Over the centuries traditions and customs regarding feasts or holy days of obligation have varied from nation to nation. They have also varied in the United States. In the early years of colonization, dioceses like San Francisco and New Orleans followed the liturgical calendars of the founding nations: Spain and France. Under British rule, Roman Catholics of the United States observed 36 feasts of obligation kept in England. In 1777 Pope Pius VI reduced the holy days of obligation for England and its colonies to 11. And in 1789 Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, the first U.S. bishop, removed the obligation from the feast of England’s patron, St. George.
In our time, before Vatican II, the U.S. bishops had obtained approval to observe just six of 10 feasts of obligation in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. After Vatican II, with the publication of the 1983 Code of Canon Law and the earlier revision of the liturgical calendar, there was much discussion in this country of what feasts or solemnities should be observed as days of obligation. Canon 1246, #2, of the new Code permits the bishops’ conference, with prior approval of the apostolic see, to suppress the obligation of some feasts in the Code or transfer their celebration to a Sunday.