Catholic obligation to attend Mass -- question


I am struggling a little with the Catholic obligation to attend Mass every week and would like your input. This is not a real big deal for me, but I would put it in the category of a pet peeve – if I were a Catholic.

I am a protestant who attends church service probably about 47 or 48 times out of 52 weeks. I look forward to attending church and go out of a desire to follow God and be with fellow believers. I also attend to be spiritually fed and to serve others as an usher. I may miss once in a blue moon due to illness, vacation, or being on-call at my work and getting a call Sunday morning before church service and have to go in to work, but that’s about it.

Well, for the sake of full disclosure, I did miss church service once last year because I stayed home and watched “Breakfast at Wimbledon”. My church doesn’t have a Saturday night service or else I would have gone then.

Shouldn’t a believer (Catholic or non-Catholic) attend church out of desire to be in God’s House rather than be compelled out of a sense of obligation? Otherwise, to me it sounds more like coercion to get parishoners to attend by calling it a sin. By the way, I understand one of the Ten Commendments is to ‘Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy’ but when I have to travel on a Sunday sometimes the best I can do is go to the airport chapel or listen to church on the radio in my car on the interstate.

Correct me if I a wrong, but it doesn’t seem fair to have to confess the sin of missing church when you get an emergency call from work and have to report there on an emergency problem during the time that church is in progress. To me, if that is a sin, I can see why so many people have Scupulosity issues. .

Note: In my heart, I do realize I probably sinned – Ok, I did sin – by staying home and watching “Breakfast at Wimbledon” that one Sunday. I probably should have just DVR’ed it. :). I wonder what kind of penance I would’ve gotten for that.


Speed version:

This is what the Catechism states.

2183 “If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the Liturgy of the Word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families.”

If you are ill, you are dispensed from attending. If traveling to and from Mass would put you or others in danger (bad roads, weather), you are dispensed.

If you are working, or get called to work, you are dispensed, but should follow the guidelines above.

Holy Mother Church understands that “life” happens. It’s not like we’re going to hunt you down :smiley:

Also, see this thread, and this thread.


Thanks, twopekinguys. I will check out those threads you reference.


Not true. Illness or dangerous travel does not “dispense” from the obligation, a dispensation is a permission from the competent authority. If one has a grave reason to miss Mass, then there is simply no obligation. A dispensation is something that can be sought and obtained when one has a reason that is not already covered in the law.

Along with Sunday obligation comes the precept to abstain from servile work. So no, working does not “dispense” or obviate the obligation. There are usually enough Mass times that work does not actually interfere with attendance, but if one finds oneself obligated to work on Sundays, then one should confer with the pastor and obtain the dispensations necessary.


Can you explain what a dispensation is and how someone obtains one? Is it the special permission from a priest?


Yes. It is permission from the competent authority to derogate from a law. It can be as easy as verbally asking your pastor and getting his OK, but many must be done in writing.


Then Michelle Arnold from the “ask an apologist” forum is wrong.

"If a person genuinely has difficulty attending a Mass on Sunday or a holy day of obligation while traveling, he is **dispensed **from the obligation and does not commit sin by missing Mass. He need not confess this before receiving Communion because this is not a sin. " (emphasis mine)

Read it here.


Yes, she is, but it’s a very common mix-up.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Dispensation is an act whereby in a particular case a lawful superior grants relaxation from an existing law. This article will treat: I. Dispensation in General; II. Matrimonial Dispensations.

Code of Canon Law

Can. 85 A dispensation, or the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law in a particular case, can be granted by those who possess executive power within the limits of their competence, as well as by those who have the power to dispense explicitly or implicitly either by the law itself or by legitimate delegation.


I think in these instances (mentioned) the word ‘dispensed’ is being used as a casual, rather than a formal thing. IMO

God bless.


Yes, I agree. And that is the ideal. I think though if you ask most devout Catholics, they will tell you that is indeed why they go. I for one don’t go simply out of obligation. I can’t go more than a week without the Eucharist. :thumbsup:

But really, the obligation is just the Church’s way of emphasizing the importance (and seriousness) of worshipping God. Worship is not an optional or secondary thing in our life as Christians, as I’m sure you would agree. That’s what we were made for, to love and serve God. And if we don’t do it, we harm ourselves. By setting aside a specific time a week that we devote to God, the Church is trying to help us keep our priorities straight. God comes first.

So it’s really not coercion - since obviously no one can be forced to go - but just the Church being the shepherd and guide that it is by warning us of the seriousness of the matter and trying to lead us in the right direction. I’m thankful for that.

Now, obviously, keeping the obligation isn’t enough by itself. If we are just going half-heartedly through the motions every week, that does us no good. But the obligation is there to remind us and set a minimum.

By the way, I understand one of the Ten Commendments is to ‘Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy’ but when I have to travel on a Sunday sometimes the best I can do is go to the airport chapel or listen to church on the radio in my car on the interstate.

Correct me if I a wrong, but it doesn’t seem fair to have to confess the sin of missing church when you get an emergency call from work and have to report there on an emergency problem during the time that church is in progress. To me, if that is a sin, I can see why so many people have Scupulosity issues.

