Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why do we need to be at Mass every Sunday?

DC ‘Hood vs. St Andrew’s & St John the Baptist, Friday night, 7:30 pm, Wheaton High School gym. Go ‘Hood!
Anon wrote, “I was wondering if there are any prayers that one can say in the case that mass is not accessible or if you will be arriving late to mass and you feel that it is pointless to go to mass when you are so late. Last year I was volunteering in China and mass was inaccessible. I asked a father at my parish whether it was a mortal sin and he said it was. Are there any exceptions to missing mass and if I miss mass what prayers can I say?”

Anon, you can certainly say prayers when Mass is not accessible but they don’t substitute for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which is the greatest prayer. In other words, they don’t satisfy the Sunday obligation which is Holy Mass. I don’t think there are too many places in the world where Mass is not generally accessible, although in some places where parishes have been closed – even in our own country – getting to Mass might be less accessible.

Without knowing the particular factors involved in your situation in China, I cannot say whether or not it was a mortal sin. But, if we were talking about it, I would ask you some questions to help determine if it was. Did you freely choose to be in an area where there was no opportunity to get to Sunday Mass? Did you fully know that this is a grave sin? If so, then it would be a mortal sin because you freely and knowingly made the choice to miss Sunday Mass which is a grave sin (even if it was to do voluntary acts of charity; love of God before love of neighbor). However, if it was through no fault of your own (e.g., you tried to find transportation but couldn’t), then it wasn’t a mortal sin because you didn’t choose it. We have to choose sin for it to be a sin.

The example of not being able to find transportation is fairly common among Catholic youth. Mass is inaccessible for them because their parents won’t drive them. I remind them that that is not their sin; it is the sin of their parents. I ask them to tell their parents that they really want to get to Mass every Sunday. In that way, they are doing all that they can to get to Sunday Mass. To me, that is the key in any of these situations where Mass is “inaccessible” – are you doing everything you can to get to Mass?

My mother and step-father went on vacation to one of the Islands a few years ago. When they were planning their trip, they called ahead to find out about when Mass would be offered on the weekend. They were told that the only Mass on the island all weekend was at 7:30 on Saturday night. They went to the Church at 7:30 to find that Mass was halfway over – it had started at 7:00! It was not a mortal sin because it was through no fault of their own that Mass was “inaccessible”. They had done all they could to get to Mass where they were going and were simply given the wrong information about the Mass time.

The most common situation of Mass being inaccessible involves people who are physically unable to attend Mass, mainly due to illness. For people who find themselves in this situation, the Sunday obligation is removed. Again, it is through no fault of their own. Many people who are sick or homebound on Sundays watch the “Mass for Shut-Ins” on TV. Others will read and meditate on that Sunday’s readings (via www.usccb.org/nab). Hopefully, they all have asked their local parish to bring Holy Communion to them on Sunday or some time during the week.

Finally, people might wander, what is this all about? Why do we need to get to Mass each and every Sunday? I often ask people, “what is the primary reason we have to be at Mass every Sunday?” While few have gotten the answer correct, they have offered many interesting and meaningful responses. I pose this question to all bloggers to get your thoughts. I will answer it in the near future (hint, the answer is “C.O.O.L.”).

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