One of the precepts of the Catholic Church is that Catholics are required to attend Mass on Sunday. That means it is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays or holy days of obligation, unless there are extenuating circumstances like illness or caring for someone who is ill. With public Masses suspended during the COVID crisis, that Sunday obligation has been lifted in most dioceses. But as some states announce plans to reopen public spaces, many Catholics are anticipating that public Masses will resume in the near future as well.
Does that mean that it will be a sin to miss Mass, even if we’re still scared of getting sick? That’s what a listener asked this week on The Patrick Madrid Show, and it’s something that many Catholics across the country are wondering – even Patrick himself.
“My wife and I were talking about that very issue yesterday,” Patrick told the caller. “And the reason is because neither she nor I think we are quite ready to just jump back into the swing of things. You know, get back into restaurants and things like that. … We were both wondering if, for the sake of those who maybe are just not quite ready yet, or if they have bad health, or if they’re healthy but they’re older … then would the diocese keep the dispensation of your Sunday obligation in place for the time being? That would, to my mind, be a happy medium.”
Even in the weeks before public Masses were suspended, many bishops wrote letters to the faithful in their diocese dispensing them of their Sunday obligation to attend Mass if they were at risk or fearful of getting sick. Patrick explained that something similar could happen when churches do reopen.
“I think the vast majority of us are going to be ready to go back quickly, but there will be some who won’t be ready for a time,” he said. “And if the Church, in her pastoral mercy, decides not to reinstate the Sunday obligation for a time (it could be a month, could be three months, who knows) that to me would be the best of all possible worlds.”
“Because then you get the churches open, people start flocking back, and for those who are not quite ready yet, you give them a little extra time, and then they ease back into it and everything’s good. And that would really be the key to determine whether or not you would be permitted to miss Mass on Sunday, is if the bishop reinstates the Sunday obligation. So I think that’s how I would answer the question. It would depend upon what the bishop said.”
Patrick also reminded listeners that there are acceptable reasons to miss Mass even during normal times. It would not be a mortal sin to miss Mass if you have extenuating circumstances like being ill, caring for someone who is ill, or being homebound. He said that bishops could include being in a vulnerable population (over 60, having an underlying medical condition) as an extenuating circumstance even if the Sunday obligation is reinstated.
“Would that qualify as a reason that you could be allowed to not make your Sunday obligation? It’s entirely possible,” Patrick said. “And my guess is that when a bishop issues the new guidelines they’re almost certainly going to say the Sunday obligation is back in force, except for those who fall into these categories. And I have a feeling that might be one of those categories. In which case, no, it would not be a mortal sin for you [to miss Mass].”
Listen to the full conversation below: