Is Epiphany a Holy Day of Obligation?

Must You Attend Mass on January 6?

Epiphany Celebrations Near Jericho
Ilia Yefimovich/Stringer/Getty Images

Is Epiphany a Holy Day of Obligation, and must Catholics go to Mass on January 6? That depends on what country you reside in.

The Epiphany (also known as 12th Night) is the 12th day of Christmas, January 6 each year, marking the end of the Christmas season. The day celebrates the baptism of the infant Jesus Christ by John the Baptist, and the visit of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. But do you have to go to Mass?

Canonical Law

The 1983 Code of Canon Law, or Johanno-Pauline Code, was a comprehensive codification of ecclesiastical laws handed down to the Latin Church by Pope John Paul II. In it was Canon 1246, which governs the Ten Holy Days of Obligation, when Catholics are required to go to Mass in addition to Sundays. The ten days required of Catholics listed by John Paul did include Epiphany, the last day of the Christmas season, when Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar arrived following the Star of Bethlehem.

However, the canon also noted that "With the prior approval of the Apostolic See,…the conference of bishops can suppress some of the holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday." On December 13, 1991, the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of America reduced the number of extra non-Sunday days at which attendance is required as Holy Days of Obligation to six, and one of those days transferred to a Sunday was Epiphany.

In most parts of the world, then, including the United States, the celebration of Epiphany has been transferred to the Sunday that falls between January 2 and January 8 (inclusive). Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Poland continue to observe Epiphany on January 6, as do some dioceses in Germany.

Celebrating on Sunday

In those countries where the celebration has been transferred to Sunday, Epiphany remains a Holy Day of Obligation.

But, as with as Ascension, you fulfill your obligation by attending Mass on that Sunday.

Because attendance at Mass on a holy day is obligatory (under pain of mortal sin), if you have any doubts about when your country or diocese celebrates Epiphany, you should check with your parish priest or diocesan office.

To find out which day Epiphany falls on in the current year, see When Is Epiphany?

Sources: Canon 1246, §2 - Holy Days of Obligation, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Access 29 December 2017