Does internet mass fulfill the Holy Obligation?

Someone was asking about internet mass while on vacation. Fr. Vincent Serpa gave a succinct NO (below) in the ask an apologist forum. I think it is a gray area that could not have been specifically adressed by cannon law or the commandment to honor the Sabbath. I am not claiming he was wrong, but I think there is room to flesh out the argument. I have not had any luck with the priests at the online sites, so I am grateful someone waded in. I would be interested in any other opinions from local parish priests or people here.


The celebration of Mass is a personal experience. Watching on television or the internet is not being present in person. It does not satisfy our obligation to be present for Mass.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

Hi Father,

I have used the internet masses online when I felt I had a reasonable excuse as defined by the Catholic rules I was raised with:

I have written several of these sites with this exact question and none have answered back, so I applaud you for entering into this area. However, I have a few questions starting with the grave clause.

“grave cause”…such as the necessity to work to support one’s family, child care, personal sickness or the care of the sick, necessary travel etc.

The person who wrote you cited vacation travel. It can be argued if this is a necessity. I would think the access to a church was the real issue. Was one right down the street or not available “in the area”.

Second is what does impossible mean, when the internet site (ewtn above) defines this as a priest “in the area”.

Referencing the Catechism of the Catholic Church
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.”

I had this issue when traveling for a month to Thailand with my wife. There was no Catholic church in the area and the nearest one was about an hour’s drive or an hour by bus, with wait time and a taxi from the station. Since no one else was Catholic and I did not want to venture alone (not knowing Thai) online mass seemed a good substitute to asking her realtives to invest 3 or 4 hours of their day, including waiting an hour. It was not impossible, if I were willing to risk life and limb and possibly not returning to my wife’s town for days or severely imposing on her family.

Of course all these Catechism rules were written before the internet. If you had answered that the mass was a “communal experience” as the Catechism below, it would have been more convincing to me. I can personally participate in an online mass the same as sitting in church. You can also argue, as mentioned by the priests online, that they are servicing the “internet community”

2182  Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God's holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

So while I would not argue that weekly internet mass is a replacement for attending a local parish and participating in that community, when away from your local parish and another church is not nearby. It seems much better than doing nothing and going to confession for skipping and that this does fulfill the obligation to attend mass. Impossible is a big word. After all. to me the overriding commandment is to honor the Sabbath, which we Catholics don’t really do anyway. Of course we believe we have a good reason but it seems clear to me that weekly dedication is the urgent need.

Best regards,

Dr. Brian McCarthy

It seems much better than doing nothing and going to confession for skipping

If you have a valid grave reason for not attending Mass then you are excused from it. There would be no reason why you would have to confess such an instance.

There is simply no need or obligation to watch an internet or t.v. Mass if you cannot get to Mass. Does that mean you can’t? No. But it really is an arbitrary decision if you do watch one of these or not.

Fr Serpa is correct. The answer is ‘no.’

If you are unable to get to Mass (due to illness or circumstances which legitimately prevent you from attending in person), then the obligation does not bind. In other words, while it would be praiseworthy for you to observe the Sabbath through personal prayer or the viewing of Mass on TV or on the internet, there is no obligation at that point, so no alternative ‘satisfies the obligation.’

You are either obliged or not. When you’re obliged, the viewing of Mass on TV or internet does not suffice. When you’re not obliged, there’s no ‘fulfillment of the obligation’ to be had, regardless of the type of media utilized. :wink:

The fact that the internet was barely around when our current canon law was written doesn’t really change the issue. Watching mass online is very similar to watching it on TV, which very much was around in 1983. Even back before there was television, there were similar situations. In some towns people may have lived in very close proximity to the church, and been able to watch from their homes through the windows of the church. I don’t think this has ever been accepted as a true substitute for actually attending mass.

Having said that, there are frequently situations where churches are jam-packed with worshippers, and many are stuck standing on the church steps outside, barely able to hear the mass over the speakers. In these situations, it is generally accepted that the worshippers outside are attending mass. So a hard and fast rule may be difficult to state, but intent is probably a big part of it - and unfortunately in the case of your example, your intent is not to attend the mass, not to be present with your fellow parishioners, not to receive the Eucharist even if you are properly disposed.

Your post is evidence that you are familiar with the rules, and basically your obligation is either dispensed or it is not. Whether you choose to watch mass online is a completely separate question, and it may be praiseworthy to do so in whatever situation you are in.

I don’t understand this poll. It poses questions but provides no way to indicate an answer.


Exactly !

[quote=Tarpeian Rock
]I don’t understand this poll. It poses questions but provides no way to indicate an answer.

That was my first thought too. It is three rhetorical questions, not options/answers. In addition all three questions are almost the same things just worded differently.

Sorry if the poll is not set up correctly. It was my 1st one and I have no idea how to fix it.

You would have to start a new with a yes or no option.

FYI: my answer would be no.