This is a misunderstanding. In emergency cases, there is no sin. Even if it’s not an emergency, and your just unable to get to Mass in any reasonable way, (bad weather, sickness, traveling, work etc…) there is no obligation any longer. The Church isn’t unreasonable here. :wink: It’s actually quite flexible on the issue, contrary to popular notion.

We are just required to put God first and do all we can to worship Him. That’s what the obligation is for. Some people may become scrupulous about it, but that can’t really be blamed on the Church since she already takes different situations into account and doesn’t require us to do the impossible.

Hope that helped explain things a little. :slight_smile:


I believe that you are actually incorrect. It would depend on the circumstances.

For example, when I was traveling and knew it was highly unlikely that I could go to Mass…I did get my obligation transfered to Wed night Mass.

However, if I can’t go on Sunday because I’m throwing up, no dispensation is needed and it’s not a sin.

If I’m just staying home to watch TV…well highly unlikely the priest will give me a dispensation and there was no good reason for me not to go so yes a sin in that case.


Hey guys, no offense, but the main point is that it’s not a sin to miss Mass in every circumstance. I don’t think we should derail the thread over when a dispensation is required or not. :shrug:


You probably knew this but Mass in an airport chapel or anywhere else it’s offered in a language you don’t understand, still counts. Or Divine Liturgy, for that matter.


Thanks, Robyn p. Your answers make a lot of sense. Rightly or wrongly, sometimes I get the impression that some Catholics can be a little legalistic (focusing more on the rules than on the intent of the rules) so your response helps put things more in perspective for me, kind of like Luke 14:5 with the ox and the ditch.


Since we are not isolated individuals but rather members of a community, what we do gives witness to others, and when we sin we may also scandalize the weak. It correlates to confession where perfect contrition is best but imperfect contrition will suffice. With imperfect contrition we are sorry for what we have done “because of Thy just punishments” but with perfect contrition it is “***most of all ***because they offend Thee my Lord”. In confession, through the power to bind and loose sins, ***even ***those with imperfect contrition receive absolution. Those that keep the holy days out of fear of punishment are still doing what it proper and avoid sin.


Some of us work all day Sundays at the parish. I suppose we’re “dispensed?” After all, the pastor schedules the workload. :shrug:



Some of its origins from a bible perspective:

  1. Jesus commanded us to “do this, as often as you do it, in remembrance of Me.” **1 Corinthians 11:24-25 **
  2. The Apostles set the pattern by meeting and breaking the bread on each Lord’s day" or Sunday. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2
  3. If we love Jesus, we will keep His commands. John 14:15, 14:21, 15:10

To do otherwise on the Lord’s day simply tells the Lord that you prefer something or someone else to Him. That violates the love which we profess for our Savior.


Yep, exactly. The rules were made for man, not man for the rules. :thumbsup:

They are important and there to help us, but if we make the rules an end in themselves, then we’ve missed the entire point.


The question of Sunday Mass obligation is interesting. The OT required all Israelites to go to the Temple three times a year.

The Jewish commentaries suppose that synagogues developed in the exiles, when it was impossible to fulfill the obligation to worship in the Temple.

So, the attendance at synagogue was a man-made tradition just like the Sunday obligation is considered to be one of the commandments of the Church – isn’t it?

The fact that it can be dispensed at all suggests something relative or arbitrary about it. LIke the Church could dispense with it, like they dismissed not eating red meat on Fridays, except in Lent.

I have a problem related to PTSD which makes me very agitated when people are talking in Church before or during Mass. The ushers are telling each other stories, a man is telling his wife how to operate a digital camera, a woman is passing out home-made candies (before Mass, no less). Drives me crazy.

The bishop, to whom I appealed, said he would not grant me a dispensation from attending Mass, but that if I didn’t attend Mass, I didn’t have to confess it. I have this in writing.

But, in general, if you can’t get permission, you can always ask for forgiveness.

And, don’t forget the deposit of faith, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

I’ve asked an apologist for an interpretation of this paragraph, but it hasn’t come yet. I think the paragraph stands as one would interpret it in ordinary English. This paragraph speaks to God’s mercy. What one might consider grave matter, is not necessarily a mortal sin, under these broad guidelines.

If you have to work on Sunday, for example, you might consider that an uncontrollable “social factor” (inasmuch as this paragraph is discussing a person’s freedom or lack thereof, to act."

Accusing the Church of being legalistic is a superficial judgment. These matters are taken very seriously by “serious” Catholics.

Today the Supreme Court of the US issued a judgment about under what circumstances a President can make a “recess appointment” to a position normally requiring approval of the US Senate. And, for the first time in US history, the court had to rule on the matter (and said that a Senate recess of less than 10 days was not a formal recess, and the President cannot use that rule to circumvent Senate approval for shorter Senate recesses).

The Church has had centuries to consider difficulties and teach its members what their proper conduct should be. We (the Church) do not just make up rules arbitrarily to flex our muscles and power, but to teach all what Jesus has “commanded” us to do. Jesus said that he who hears you (the apostles and their successors) hears Him.

Read First and Second Corinthians about the apostolic control Paul was exerting over the Church in Corinth. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t popular, it was not without opposition and grumbling, but Paul did not fail to tell them things as they should be, for their good.

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