Is It a Mortal Sin to Miss Sunday Mass?

Archbishop Leo Cushley of the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh in Scotland said this in his recent Corpus Christi pastoral letter:

“There can be unavoidable circumstances that prevent our coming to Mass, but under normal circumstances, attending Mass on Sunday is a solemn and binding obligation. If we deliberately fail in this matter, it is a grave sin and we must go to confession before receiving communion again.

Pray Tell posted on this very topic a bit over a year ago. Four of our regular contributors – two Roman Catholics, one Anglican, one Eastern Orthodox – responded to the question, Is it a mortal sin to miss Sunday Liturgy (Mass?) Are you required to go every Sunday? Their comments on the very issue raised by Archbishop Cushley will interest you.

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Fritz Bauerschmidt, Roman Catholic deacon:

I am one of those people who think that the distinction between mortal and venial sins is still a useful one, even if those precise terms are not used. However, I also think that the chief pastoral utility of the distinction is in the context of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as a technical diagnostic tool for confessors, and not as a way of hectoring people into Church on Sundays, or really of getting them to do much of anything. In general, people are better motivated by a good that they desire to attain rather than a rule they fear to break. If we want people to join in the celebration of the liturgy on the Lord’s Day, we need to convince them that the worship of God in the Eucharist is a good so great and so essential to the Christian life that it is worth the effort and worthy of being their top priority.

At the same time, we should not be shy about speaking to adults about the importance of keeping the obligations that they have taken on; of reminding them that at their Baptism or Confirmation they committed themselves to worshipping God. But, again, this should be put in a positive way, in terms of how to maintain the surpassing good of being in relationship with God. I would probably suggest that if they had a standing weekly date with their spouse or a friend and they broke that date, not because of another pressing engagement or obligation, but simply because they “weren’t feeling it” that week, this could be taken as an indication that they did not consider the relationship worth cultivating and maintaining, that they took the other person somewhat for granted, that on the whole they did not think the weekly date was very important. The weekly time spent with the one we love—and what else is the Sunday liturgy—is not imposed on us as an arbitrary law but as part of what it means to be in a relationship.

(Moderator’s note: Bauerschmidt takes up this issue in greater detail here.)

Katie Harmon, Roman Catholic:

Is it a mortal sin to miss Sunday Mass?  The keyword here is “miss”—because there is a difference between “missing Mass” due to illness, family emergency, or even travelling…and “choosing” not to attend Mass.  God is abundant and full of grace—and that grace is offered to us freely in the Eucharist.  Christians are called to return to that font of grace each Sunday, to re-affirm that yes to God which first was made in Christian baptism.  Circumstances arise which prevent us from attending Mass—particularly those circumstances which demand that we make a choice to be attentive to others and not ourselves (e.g., we are sick with the flue and choose to stay home so as not to spread germs; or our parent has a health emergency which requires someone to remain and be present). In this case, we are saying “yes” to the Eucharist, even though not physically present at Mass, because the Eucharist calls us to love, and to extend God’s invitation of grace to others—sometimes saying yes to God’s call might involve saying no to our usual duties.

Choosing not to go to Mass because of laziness…or low priorities…or lack of care…is a choice not to love, a choice to say no to that invitation of grace, and a choice to reject God.  And, repeatedly choosing to reject God, in the Christian life, leads to death—or mortal sin.

Nick Denysenko, Eastern Orthodox deacon:

No, it’s not a mortal sin, because Christ as the host and head of the Sunday Liturgy invites us to partake over and over again, regardless of how far or hard we have fallen. We should partake of Sunday Liturgy as often as possible because no one should take for granted the privilege of worshiping and thanking God for the gift of Christ.

Lizette Larson, Anglican priest:

From the expression of the church catholic known as Anglicanism some might wonder about the relevance of these questions, but in an age of declining church affiliation and attendance, they are questions asked by newcomers. A distinction needs to be made, however, between the first question regarding the categorization of sin, and the second question about participation in the weekly celebration of Holy Eucharist.

In the catechism of the US Episcopal Church (“a point of departure for the teacher”) sin is “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” (BCP 848) This does not mean there is no recognition of serious sin though, exemplified in the disciplinary rubric for excommunication in which “a person who is living a notoriously evil life” will be told [they] cannot “come to the Holy Table until [they] have given clear proof of repentance and amendment of life.” (BCP 409)

In devotional publications “regular attendance at its chief act of worship, the Holy Eucharist” is listed under “Holy Days of Obligation”, beginning with “Sundays throughout the year” (here exemplified in the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, 2005), but finding such clarity in official texts is not possible. One must infer from the arrangement of the calendar (which prioritizes Principal Feasts, all Sundays, and other Holy Days); from the baptismal covenant: “will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? I will, with God’s help” (BCP 304); and in the exhortation (which also functions as a praenotanda) to the traditional language liturgy, which states that through Christ “let us offer continually the sacrifice of praise, which is our bounden duty and service…” Is Sunday liturgy attendance a requirement – maybe -is participation in the Holy Eucharist our duty and delight for which we pray that “the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ” – absolutely.


