Today, for those of you who do not know, is a Holy Day of Obligation. And it never fails...ever year, someone poses a question about the nature of obligation.
I published the following in our parish's bulletin this past Sunday:
We often hear priests talking about "Holy Days of Obligation." Obligation this. Obligation that. And many people end up responding in the same say: "But, Father! Father! What do you mean by 'obligation'? I thought that we have a choice now...that Vatican II says we aren't forced to do this!"
We always have a choice--the choice to follow the precepts of God and the Church, or not to. It's called free will. However, not to fulfill one's obligations to God and His Holy Church (apart from situations where to do so is impossible and beyond our controle due to a "grave reason") constitutes a mortal sin which must be absolved through sacramental Confession. Those who are unable to attend Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation due to a grave reason (illness, caring for the sick or for children, work commitments; [sports practices do not count as 'grave']), may fulfill their obligation of observing the Feast by spending an appropriate time in prayer, either individually or as a family or in a small group (cf. canon 1247 §2, Code of Canon Law 1983).
The Catechism says the following:"The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor: The first precept--"You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor"--requires the Faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days." (Catechism of the Catholic Church , 2041-2042)