Dispensation from Mass questions


I have no problem with the idea of getting a dispensation, but I am wondering about it. So, if a person has a serious reason for missing Mass, then the priest would give him a dispensation, right? And if the person didn’t have a serious reason, then it would be sinful for them to miss Mass in the first place, right?

I think why I don’t understand this is that the obligation is lifted, so why is a dispensation needed as well?


I remember this question came up a while ago…

The question itself doesn’t quite capture everyone’s situation.

Here’s what I mean:

The question implies that there are 2 possibilities.

a. “a serious reason”
b. “does not have a serious reason”

But the Church doesn’t see it that way. Instead the Church envisions 3 possibilities:

a. able to attend Mass
b. physically or morally impossible to attend Mass
c. somewhere in-between

If one is fully able to attend Mass, then the obligation is there.

If one is physically or morally unable to attend, then there is no obligation.

Option C though is the one that’s relevant to your question. That’s the time when a dispensation might be appropriate.
A dispensation is available for those situations that do not fall into either extreme; or even situations where we’re just not sure.


Fr. David, you raised something I don’t think I’ve heard before. What would make it morally impossible to attend Mass? Could you give an example?


If an extremist says “if you go to Mass on Sunday, I’ll kill your daughter.”


Ahhh, so this is if a person is unsure, the priest gives the dispensation so that everything is clear? Is that how it works? And if you very obviously didn’t need the dispensation, he might be confused?

Thanks Father :slight_smile:



Edit: actually, a dispensation doesn’t necessarily make the situation clear. What it does do is to release the person from the obligation of the law.


Ahhh, thank you for explaining all this :slight_smile:


Another edit. What I mean is if a person says “I might be able to make it to Mass, I might not be able, I’m not sure” a dispensation doesn’t make that part clear. A dispensation makes it clear that the person has been released from the obligation.

It’s rather busy today and I’m checking the computer quickly. Sometimes when I do that, I type faster than I think.


Ok, so it would be like a conditional dispensation in that if she could make it, she’d need to, but if she couldn’t make, she would have the dispensation?

I really appreciate your explaining all this, Father. Thank you!


No, it’s not conditional. A dispensation removes the obligation.

I’ll give you a personal example. Last summer, our family took a drive from Detroit to Halifax. There was a family reunion on my wife’s side.

It’s about a 28 hour drive. We loaded up the van with all the kids and drove close to straight though.

Our schedule indicated that we would be in northern Maine on the Sunday morning. We did not know what Masses would be available and our driving schedule ( with 6 kids) was not exactly precise.

So our pastor gave us a dispensation. We were not obligated to attend Mass.

As it turned out, we didn’t get as far as we planned on Sat, so we were able to go to Mass in Bangor. But we were not obligated to do so. We could have just kept on driving and not even bothered to investigate local Mass schedules.


Oh, dear, now i feel more confused! I thought that if one were traveling, the obligation was lifted? So one would not have to get a dispensation?

Thanks, Brendan :slight_smile:


Not at all.

Can you point to the document that gave you that idea?


Maybe I misunderstood this: *Moral Theology *by Fr Heribert Jone:

  1. — III Excuses from assisting at Mass. Any moderately grave reason suffices to excuse one from assistance at Holy Mass, such as considerable hardship or corporal or spiritual harm either to oneself or another.

(smaller print) Therefore, the following are excused: the sick, convalescents, persons who cannot endure the air in church (eg, certain neurotic persons and sometimes pregnant women in the first or last months of pregnancy),… those who have reason to think that by staying home they can hinder sin; or who would suffer injury to their good name or possessions by going to Church. (Thus: unmarried women who are pregnant, may remain at home if by doing so they can avoid disgrace; similarly, those who lack clothing becoming to their social standing; **those on a journey; **those who would suffer the loss of extraordinary gain by attending Mass). One may miss Mass for the sake of a pleasure trip once or twice if he has no other opportunity during the year, or if it is the last opportunity he will ever have for a certain excursion. (Cf. 60.)

So section 60 uses the following as examples for the points being made: that one should not arrange a trip for Saturday which would cause one to miss Mass on Sunday, as the “time for the observance of [the] law [would be] at hand” but that it would be all right to take a trip for pleasure if Sunday is “remote”; ie, “before Saturday or Sunday morning”; and of course one " may never do anything *with the intention * of rendering the observance of the law impossible." (itals in orig.)

(I had not previously looked at this section as at the time I originally read it, I was looking at another issue. So I just read the part about journeying and didn’t look into the CF.)(Not realizing that the Cf referred to the whole paragraph and not just the last part about the trip one can never take again.)

And sorry if this was more than you wanted… :o


this is helpful. first, this is not magisterial teaching, but rather a priest’s guide written to help people with practical questions. secondly, it was written in the 1700s. A “journey” must be thought of in those terms-- taking months, without access to a priest or sacraments. Louis and Clark made a journey. Going to visit Aunt Martha who lives across the Atlantic Ocean was, in those days, a journey. Today, these same principles still apply but it is unlikely that one finds themselves on a “journey” with no access to the sacraments for months on end. A job assignment in Saudi Arabia, an expedition to Antarctica, etc, would be such a journey. A visit to Aunt Martha would have plenty of Mass opportunities available.

It is not the journeying itself that excuses the obligation. It is the fact that journeying in the 1700s typically involved long stretches of time when one would have no access to the sacraments. In instances where that may be true today, then of course there is no obligation. But then, as now, if one were on a journey and found oneself in a place where one could attend Mass, then one would be obligated to do s.


The copy I have was updated in 1961 and received an imprimatur the same year. That’s why I thought it would be ok. I figured people would use common sense and not miss Mass if there was a church across the street from their hotel :wink:


What I mean is, if someone were traveling and were thus unable to attend mass, then the obligation would be lifted, but if they were able to attend, then it wouldn’t.


I think we are on the same page since you expanded on what you meant by traveling.


I think the dispensation comes in when you are technically able to attend Mass, but part of your travel plans include activities with family or say an organized tour where attending would considerably disrupt the event and cause inconvenience to others who may not be Catholic.

I personally consider at least once a year a vacation trip can fall under “need” as we all need recreation and vacation to restore ourselves. This past summer, we traveled to Scotland and the nearest church was about 40 miles away on narrow roads, many of them single-track, where we stayed on the Isle of Skye. We had driven 8 hours to our destination the previous day, and I was too mentally tired the next morning to undertake the drive. Instead we went on a family hike which required a lot less concentration! (keep in mind I was driving a manual-transmission car with right-hand drive, on the opposite side of the road of what I’m used to). So I used my judgment and didn’t go to Mass.

But I do think the Church takes to legalistic an approach. I think it would be better to allow it to be a matter of prudential judgement (and would ease the load on priests as well), to say that habitually missing Mass for spurious reasons is grave matter, but to occasionally miss it for family or travel reasons, isn’t, besides the non-travel “grave reasons” that we all understand.

But then I’ve always been a “spirit of the law” rather than “letter of the law” sort of guy.

Don’t take this as official Church teaching, it isn’t. It is my opinion and you can feel free to flame away! :wink:


Oh, good :slight_smile:


Well, I must admit that Jone’s saying that only a “moderately grave” reason was necessary came as a surprise to me!

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