  1. I would offer that, even if one finds the Roman way of articulating a divinely imposed obligation as legalistic compared to other ways, if anything the Roman approach accommodates many forms of relaxing that obligation for cause (even being able to get a dispensation from your pastor, if the bishop permits, for certain gray situations, in addition to outright dispensation with no need to go to anyone for clear causes). Protestant reformers and some Eastern theologians might consider that as a legalism that invites more laxity than rigorism. (This perspective might stun many Catholics who are so used to consider the Roman church’s legalisms as burdensome…to drive home the point, just compare Roman Lenten obligations to those of Eastern/Oriental Christianity….)

    I would offer an additional dimension to this: one might well see the implications of the sacramental and liturgical reforms in the Roman church of the last century as *heightening*/*deepening* the need for Catholics to participate in the Sunday liturgy – and that too breezily indulging in dismissal of “legalism” might be an unwitting form of undercutting those reforms.

    Just sayin’….


    For me, when I am in a relationship, and the Beloved makes clear that it’s important for me to do something, I should consider that in the context of love.

    In the most beautiful line of the Universal Prayer, starting with its alliterative Latin original form – though to me the context of “will” is less of a mere imperative and partakes much more of the energy of a Beloved:

    Volo quidquid vis, volo quia vis, volo quomodo vis, volo quamdiu vis.

    I want to do what You will [ask], in the way You will [ask], for as long as You will [ask] — because You will [ask].

    * * *

    And here’s the thing, the thing so dreaded by an American culture long long fixated on not delaying gratification or, in Ignatian terms, consolations: it’s not fundamentally about what you feel you are getting or not getting out of it. That dimension is derivative, not fundamental. Preachers and congregants in the USA seem so desperate to avoid cultivating awareness that desolations, dryness and dark nights are a *normal* part of the progress of the pilgrim soul.

    When the context for considering the question presented avoids that, it’s missing so much of the assumptions that often rudder these conversations without being openly named. Assumptions that merit being questioned.

  2. If Mass is perceived and understood as an invitation to participate in the death and rising of the Lord so that we derive palpable benefits from doing so, who would “miss” other than because of illness or travel or some other serious circumstance? But if Mass is merely something–albeit important–that Catholics are obliged to do by law, then all kinds of reasons or excuses will seem exculpatory. Recently I was ill enough to get a replacement for the weekend. I wanted to be able to join the community if just as a worshipper, but I was contagious and couldn’t do that. The parish nurse brought me communion for which I was so grateful. But I have a relationship with the Lord that impels me to offer the sacrifice of praise with him, in him, and through him. My life would be diminished were i not able to do that. I suggest “missing” Mass would constitute grave matter only for those who perceive its importance but willfully choose not to participate. Such individuals would have to determine whether they perceived the offense as grave matter, gave it sufficient reflection, but gave full consent of their will.

  3. By canonical rule, any Orthodox Christian who is absent from the Divine Liturgy for three consecutive Sundays can be excommunicated from the Church. Absence is a form of ex-communication. Is the sin mortal? Without having an apparatus of codified systematic theology, any sin contributes to alienation from God, which is, by definition, death.

    I am very interested in Church attendance patterns. Our parishes in North America tend to be small, so people know each other. Only a few parishes have more than one Divine Liturgy, and in those cases, it’s usually to celebrate in the native language of a particular immigrant community. In our tradition, we have petitions for faithful who are absent “for a worthy cause.” But what about those who do attend? When do they arrive? At what point in the Liturgy do they settle into the rhythm so they are really partaking (even if participation is not externally manifest)? Are there cases where it might be better for someone to refrain from attending? Maybe some folks need to devote a Sunday to partaking of nature, of the polis, of their families?

    I’m sure some of my clerical colleagues would like to anathematize me for raising these questions. That won’t stop me from wrestling with these issues. A theologian I respect recently said that the Church has an answer for everything. I’m not so sure about that, so maybe on a few select Sundays, it’s a worthy endeavor to pursue God in the wilderness of the world; or perhaps for God to pursue us in that wilderness.

  4. What am I missing here? From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    2181 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.

