Christmas Eve and our Sunday obligation

This year, Advent is as short as it can possibly be. We will celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent, and then celebrate Christmas the very next day. This can cause some confusion as to when we should be going to Mass. If we go to the Christmas Eve Mass, does that mean we have Mass twice in one day? Or does going once fulfill our Sunday and Christmas obligation?

Recently on Go Ask Your Father,™ Monsignor Stuart Swetland explained how we should approach this unusual situation, and how we should view our obligation to attend Mass, not just at Christmas, but all year round. Msgr. Swetland said:

“You have two obligations on December 24th and 25th – the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas. Now, some dioceses and some parishes, just because of the logistics of the 4th Sunday of Advent bumping up to Christmas this year, they may commute or eliminate one of the obligations. And that is within their right to do – the bishop can do that and the local pastor can do that.

A lot of people like the Christmas Eve Mass, and I understand that. So what I would recommend is on Saturday night go for the 4th week of Advent, and Sunday night go to the Christmas Eve Mass. Or Sunday, during the day, go for the 4th Sunday of Advent and then on Monday go to the Christmas Day Mass. Any of that is fine.

And we’ve been talking about them as obligations, and yes they are … but it’s not so much that God wants us to be at Mass, He wants us to want to be at Mass. In other words, He wants us to love Him. To not want to go to Mass means you don’t love God.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand dryness in prayer. I understand when prayer is difficult. But as Thomas Merton points out, the best prayer we can do is to pray when we don’t want to pray. Because then we’re praying for the right reason, for no other reason than that we love Him. When prayer is difficult, we continue to pray. Not because we’re getting anything out of it, but we’re doing it because we love Him and we want to be with Him.

The point is that our prayer, especially the central prayer of our life, the Mass, is the best possible place we can encounter Christ and be encountered by Christ. That is the heart and the center of our faith. It’s not a canon law, it’s not morality, it’s not a book – it’s a person. It’s Jesus of Nazareth. And our encounter with Him is what everything in our faith is built upon.”

Listen to the full explanation below:

Go Ask Your Father airs weekdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern/10:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.


Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.