What is expected of a Catholic? (Continued from last week.)
Last week I wrote about the first precept of the Church: “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.” (CCC #2042). Instead of moving on to second precept, I think a follow up is in order as many have been asking if this serious obligation holds for the elderly, those sick, in case of bad weather, etc. When does the obligation hold? Can a person do something else (such as watch Mass on TV) to fulfill the obligation to attend Mass?
Any obligation of the Church ceases to bind us once it becomes impossible. God doesn’t demand the impossible. In the case of Mass, the obligation ceases for the following sort of serious reasons:
1) Illness. If a person is sick or weakened by illness, they are not obliged to come to Mass (all the more so if they are contagious—please do not come! There are people with weakened immune systems who want to attend Mass without risking their lives.)
2) Caring for someone sick.
3) Dangerous weather, such as we had on Christmas with the blizzard.
4) Certain occupations for which work on Saturday and Sunday is a must (maybe a doctor, nurse, firefighter, police, soldier on duty, etc.)
5) Traveling in an area where there is no Mass, or the nearest Mass would be very difficult to get to (large number of miles or such).
There could be other reasons, but they must be serious! Even if you have a valid reason, a bad intention (such as being glad you miss Mass or purposely putting yourself into an impossible situation) can make for sin. Really if you have a doubt, talk to a priest. Any priest of the Archdiocese can dispense a person from the obligation to Mass for a valid reason. A priest can also commute the obligation to another act of worship like going to Mass during the week instead, especially if it is a regular occurrence. Watching a TV Mass is a great idea! It does not fulfill the obligation for the general public, but for those who have a serious reason dispensing them from Mass attendance, it is about as close as you can get to the real thing.
There is no true substitute for attending Mass, but God certainly understands the difficult situations many are in. If you do have a serious reason for missing Mass, don’t feel guilty or confess it as a sin since you have not freely chosen against God. Instead, realize the gift Mass is, and pray for God’s grace in your life, and pray that all Catholics will recognize the amazing gift God’s gives us at each Mass.
If you would like submit a question, please write it out and place it in the “Ask a Priest” box in the vestibule or email me at email@example.com.