    1. @Ryan Ellis:
      You may be missing the first paragraph of the post. A recitation from the Catechism is not an exercise in persuasion. One might object that persuasion is irrelevant in the face of obligation, but even our Lord took pains to persuade in the face of obligation. It’s not an either/or exercise.

    2. @Ryan Ellis:
      I’d add to KLS’s response that two of the contributors are not Roman Catholics, so the Catechism is somewhat beside the point for them. Also, I think both Katie and I (though Katie perhaps more clearly than I) made it clear that we agree with Catechism. But at least in my context I find that quoting the Catechism to people does not convince them. Perhaps it should, but it doesn’t.

    3. @Ryan Ellis:
      Thanks for your comment, Ryan – it’s helping set up a good dialog.

      I personally think of it as a serious sin to miss, to the point that I would insist on stopping the car if travelling with three other people who aren’t churchgoers, and ask them to wait while I attend Mass. Maybe that’s Irish legalism or Catholic guilt from my upbringing, but it’s where I’m at. I hope to grow in maturing my motives, so I see that the community and the ritual helps me be who I am, who God wants me to be, so it’s more intrinsic than extrinsic. This isn’t ‘watering down’ in my mind, but moving toward the whole point of the serious obligation.

      I find that many/most people in my surrounding cultural milieu think that the obligation is ridiculous, that Christianity makes you less free rather than more with this kind of outdated legalism (or “control”). Skepticism toward organized religion is VERY pronounced, even among Catholics who attend church.

      How do we respond to this culture? I don’t have the answer, nor does anyone or any “side.” It’s a challenge that Aquinas didn’t have to deal with. We do.

      The danger on the more traditional side -I’m trying to talk from my experience and not attack others – is that our vision of Catholic Christianity turns most people off, and only attracts the immature zealots who become more narrow and judgmental through church involvement, and they turn others away… until their life experience matures them, they reject religion, and become skeptical or even hostile toward it.

      The danger on the more progressive side is watering things down, feeding into human selfishness by “accepting people where they’re at,” failing to announce the truth and the awesome reality of God.

      We need voices like yours to speak to that second danger. You’ll get a hearing, I’m confident, if you see the concerns on the other side. In my ideal world, we have a good conversation, w/ every voice helping us find the truth.


  5. Does the hierarchy’s failure to ensure that Mass is available also sinful?
    I’m thinking of the thread that discusses the possibility of marries priests.

    1. @Alan Johnson:
      “Are they not complementary obligations?”

      A complementary obligation to making Mass available doesn’t entail a menu of several time slots to choose from. The Catholic church is unusual in having that being common. There’s zero *obligatory* about maintaining a roster of Masses that are not fully attended. We may be used to having such a practice, but we should be grateful while it could last. The reason the distinction is important is that it may inform why bishops and Rome may not feel as impelled as you or I might prefer to consider such an option.

  6. Fritz’s metaphor of breaking a date with a friend surely is apt, and it’s a thread that runs through other responses and comments. But the ready contemporary rejoinder to that objection is, “I do spend time with God. Just not at church. I find him at quiet moments, or when I’m hiking in the woods.” That response might even be accompanied by a silently thought, “Silly church, making all these rules. Who needs the church anyway?”

    Perhaps there is more to the Sunday obligation than spending time with God? It also involves (a) spending time with other people, most of whom are strangers,a few of whom are friends and family, and some of whom frankly are irritating; (b) making manifest one’s attachment to / membership of / commitment to / allegiance to / submission to an institution and its rules and disciplines; and (c) the cultivation of a certain habit – in this case, a habit of holiness.

    1. @Jim Pauwels:

      I thought of this as well, and considered adding an additional paragraph on the importance of worshiping together as the body of Christ. But I was trying to keep things short, so I didn’t pursue that line of thought. But you are exactly right and in a full response all three of the points you make should be incorporated.

  7. At a dinner party in January (ostensibly twelfth night, but it was more like twentieth night) this obligation topic came up with a group who all are/were Roman Catholic in some way, shape, or form. One guy asked what I thought was a legitimate question: if the baptismal promise included the obligation to attend Mass, and that promise was made for me when I was a couple weeks old, why should I be bound by it now? His example was his parents promising that, as an adult, he’d only buy blue cars. For those of us who completed the initiatory cycle early on (for me it was by age 10), why are we still bound by this?
    I solemnly vowed around age 10 that when I was an adult I’d only eat popcorn and chocolate frosting for dinner (seriously, I did).
    I understand the reasoning of the Catechism and the covenant commitment that Eucharist makes. I’m hard pressed to tell people that the only way you can truly live out your baptismal relationship with Christ and the Church is via weekly Eucharist. It gets harder when I know people who live highly eucharistic lives, though their attendance at Mass is, perhaps, monthly.

