Is Missing Sunday Mass a Sin?

by Catherine Fournier

The short answer is: Yes, missing Mass on Sunday or Holy Days of Obligation is a serious sin.

Of course, we need more information than that to counter the arguments made by recalcitrant teenagers, luke-warm (or cold) relatives and inquisitive neighbours.

Why is missing Sunday Mass a Sin?

Deliberately missing Mass on a Sunday or Holy day is a mortal sin because it disobeys the Third Commandment. "See that you keep my sabbath because it is a sign between you and me and your generation, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctify you" (Deut.5:12) It is not a 'meaningless rule imposed by the Catholic Church' it is a Commandment of God.

The Third Commandment (not, as has been pointed out by numerous commentators, the third 'recommendation or request') establishes the Sabbath as a day of rest and devotion to the Lord. This observance has been made since the earliest days of Jewish history, and is amplified in Christian tradition with the sacrifice of Mass, the unbloody reenactment of the crucifixtion.

Catholic or not, all Christians have an obligation to observe the Sabbath by attending Sunday Services, and avoiding unnecessary work. Not shopping, or mowing the lawn, or cleaning the car, or doing overtime.

Who Says So?

In addition to the Book of Deuteronomy, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

"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."

Also, the 'Code of Canon Law' which is the collection of 'rules' of the Church, states:

"1246: The Lord's Day, on which the paschal mystery is celebrated, is by apostolic tradition to be observed in the universal Church as the primary holy day of obligation. In the same way the following holydays are to be observed: the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (December 25), the Epiphany (January 6), the Ascension of Christ (40 Days after Easter), the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (June , the feast of Mary the Mother of God (January 1), her Immaculate Conception (December 8), her Assumption (August 15), the feast of Saint Joseph (May 1), the feast of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul (November 18) and the feast of All Saint's (November 1).

"1247: On Sundays and other holydays of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist [attend] at Mass. they are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body."

When is it Not a Sin?

Missing mass is not a sin if it is obviously impossible to attend Mass. This is not because there is a list of acceptable 'excuses' but because missing Mass in those circumstances isn't a deliberate disobedience of the commandment of God.

Illness, dangerous weather, lack of a priest or Church within reasonable distance (I would suggest an hour's travel time is a reasonable distance), small infants, the necessity to stay with a sick relative and no-one to relieve you for an hour or two, and shift work can all cause you - through no action or inaction of your own - to miss Mass.

One Sunday a few years ago, our family was driving to Mass along the winding country road into the nearest town. The older children were complaining about our insistence on being on time for Mass, indeed our insistence on attending Mass at all. "Why," one of them said, "If we came around the corner and saw an accident, you'd keep on driving because you didn't want to be late for Mass!" We drove around said corner and saw a car upside down in the ditch. The wheels were still turning. We missed Mass.

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