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Pastor’s Message – The Sunday Obligation

Since the Parish bulletin isn’t up yet, I thought I would post this here.

As you know, the Church places on all the baptised the obligation to attend Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation (Catechism, no. 1389; Canon Law, no. 1247). This is a serious obligation, which God instituted for our own good (3rd Commandment), and which the Church continues in fidelity to God’s will. Moreover, in her maternal love for us, she knows that we need (as a minimum) to be nourished weekly by the Word of God and the Eucharist in order to avoid grave sin and remain spiritually alive.

By this the Church reminds us that participation in the Sunday Mass is the foundation of our ‘practice of the faith’, the source of every other prayer, devotion and spiritual exercise we undertake, and that these other activities are directed to the Mass as to their goal (Catechism, no. 1324). Without the Sunday Mass, all of other aspects of the spiritual life fall flat.

So serious is this obligation that to intentionally or neglectfully miss Sunday Mass is a mortal sin. Again, this is because she desires us to be holy and knows how much we need God’s grace. However, there are circumstances in which this holy obligation cancelled. Canon Law lists two: the absence of a Priest, and, another grave cause (Can. 1248).

The absence of a Priest is an obvious reason: no Priest = no Mass. But what about another grave cause? The Oxford Dictionary defines grave as, “giving cause for alarm”. The Church has always understood that a ‘just cause’ for missing Sunday Mass must be something of the utmost importance.

The usual examples of ‘grave cause’ are: serious illness, caring for the sick, impossibility of transportation, emergencies, the necessity to work to support one’s family, or severe weather. (It does not, however, include convenience, the presence of guests or other such instances.)

In such grave cases, the obligation to attend Mass is not transferred to another day or even to a Liturgy of the Word; it simply ceases. Again, this is due to the Church’s maternal care for her children: the Church doesn’t obligate us to do the impossible.

I write about this because winter is already upon us and it’s expected to be long a harsh this year. It is very likely that on some weekends we might experience severe weather or dangerous driving conditions. If Mass is cancelled due to weather, or if the roads in your area are too dangerous, please stay at home. If it’s too dangerous for the Priest, it’s too dangerous for you. Do not put yourself or your family at risk, especially on a Saturday night; this isn’t the kind of heroism the Church desires of us. If roads are better on Sunday morning, come to Mass then. If not, then in such situations, the Sunday obligation is lifted and you do not sin by staying home.

However, the Church’s mercy in such grave circumstances should never be taken lightly. We must always be careful not to become loose in our interpretation of ‘grave cause’ or lax in our obligation to attend Mass.

If it becomes impossible to attend Mass, I encourage you to spend time in prayer, especially as a family; it is still the Lord’s Day, even if you can’t attend Mass. Read the readings for that Sunday, meditate on them and discuss them. Offer some prayers of intercession — especially for better weather and for safety —, and pray the Rosary. In this way, while Mass may not be possible, you will still spend time with the Lord and grow in faith and in grace.

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