    1. @Alan Hommerding:
      “I’m hard pressed to tell people that the only way you can truly live out your baptismal relationship with Christ and the Church is via weekly Eucharist.”

      But that’s quite a distortion of what’s going on here. You (and I) should be hard-pressed to tell people that because the Church itself doesn’t say that nor anyone here so far as I can tell.

      And an implication of the thought that participation in Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy is optional is that the participation of the faithful is optional, then what “matters” in the liturgy is what the priest and other ministers in the sanctuary are doing and what is and what is not going on outside the sanctuary is of less import. (I am not saying you would at all agree with the idea itself, but I do think it’s a likely fall-out of optionality. Another example of unintended consequences.)

  8. I’d be interested in hearing from someone with a historical perspective. I seem to recall in my reading that in early monasticism, there was not such emphasis (nor availability) on weekly Mass. I could be remembering wrong.

  9. I suppose the commandment, “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath” is the scriptural foundation for the Sunday obligation? And perhaps Jesus mitigated the seemingly absolute nature of that law when he noted that the Sabbath is made for man rather than the other way around?

    Personally, I’m a fan of mitigation. I don’t think it’s difficult to think of circumstances in people’s lives, short of auto-accident and serious-illness scenarios, that make attending mass more than a no-brainer. I’d start by looking at the difficulty of family life in single-parent families, the way that work dominates adults’ schedules, including during weekends, and all the permutations and combinations in which one spouse is Catholic while the other isn’t.

    1. @Jim Pauwels:
      Your supposition is correct (combined with “Do this in remembrance of me.) This is a preceptual obligation grounded in a divine precept, hence one the Church would not believe itself capable of removing obligation entirely. That said, the Catholic church itself has long allowed and continues to allow a great deal of mitigation with relatively minimal fuss and bother. Again, by the standards of the Eastern churches or Protestant reformers*, the Catholic church is relatively lenient.

      * in the case of the latter, try 3+ hour services required for members on both Sundays and Wednesdays… Catholic Low Mass could be dispatched in well under 30 minutes.

  10. Permit me, even though I’ve over-participated here, to be transparent about why. This is not a notional issue for me. I would *love* to feel as if my relationship with God is such that my personal participation in the Mass was a mere nice/good-to-do. When the prospect of Masses near me includes as a near-certainty some combination of (i) poor (or worse) preaching or liturgical praxis, (ii) banal music, and (iii) insular communities, it is something I do despite the reality that it’s often far from uplifting as an intellectual or affective matter oither than the residue that the rest of the week feels off. I don’t believe I am scrupulous in this matter – when I am ill, or when weather makes my attendance dangerous (ice, especially) or when unforeseen circumstances make it a very long reach, I don’t attend if there’s no reasonable alternative closer at hand, and I don’t feel guilty or shamed about that (if the last category is iffier). Participating Sunday Mass is rarely “convenient” for me – I normally spend at least 3 hours in the process.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur:
      I share Karl Liam’s effort to move Mass participation from the realm of the juridical to the community of the habitual. In other words, we take part because something inside us prompts us to, because something we have long nurtured would be hollowed out of us if we stopped. Here is a secular comparison. Recently I accompanied a dear friend to his monthly probation appearances, for which he was penalized if he arrived late. Clearly he went because he did not want to suffer the consequences if he didn’t; that’s all. Nowadays, despite what any catechism may or may not say, people are not going to feel obliged from without as people once were when everyone was Catholic. So it comes down to developing the habitual, working our way into the mystery. So often, as Karl Liam said so well, a given Mass may be so arranged to almost discourage those gathered there from deepening their sense of the sacred in their midst. But if we have made some progress at this over the years, then we “sort of” know what’s there, and we keep at it whatever the occasion. The analogy “medicine for the soul” has much to commend it.

  11. Perhaps a more fundamental issue here is our Catholic habit of nicely dividing moral failures into two categories: venial and mortal. As many moral theologians and psychologists point out, life just isn’t that simple. There are slight venial offenses, and surely the possibility of mortal or deadly acts, but in between the two is that larger, grey area of “serious.” This broader understanding of moral choice is well exemplified in Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, and would provide us a less legalistic and simplistic way of judging an instance of missing Sunday Mass.

  12. As a cradle Roman Catholic of pre-Vatican II age, I remember being catechised by the good Sisters of St Joseph that missing Mass for any reason other than illness was indeed a mortal sin. They also taught me that eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin. I presumed that their source for such teaching was the Code of Canon Law or at least the Baltimore Catechism.

    Fast forward many years and Ordination as a Lutheran Deacon and then Pastor and being asked the question before us here. I am delighted to read what I am reading here, as it echoes the pastoral counsel I gave to my parishioners for my 30 years of ministry.

    My question is: does there still exist any kind of obligation, other than the community aspects of being in the Eucharistic community? What was the process the Church used to “change” the criteria for mortal and venial sins? How does the Church see it’s role in determining the eternal status of those in the community. I am recalling, in this 500th anniversary of the whole Indulgence controversy that initiated the movement in the Church Catholic that I am part of. Does the Church on earth have any “say” about the eternal status of those entrusted to her care?

  13. “Is it a mortal sin to miss Sunday Mass?” is the title of the post.

    It presumes we’re talking about Catholics, implicitly. At least it never occurred to me that this would be an issue for others.

    For Catholics, a mortal sin requires grave matter, knowledge of the gravity, and intention to sin.

    The grave matter is directly answered by the Church in the CCC paragraph I cited. The other two criteria are subjective to the moral actor. If they fail on these two, it is indeed a mortal sin in the eyes of the Church.

    Question answered.

    Some have brought up a related, second question: is this relevant for people, and an effective communications/evangelization method? Maybe or maybe not (I think clear, bright lines are very attractive to younger men, for example), but that’s a wholly different question than the one the post started.

    Yes, it is grave matter according to the CCC, which is a sure norm for teaching the faith by weight of an Apostolic Constitution. That, combined with the subjective criteria of a mortal sin, should be quite enough for Catholics. It should matter not a whit for non-Catholics.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        All I’m saying is that if I were a non-Catholic, I would not care what the Catholic Church taught about what is and is not a mortal sin, whether mortal sins are a thing, what the criteria for them are, etc. So the question of the post seems only of interest to Catholics. And I would submit that we Catholics don’t know everything about God, but we do possess the fullness of what God has revealed about Himself via the deposit of faith. So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

      2. @Ryan Ellis:
        OK, I see.

        But note, in point of fact there are a lot of non-Catholics who care intensely about Roman Catholic belief and practice. There has been ecumenical dialogue going one for some 50 years now where all participants learn as much as they can about others.

        In my understanding, it is a requirement for Catholics, according to the Second Vatican Council, to be involved in the work of ecumenism. This is stated repeatedly in many documents.

        For me, this obligation is not a burden – I’m enriched by learning from other Churches.


      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        I am delighted that such an extensive conversation came out of this. Yes to Anthony’s comment that many non-Roman Catholics care deeply what is articulated in Roman Catholic circles. The other two elements that link “law” and ecumenism together are, first: how can we/do we talk about our duty and delight as members of the body of Christ without resorting to legal language? The church gathered on Sundays is not an “affinity group” but in its very diversity rehearses us for the fullness of the reign of God. Second, borrowing from John Zizioulas’ work, what makes the “local church” church and the local church “universal”? If there are not sufficient means to offer liturgy at the “right” time – what would it look like to go to the body of Christ down the street that is celebrating Holy Eucharist? How would bringing together east and west through two “bumper sticker” summaries: “The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church” AND “where the Eucharist is, there is the Church” help us change the perception back to the reality that the baptized make the eucharist – all of us – and when some are absent, a part of the body of Christ is missing?

  14. “Sine dominico non possumus! Without the gift of the Lord, without the Lords day, we cannot live: That was the answer given in the year 304 by Christians from Abitene in present-day Tunisia, when they were caught celebrating the forbidden Sunday Eucharist and brought before the judge. They were asked why they were celebrating the Christian Sunday Eucharist, even though they knew it was a capital offence.”

    How today can we come to that level of experience? We have become more “individualized” – our faith life has become so detached from our communion with one another, and “personal” becomes an isolating rather than a community-forming outlook. Laws and regulations are useful in human society, but we do not live by laws; rather, by the Spirit.

    If the Sunday celebration were forbidden by law (as it is in some countries), would we re-discover our enthusiasm? “Nobody, yes nobody, is going to stop me / us gathering on Sunday!!”

    1. @Padraig McCarthy:
      I would observe that reducing Mass attendance to obligation is itself an individualizing vector. At worst, it also obviates the community, reducing worship to a personal requirement.

      I have to say the question that intrigues me more is this: How to craft liturgy in such a way that it attracts people to God, to holiness, and to one another? KLS’s concerns about Mass times aside, I would say the institution bears some moral culpability for policies that restrict the offering of Sunday liturgy. This is true in the staffing of parishes, the training of liturgical leaders, budget priorities, and certain antigospel tendencies.

      All that said, Sunday worship is a seriously important matter. Even when it is poorly done, intermittently offered, or a big turnoff to people who come.

