Does attending Mass on Saturday evening fufill your Sunday obligation

I’ve heard that before, but is it always or only under certain circumstances?

Can. 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.

So yes, any Mass on Saturday evening satisfies your obligation.

Now, I’ve read some commentaries on Canon Law (Huel, in particular) that say that if you’re going to a wedding on Saturday Evening you shouldn’t consider the Nuptial Mass as fulfilling your obligation for Sunday. However, if your only reason for being at that Mass is the Mass and not the wedding (some people who always attend Sat. evening’s anticipated Sunday Mass would still be there if the Mass were switched to a Nuptial Mass as it used to be in my hometown parish) then it’s OK. But a simple reading of canon 1248 certainly gives no indication of that.

The original intention of Paul VI was for those who must work weekends to have no excuse for missing Mass on a Sunday. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have both written that Sunday is the preferred day of Mass. Saturday really is for those with busy schedules. Not a sin if you go on Saturday but Sunday is preferred.

Those of us who live in the “Diaspora” areas of the country often have Mass only once a month, and that on a Friday. We have been told that the bishop has granted extra ordinary rights to celebrate the Sunday liturgy on Friday evening when necessary.

Of course yours is a very different situation. My friend has volunteered in Guatemala and there Mass is when Mass is. The priest is responsible for dozens of parishes in the valleys and mountains so Mass is whenever he can get there. If that happens to be on Sunday, great; if it happens to be on Wednesday, that’s great too because it’s MASS.

This question comes up fairly often.

Originally, sometime in the mid 20th century, Saturday evening Masses were permitted in certain places, by way of a special indult from the Holy Father. The indult was necessary because under the 1917 code of canon law, Mass had to be on a Sunday. These “anticipated” Masses were intended strictly for those unable to attend Mass on Sunday (usually, but not exclusively, because they had no choice but to be at work on Sun. morning) The indult only applied if there was a genuine need to attend, so those who attended simply by way of convenience were not fulfilling their Sunday obligation.

In the US, it was left to the bishop of the diocese to determine whether or not he would permit these Sat. Masses. That’s why people have different memories of when they began. Some will tell you they remember them in the 50s, some will say that they weren’t allowed until the early 80s–they’re all correct, but it depends on which diocese they were living in at the time.

When Pope John Paul II promulgated the current code of canons in 1983, that changed. Saturday evening Masses became available universally. No longer by way of indult (an exception to the law) but now a matter of the law itself. The requirement that these Masses were only to be attended if there was a genuine need was dropped (important point here).

There is an (unfortunately-little-known, and not well publicized) Apostolic Letter from John Paul II called *Dies Domini *(The Lord’s Day)
Here is paragraph 49 from that text

  1. Because the faithful are obliged to attend Mass unless there is a grave impediment, Pastors have the corresponding duty to offer to everyone the real possibility of fulfilling the precept. The provisions of Church law move in this direction, as for example in the faculty granted to priests, with the prior authorization of the diocesan Bishop, to celebrate more than one Mass on Sundays and holy days, the institution of evening Masses and the provision which allows the obligation to be fulfilled from Saturday evening onwards, starting at the time of First Vespers of Sunday. From a liturgical point of view, in fact, holy days begin with First Vespers. Consequently, the liturgy of what is sometimes called the “Vigil Mass” is in effect the “festive” Mass of Sunday, at which the celebrant is required to preach the homily and recite the Prayer of the Faithful.

Clearly, we see a development here that the Saturday evening Masses are no longer a matter of necessity. JPII is saying that these Masses are to be regarded with the same status as a Mass on Sunday morning. Note that he reminds us that the liturgical day of Sunday begins when the secular calendar says that it is Saturday evening. So, from the Christian perspective, Sunday has already begun. What was once viewed as a Mass-of-necessity has become “the festive Mass of Sunday.”

Some of us grew up with the understanding that Saturday evening Masses were only for those who had no other option, and because that idea (accurate at the time) was so ingrained into us (because, after all, fulfilling the Sunday obligation is not something to be taken lightly), that the old attitude still prevails among some people, and in some places.

The bottom line is that a Mass celebrated on Saturday evening is indeed a Sunday Mass, and attending a Mass at this time always fulfills the Sunday obligation. The only requirement would be that it is indeed Saturday evening, as the law states, not morning or afternoon.

Ralated to this:

Some liturgists and canonists will attempt to argue that the Mass does not fulfill the obligation if it is a wedding Mass, or some other ritual (or votive) Mass. This is false, because canon law clearly states that Catholics may attend any Catholic Mass on Sunday or Saturday evening. There is absolutely no stipulation in canon law which says that wedding Masses do not fulfill the obligation. This notion completely contradicts the letter of the law which says “any Mass” It also contradicts a basic principle of law which says that one who is interpreting the law cannot place additional burdens which the law itself does not place–and that is precisely what they are attempting to do. In othe words, if the Church says “any Mass” then the Church means “any Mass.” The fact that wedding Masses are permitted on Sunday means that the intent of the Church is that they fulfill the obligation–if not, the Church would not allow wedding Masses on Sunday.

A good example of this legal principle is to look at US paper money. We read the words “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private” Now, that “law” means just what it says. If I owe someone $10,000 I can satisfy that debt with ten-thousand one-dollar bills. They’re legal tender; whether or not someone likes it, or doesn’t want to go through the trouble of counting them is irrelevant–the debt has been satisfied. Although we shouldn’t take the analogy of paying a monetary debt and fulfilling the Sunday obligation too far, it does make the point. If we have an obligation to attend what the Church says is “any Mass” on Saturday evening or Sunday, then that is the obligation which we have–to attend any Mass, even if it does happen to be a wedding Mass.

The problem is that these days, the priests are the ones with the busy schedules. Saturday Vigil Masses allow one priest to cover three Masses in his parish(es) every weekend. If there are too many parishioners for just two Masses each weekend, then Saturday Vigil Masses become something of a pastoral necessity.

This isn’t true in every parish with only one priest, but it covers more of them than we’d like to think. It is not unusual for rural parishes in the US to become missions of larger parishes, and to only get Saturday Vigil Masses. We have some here in Oregon. It also covers parishes with a church space that is too small to get by with just two Masses.

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