The Sunday obligation

The Sunday obligation

Do you know under what conditions you are dispensed from your Sunday obligation? Neither, it seems, does anyone else. That quandary sent Old Oligarch searching for the authoritative answer.

The Catechism appears to have the answer, but it’s vague.

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” (CCC 2181)

So we have two examples, but that’s hardly definitive. How does one define an illness severe enough to dispense the obligation? What if you’re among the “walking wounded”, ambulatory but sick with the flu? Is it OK to endanger the elderly or infants you’ll encounter at Mass? And so on.

OO ends with the principles as elucidated by one moral theologian, which sound pretty good. They speak of seeking to do the maximum good, not just skate by on the minimum requirement. But they also have some solid suggestions of definite categories. Still, it’s not definitive and authoritative. So what do you think? Where do you draw the line? Where should others?

Update: Forgot to mention one intriguing acceptable excuse given in the Catechism and older moral manuals: the care of infants. In fact, I think they presuppose that those with very small children (as in newborns) would probably not bring them to Mass. I don’t think it means just infants who are sick, but all infants (as implied here).

Another manual, I think the one quoted by Old Oligarch, says Catholics should not vacation where Mass is not available. For some reason, when I read that I thought to myself, “Well, a good Catholic should never be on Survivor then.” After all, they’re away for 40-some days.

What was most surprising is the plethora of acceptable excuses.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
14 comments
  • We’ve been told by our pastors that if we have a cold or flu, not to take Communion or participate in the kiss of peace.  This seems to presume that we’re at Mass.

  • I treat the mass as any other important family obligation – one from which I would be excused only for some serious reason.

    But, of course, it’s sad when we must view the mass, for whatever reason, as an obligation and not a joy.

    I was GLAD when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord.

    I will go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness.

    God is in our midst – Glorify Him!

  • What the Official Catechism that was supposed to solve all our problems vague? Shocking!

    It gives a hint as to how individuals can solve the problem. If a person can be dispensed for a grave reason by the pastor, ask your priest. I admit this will hardly give a uniform discipline for the whole Church, (we don’t seem to like that sort of thing any more anyway) but the pastor, for these purposes *is* the Church and at least you know that having asked him you can trust that you have been lawfully dispensed. What’s the Latin? Ecclesiam supplicet? The most liberal, prancing, liturgical dancing pastor, as long as he has been lawfully appointed the pastor of the parish, still represents the O.H.C.&A Church at ground level.

  • I am sure my pastor would be too busy on Sunday mornings to be fielding calls from a dozen parishioners asking if they are too sick to attend Mass.

    Never mind the fact that the goal is uniformity, not the gut feeling of the pastors. And on what criteria should the pastor decide?

  • Jimmy Akin had some posts on this on his blog recently. His opinion if I recall correctly was that if there is a risk you may infect people at Mass with your illness, you should not go. He mentioned that there are often times elderly and infants at Mass who are especially vulnerable to illness.

    Some people have this warrior mentality whether it comes to Mass or work, that if I can drag myself out of bed I’m going. But often times, these people are not thinking of the people they come in contact with, who are being exposed to their illness.

  • I think Charles has the right idea.  We do have a “Sunday obligation” but if that’s how we treat mass, as an obligation, then we should be taking a closer look at our faith.

    Here’s an example.  It may be weak, but I think it makes the point.  Last week, I was in the hospital.  Two of my four kids came to see me (the ones who live in town).  The other two were planning to come, but I wasn’t there long enough.

    If I thought they were coming because they were afraid I might cut them out of the will if they didn’t show up, then I would be just as happy if they had stayed at home.  If they came because they love me and wanted to see me, wanted to spend time with me and wanted to comfort me in my illness, then their visit is very important to me and I’m glad they came.  I believe that’s the case, BTW.

    Am I disappointed with the other two because they didn’t get there?  Of course not.  It just wasn’t practical. 

    What if one of them had been sick?  It depends on how sick they were.  I wouldn’t want them to make themselves sicker.  If they weren’t up to the visit, I would understand.  If they were contagious, then I had enough problems without them giving me their cold or flu.

    I think one of the problems with the Church today is that people are looking for the easy way out.  Too much minimalism!  Does a Saturday afternoon wedding mass count for Sunday?  What about Saturday morning?  How late can I be for mass and still have it “count”. 

    Someone just asked me this one last week:  “I’m going to a special dinner on Friday night.  Is it ok if I eat meat if I don’t have any meat Thursday?”

    Jesus suffered and died for our sins.  How much are we willing to do for him?  It’s a personal choice, based on an informed conscience.  Paraphrasing Thomas Merton, God never gives us the complete answer to any question.  If we knew for certain what He wanted us to do, we would have no free will.  He just gives us pieces of the answer, depending on us to fill in the blanks.

  • Sounds simple to me. If it’s contagious, you keep it at home. No sense in passing along your germs to others. If a baby or child is sick, stay home with your baby or child.

    Why not catch a morning Mass during the week, ask Father for some time in the confessional afterwards and discuss the predicament? Chances are that a ‘miss’ will not be serious. Prudence should always outweigh scruples and the ‘warrior’ mentality.

  • When my son had cancer I was told to keep him out of large crowds whenever his white count was low, to avoid the dangers of infection.  We basically never went anywhere for that year … except to church.  I told myself that I would stop taking him to church * if he got sick/as soon as he got sick once from going*.  Over the course of about 45 weeks he got a fever once from germs that clearly came home with my husband.  The hospital was amazed.  We really needed the spiritual sustenance to get through the week.  I would never tell anyone else to do this – and I would definitely want people with colds and other germs to stay away or at least to wash their hands fifty times a day.  Not exactly a definitive contribution to the discussion…

  • I usually ask myself:  would this keep me from missing work?  If so, I don’t go; if not, I go.

  • I agree with a lot that has been said here. Use common sense. If you are in a full blown cold, coughing and sneezing, stay away from people ” from housekeeping and cooking to … you know. Is it any wonder the people of the Philippines were so eager to get rid of the US naval base at Subic Bay and Clark Air Base? They were tired of our military corrupting their children.

    Certainly not every servicemember is involved in doing this stuff, but it happens often enough that it gives everyone a black eye. And it’s not just the child prostitution, but even the famed drunken and lacivisious shore leave and liberty calls are immoral reminders of a way of thinking that should be tossed overboard. Colson adds:

    We must go after the traffickers, but we can also target the demand for prostitutes. In this case, we can insist that the military change its culture. And that change is in the militaryve the light of Christ and the seat of Peter. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against him. We must fight against the evil in our midst and pray for the conversion of sinners. To a certain degree self-criticism is good, but we must not allow ourselves to give up hope.

  • With respect, Melanie, the Catholic Church has “the light of Christ and the seat of Peter”.  The US has the light of Roger Mahony and the seat of Rembert Weakland. 

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