  15. Something to consider, at least from an American standpoint:

    In the all hallowed 1950’s we were a 9-5, M-F society.

    Today we are very much a 24/7 society.

    Less time + fewer masses = a factor in lower mass attendance.

    Americans have considerably less time off, be it days off or vacation time (or even lunch hours — for years I worked jobs where the lunch hour was a full hour. Eventually it became limited to 30 minutes and for MANY these days it is eat at your desk or skip your lunch break entirely, but I digress a bit) and now those work hours extend into Saturdays and Sundays. Even on those dwindling vacations many feel the need to check their work e-mail or check in with the office.

    When a workaholic culture so often, sadly, forces the choice between church attendance and being able to put food on the table and roof over one’s head it should not come as a surprise what will end up winning out, and none of this even gets into the manners of family obligations (child care AND parent care) that are made much more complex and cumbersome by changes in the market and economy that more and more people are becoming subservient to, not out of choice but out of sheer survival.

    1. @Norman Borelli:
      9-5 was a – relatively brief- norm for white collar workers. Catholics in the 1950s still included a lot of factory workers who worked longer hours or rotating shift work. It wasn’t until the mid-century that not having to work a half-day on Saturdays became more normal. And before the Progressive Era, Catholic workers worked longer hours still (if they were fortunate to be employed). Of course, agricultural workers had a whole different seasonal pattern (and the medieval pattern of dozens of preceptual days off was eroded deeply in the early modern era).

      What is true is that Sundays were days off for most. The culture supported it, but the hard nature of much work also made it something jealously protected.

      I am also reminded of my parent’s stories of how, when factory work became much more widely available in 1940 and thereafter, people not in the military would seek out double shifts to make money that hadn’t been able to be made for a dozen years. And they also acquired immense capacities for caffeine, tobacco and alcohol to rudder those days.

  16. What might be obscured by the ecumenical framing is why Mass on certain days is obligatory.

    It is because the Church makes them so. Its status as an ecclesiastical rather than divine law is why it can be dispensed individually, or indeed corporately.

    So the better question might be why does the Church make skipping mass a grave sin, rather than if it is.

    This is particularly so in light of Amoris Laetitia, which contrary to some suggestions here, leans incredibly heavily on the mortal/venial distinction (mitigating factors which move a grave sin from one category to the other being the crux of Chapter 8 and its allowance of Communion to the remarried).

  17. Don’t recall where the Gospel says anything about ‘Mass’ let alone having to ‘go to Mass’. Nor do I recall anywhere in the Baptismal rites saying’you have to go to Mass’. Don’t even recall any Gospel mandate to make one’s ‘Easter Duties’. I remember lots of catechism answers, mingling Doctrine with Church Law. Despite all my years studying Theology and Scripture, I can’t reconcile the Early Church’s ‘memory’ of Jesus giving Peter the power to bind and unbind as anything more than this being the case of the ‘winners writing history’ to justify the superiority of the Petrine Community over the others, with Peter having joined John Mark in Rome. So who started writing the Laws about having to ‘go to’ or ‘attend’ Mass every Sunday? I recall Vatican II teaching that the Eucharist and its weekly celebration is the center of the Christian life, but there again is ‘Eucharist’ a noun or a verb? If my undoubted politically liberal interpretation should mean anything, it would imply a joyful and willing gathering for a celebration (preferably without the heavy emphasis on Sacrifice as found in EP I) in song and story telling in which we are consciously active in taking responsibility for our own celebration in thanksgiving for the constant presence of a liberating God among us. (long sentence, too much Latin influence here!) The Roman model provides the wonderful poetry, metaphor and challenge, and we should stretch this to the full. ‘Going to Mass’ sounds like ‘going to the dentist’. Let’s bury this language and concept and embrace a living God of Covenant among us. Hymn time!

    1. @Tony Barr:
      Well, if sacrificial Eucharistic language and a laminated approach to Revelation (Scripture and Tradition) bothers you, the Roman Catholic church will be certain to continue to bother you. As in any relationship, you can change you – if you want to – not the Church.

  18. Yes, the CCC is clear but in my non-credentialed opinion, the CCC can sometimes codify mystery to the point of neutering it. Grappling is formative in ways that quoting resources might miss. This question always came up during the RCIA process and led to good conversations about the joys and obligations of love and real relationship, the importance of presence in community, and our part in completing the whole. ‘Going to Mass’ became less a bragging point as neophytes experienced worship as living relationship. Sacred liturgy prepares us for the liturgy of our lives. Sin in the context of relationship is in part knowing but not doing what is ours – not waking up every two hours to feed the baby or toilet mom with dementia, or in less obvious ways not being present to the blessings and sufferings of real life. Ultimately in choosing to be parts of the Body and in relationship to the whole, participating in sacred liturgy becomes ours to do.

