I added one after the other, I felt something inside me get lighter and lighter. It was as if I had been carrying chains around, a prisoner from an unnecessary battle I hadn’t fully admitted to myself for years, and I was finally breaking free of those restraints.
My thoughts shifted. “Really, why is it so hard to go to Mass a few extra days a year? You know, it’s kind of nice having a day that focuses on everything the people of our Church, past and present, went/are going through to serve and build our faith (Solemnity of All Saints). After all, we celebrate Independence Day, we have Memorial Day, we have Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday…yet in the Church we have over 2000 years of such history. It’s kind of cool to get to celebrate that in community!”
And so on. By the time I was done adding the days to my calendar for the next year, I was actually excited about them. I felt free in a way I hadn’t expected, with a renewed commitment to my own faith community — as though I’d been holding back by the wall of a party, and I was now finally stepping out onto the dance floor.
So I’m giving in to the Solemnity of the occasion, and the only question I have for myself is, “Why didn’t I do this before?”