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Salt Lake City Bishop: Don’t Sweat Your Mass Obligation Today

Parishioners in the Diocese of Salt Lake City were shocked to learn that the Solemnity of Mary, celebrated today, January 1, 2019, was abrogated by their bishop, Most Reverend Oscar Azarcón Solis.

weekly bulletin for the diocese states:

Tuesday, January 1, 2019, Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God, is not a holyday of obligation in the Diocese of Salt Lake City. In the Diocese of Salt Lake City, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God has been abrogated.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, with the approval of the Vatican, has longstanding permission to move feast days to Sunday when such a holy day falls on either a Saturday or a Monday. In 1991, the USCCB issued a decree regarding Canon 1246 §2, stating:

Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.

This decree of the Conference of Bishops was approved and confirmed by the Apostolic See by a decree of the Congregation for Bishops (Prot. N. 296/84), signed by Bernardin Cardinal Gantin, prefect of the congregation, and dated July 4, 1992.

The Solemnity of Mary for the year 2019 falls on a Tuesday, so according to both the decree and canon law, it is not abrogated. It is unclear why the bishop abrogated the solemnity, and all attempts to contact the diocese went straight to voicemail. We did not receive a response.

The abrogation of the holy day was brought to the attention of the Lepanto Institute by a parishioner in the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Johanna D. said she heard about the abrogation during the announcements after Mass on the last Sunday of Advent. “The priest making the announcement about the abrogation really got my attention when he indicated that he was making the announcement under command from his pastor,” Johanna said. “Normally, he would just make the announcement without qualification.” Johanna also said that she was confused by the announcement because it came with no explanation as to why the obligation to attend Mass on this holy day was abrogated.

The Lepanto Institute consulted a canon lawyer, asking if Bishop Solis might have overstepped his authority in abrogating a solemnity on his own. The canon lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Unless Pope Francis has directly effectuated said ‘abrogation’ himself, by decree not publicly known, and absent any other legitimate decree governing the matter that has not been publicly disclosed to the faithful, it appears that Bishop Solis has committed a gross abuse of his ecclesiastical power exceeding his authority as mere diocesan bishop pursuant to the norm of Canon 1246 §2.”

Statute 2 of Canon 1246 states, “With the prior approval of the Apostolic See, however, the conference of bishops can suppress some of the holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday.” Not only does this canon specifically state that prior approval must be obtained by the Apostolic See, but it grants permission only for a conference of bishops, not individual bishops.

Without any indication that Pope Francis has in any way approved the abrogation of the Solemnity in Salt Lake City, it is impossible to say whether Bp. Solis has abused ecclesiastical authority and, if he has, whether this abuse was a matter of willful intent or neglect. Whatever the case, Canon 1389 on abuse of power indicates strong penalties for those found guilty:

Can. 1389 §1 A person who abuses ecclesiastical power or an office, is to be punished according to the gravity of the act or the omission, not excluding by deprivation of the office, unless a penalty for that abuse is already established by law or precept.

  • 2 A person who, through culpable negligence, unlawfully and with harm to another, performs or omits an act of ecclesiastical power or ministry or office, is to be punished with a just penalty.

“The first delict requires malice aforethought. The second paragraph delict requires just negligence,” said the canon lawyer. “But again, this analysis can only be held as valid on condition that there has been no direct intervention by the Holy See in the matter of the asserted ‘abrogation.’ If the bishop attempted to abrogate the Holy Day by his sole authority, that would be beyond ridiculous.”

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at the Lepanto Institute. It is published here with permission.

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