    1. @Bryan Walsh:
      Well, disdain or contempt for precept is probably the furthest remove from sincere bona fide grounds for dispensation from preceptual obligation. There is that to consider.

      Things would be different if one were being force-fed corned beef against one’s will.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:
        On the other hand, if I stay close to her home, both Arlington and Washington have the indult so I need not worry about crossing ecclesiastical territories at meal times for the sake of my soul.

    2. @Bryan Walsh:
      Our dear, young, foreign born assistant pastor was frantically reminding morning Mass goers, most in their 70s, not to order bacon or sausage during their First Friday breakfast gathering last week. LOL. Unfortunately, in my parish, being Irish is more unifying than being Catholic, to those who believe there is a difference.

  19. Presenting Mass attendance as an obligation will get you exactly nowhere with most people today. We need to convince people, persuade them, which is entirely different than the old approach of an authority figure handing down obligations. Many of our church leaders persist in a 1950s mentality of Father Says! Father Says! I would venture to say that a majority of parishioners, even the ones in church every Sunday, hardly give a damn what Father Says if they are not persuaded by his reasoning and his lived witness. The Father Says approach only serves to pat himself on the back and pacify his small and shrinking fan base to feel good about themselves by looking down on those C&E Catholics. “You tell ’em, Father!”

  20. We know that there arose in rather short order a practice whereby the followers of The Way gathered in each others homes on The Lord’s Day for the breaking of the bread. We know also that the idea of a “legal” obligation did not pertain for hundreds of years after the apostolic era, or was it a thousand years. And can anyone imagine that the uneducated, desperately poor, peasants across Europe in the middle ages had some notion of going to hell if they missed a Sunday Mass. When local communities are offered inspiring homilies and invited to sing songs that touch their souls those seeking to draw close to God will return again and again. We are called to be a church of disciples who go make disciples. Could it be there are lots of “Catholics” not much interested in being holy as God is holy?

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      It should be noted that the regulation of non-attendance (with a penalty of excommunication) at Sunday liturgy predates Toleration itself and long predates the systematization of Roman canon law in the tenth and eleventh centuries. At least as far back as the Council of Elvira (AD 300).

  21. Getting people back to the Eucharistic table with some kind of legalism or blanket of mortal sin is futile.

    Perhaps we should focus our energies on much needed litugical reform on the parish level. Three reasons people are at the table: hospitality, good homilies, good music. Perhaps the question should be is what we are offering at the Eucharist really feeding people? If not, who is guilty of the graver sin?

  22. This is a very interesting conversation (so much so that I missed my bus stop reading the responses on my way to work and ended up in the next city over (thank you Uber)). The observations that we live in a society that now operates on a 24/7 schedule is accurate, but to add an additional layer of complexity, we also live in a society in which mixed marriage between Christian and other religious traditions has become common place. If a person is a Catholic in a relationship with a Methodist supposed to forgo any attendance at their spouses Church if there isn’t an alternative mass time available. Does a Methodist service fulfill the obligation on the occasion when the Catholic might attend? Or, how about traditions that that actually have masses and believe in the real presence; does an Anglican Mass suffice, does an Orthodox divine liturgy count? How do engage in ecumenism in the home and in the community while avoiding legalism and being faithful to our obligation (opportunity for) mass attendance?

  23. Two quotes from Gabe Huck:

    In my reading, Sunday obligation means this: you have to be there because without you we can’t do what this church—that’s us—needs to do.

    Pastoral Music, February-March 1997

    The whole effort at renewal of our liturgy can be put into one little sentence: you have to be there. You have to be there. We need you, and we need you to be with us, your body and all the other parts of you. We need you full and active and conscious. We need you processing, singing, listening, chanting, being silent, standing, praising, thanking, interceding, eating and drinking. We need you acclaiming the presider’s proclamation of our prayer with your heart lifted up and your whole soul rehearsing again the dying and rising of the Lord, which this church strives to enact in this whole world that we love.

    Pastoral Music, June-July 1998

    1. Thank you – find most of the comments around *obligation* to completely miss the point. Let’s see – relationships, covenant not contract, commitment not legal obligation, responsibility that includes full, active participation in the whole community (not just eucharist).

      Interesting – most of the key words above are not US legal terms but descriptions of a personal and communal relationship which is on a journey. All relationships and journeys wax and wane.

      Reminded of the experts who have worked on the concept of stages of faith – mass obligation fits in one of the early stages of faith development – about 6-8th grade level.