I agree. The questions were phrased in such a way as to elicit a positive response to watching Mass on the internet.
The great danger to this, if it were allowed, is that people would justify watching the Mass on the internet instead of attending it in person for the flimsiest of reasons.
Holy Mother The Church makes allowances for those who legitimately cannot physically attend Mass.

Fr. Serpa was answering a specific question. So, to put this all in context, the question the person asked was “*We were out of town and staying at a hotel. We watched and participated in a Sunday Service presented by St. James Church on the Internet. It was a Catholic Mass with Choir and all. Does this satisfy our requirement or must we go to confession before receiving Holy Communion next Sunday. *”
Fr. Serpa answered correctly. They didn’t say they couldn’t get to a mass but simply that they were staying at a hotel.
Internet or television is not a valid substitute for attendance. Either you attend in person or you have some good reason why you can’t go. Simply being on vacation is not a good reason unless there are no Catholic churches within a reasonable distance.

Thanks for the poll advice. I agree with almost everything posted. There is no such thing as double fulfilling the obligation. I don’t agree with claiming that I chose to not attend mass, which implies I was committing a mortal sin by not venturing out in a country where I don’t speak the language or insisting that someone travel with me for 4 or 5 hours of their day (I got no volunteers, they had plans for these weekends, which went by quickly). This goes into the real meaning of impossible, as I mentioned. The web site I referenced said “priest in the area” which seems reasonable. I also could have CHOSEN to fly round trip to Bangkok each Sunday for about 500 dollars and most every waking moment. Again, imposing on my wife’s family or taking a ride with a cabbie who knows I have no clue where I am. In NY these rides cost foreigners 1000s of dollars.

The intent of the post was not to seek approval of my actions in Thailand but to provoke a discussion of what “impossible” means in the context of getting to mass. I don’t believe Jesus wants people to put 1000s of dollars on their credit card to attend mass. If someone owns a leer jet, then they can fly to mass. There needs to be some context, imo. I think the analogy to TV mass was a good one. I never claimed Father was wrong in his answer but gave my amateur opinion. I think the posts describing the extra efforts of watching TV mass or online mass as laudable was appropriate. I also think recommending this option for people with genuine reasons as outlined by the catechism is worth considering for priests being asked this question.

If Father agrees with this summation (and gives some idea of reasonable), my time has been well spent. Thank you.

Honestly, I cannot answer ANY of those questions in the poll. And why would one want to go to so much work creating a poll like this. Mass is not only a holy day of obligation; it’s a day of which we are not only obligated but should WANT to be there.

I travel all over the world myself, and to this day, I have never missed. I place the mass into my agenda, where ever I go. I love to experience the Mass in a foreign country.

I go because I WANT to be there, not because I’m obligated. After mass I watch it on TV, but it’s not the same as being close to heaven at the mass.

Thank You:thumbsup:

While I respect Fr. Serpa, I will be interested whether his answer will withstand the test of time.

I’d be far more interested in a Canon Lawyers take on this ( and please, a real Canonist, not one of our armchair CAF lawyers who like to simple cut and paste the text of the law without any knowledge of legal theory or precedence).

Here is why it is interesting:

Like the interpretation of scripture, context is very important in interpretation of law, teaching, and tradition. For example, an indulgence can be earned by someone receiving a blessing of a crowd by the Holy a Father, even on TV, so might it not make sense that the Mass obligation be fulfilled by a Tv or other media…the only thing that could not be done would be receiving communion, but Church precepts say that must only be done once a year.

It might also be argued that our universal daily prayers through the daily mass or LOTH is questionable, unless all the faithful meet in one gigantic assembly at one time.

Many in the church also content the word must be proclaimed, thus heard, therefore following along with paper or electronic text is somehow not proper. Again, context is not considered, because listening may have been a necessity prior to increases in literacy and availability of text, but it may not be today.

The case could be made that it is a matter the intent and context of rules.

Maybe in the future you may see a priest offering the sacrament of reconciliation over Skype or FaceTime!

If the best argument we can present is because we’ve never done any of these things that way before, we may be missing a great opportunity to offer the many blessings of God via use of new venues created by Him!

This implies that the two are mutually exclusive, which they certainly are not. Do you want to be at mass at 10 am on a Tuesday morning? Maybe you do, but you choose not to because family or work obligations must be balanced. On the other hand, if it were an obligation, you might well order your priorities differently.

The OP asked a question about the obligation. I don’t think it’s charitable to make any assumptions about what he “wants”, since he didn’t reveal that.

I would not hold my breath waiting for internet masses to be approved as meeting one’s obligation.

You bring up a good point on the blessing over TV. I have heard it explained that blessings only apply to those watching at that moment, not to those who watch a recording after the fact - after a delay, the blessing no longer has any effect. However, there is always delay in broadcast, whether it be a fraction of a second, or the famous seven seconds to allow obscenities to be bleeped, or perhaps 30 minutes for programming reasons. The Church has never fleshed out the limits of this idea, and I don’t think the current understanding stands up to much scrutiny.

+1, I don’t see what the ‘poll’ was designed to measure?
And Fr Serpa was right.

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