  24. I was glad to see that Alan Hommerding mentioned the participation of the faithful. If the faithful merely attend mass, and do not join in
    “full, conscious, and active participation”, have they fulfilled their obligation? I have made my living as a church musician, in both Roman Catholic and other denominations, and have always thought that “full, conscious, and active participation” is the norm in a non-Roman Catholic parish at least partly because no one is there out of a sense of obligation, out of the fear of committing a mortal sin. They are not there because they have to be there. They have made a choice to be there. I think that the Roman Catholic church has failed to teach people, to give them reasons why they should participate in the weekend Eucharist, other than to risk committing a mortal sin. Is there another reason to explain why even at masses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, participation in even spoken responses, to say nothing of singing, can still be dismal. For me, personally, failing to observe a church law is not a mortal sin.

  25. After much prayer and reflection before God, I’ve made a decision to attend a local Episcopal Church one Sunday a month instead of attending my parish’s Eucharistic liturgies so that I can hear a woman read from the Gospel and preach. If the Pope and my bishop feels im committing a mortal sin, then I will just have to hope that Jesus takes into consideration the good things that I’ve done in my life and hope I can still go to heaven .

    1. Watch out, Ms Maccarone, the 1662 Book Of Common Prayer and the KJV can become quite addicting, especially in the setting of a colonial church! Avoid them at all costs because nothing else will ever be the same!

  26. The problem is that the question asked has a specific answer in Roman Catholic theology and law. Missing Sunday mass is a grave matter. If done with full knowledge and deliberate consent, it is a mortal sin — full stop.

    The question asked was not why should we go to Sunday liturgy or what should we do to convince others to attend. There may be very different answers to those questions. For most people there are.

    The difference in the answers reflects the minimalist approach of the law and a more maximalist which the faith calls us to. For example, Church law says we must receive communion once a year in the Easter Season, as a minimum. But an understanding of what receiving communion is and means should compel us to do so at every reasonable opportunity. Sunday mass should probably be the same.

  27. My experience in the confessional is that 95% of the people who confess to “missing Mass”, have a perfectly good reason for doing so, and it is just a matter of helping them to form their consciences correctly so that they are not eaten up by scruples. With the other 5%, it is important not to extinguish the smoking flax or the bruised reed. Fritz’s analogy of missing a date with a friend is inspired (I wish I’d thought of it!) and I shall be using it from now on.

    One particular area that is worth mentioning relates to mental illness. It is well established that serious physical illness excuses, and I would like to suggest that the same applies to serious mental illness. Some might stigmatise this as lax, but at my particular judgement I would rather have to answer the charge of being too lax than too severe.

    1. It seems to me that if I attend on average, 9 Sundays out of 10 per year, that if I should slacken off on one Sunday then it should not be considered a problem; alternatively, if I attend that week on a weekday (because it’s easier that week) then that should equate to the Sunday obligation. The problem is when nonattendance becomes frequent then that should be regarded as a serious sin.

  28. Great re-post. The basis for the law is obligation. It is expressed that if we break the law then a Catholic no longer recognizes God and God no longer recognizes that Catholic…because they broke the law.

    The law isn’t working.

    Is it because many religious people who are now more spiritual recognize that God isn’t enforcing the law. If keeping Holy the Sabbath is the Law then sometimes an adult choice is made to stay away from Mass because the Holy really isn’t found. If it is such a painful experience for some on so many levels (scandal, preaching, singing, can’t understand the accent or the language, mixed marriage etc.) then the law may be corrupt in itself.

  29. Perhaps this discussion should have been started back a few steps.

    Does anyone still believe in Mortal Sin? Is anything at all a Mortal Sin?

    Depending upon how you reply to these questions, the rest may be academic.

    1. “Does anyone still believe in Mortal Sin? Is anything at all a Mortal Sin?”

      The Catholic position presupposes that yes, mortal sin exists (as articulated by Fritz and Katie in the article). To my knowledge, the Eastern Orthodox concept is broadly similar to the Catholic one (if under different framing), and the jury seems to be out with the various Anglican traditions, which is to say nothing about other Protestant ones. The whole matter is still very practical (re more than just academic) for several large Christian traditions, which is why I assume the article was written.

  30. As the Church continues to exist modern times, more and more people do not equate the laws of the Church with the will of God. Thus when people express their desire to be close to God without the necessity of the Church, the mortal sin aspect of Sunday Mass attendance is seen as an expedient control issue. As other commenters said, the Church needs the people to pray on a given Sunday and support the structure on many levels but if missing one of these Sundays means the end of salvation without participation in the Sacrament of Penance, many people will walk away from that reasoning. …because God and the Church are not the same thing.

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