Last week in the AAA forum, someone asked whether missing Mass due to extreme fatigue was a letigimate excuse for missing Mass. The poster explained that such fatigue could present serious safety issues at work for himself and coworkers. Fr. Serpa responded, “Certainly, you must not jeopardize your safety. If you cannot attend Mass, you are not obliged to. But when you can, then you must.”
It is my understanding of the Church’s teaching that if there is not a legitimate excuse, missing Mass is always a grave matter (mortal sin). It is also my understanding of the Church’s teaching that if there is a legitimate excuse, there is no sin at all in missing. But in the above example, it seems that discerning that threshold of being so tired that safety is jeopardized would be difficult to do. Being tired is also extremely uncomfortable. How easy would it be to rationalize that there is a safety issue when maybe it doesn’t rise to that level of severity? (Note: this is not a criticism of the AAA original poster at all. Where I’m going with this is philosophical.) What if someone rationalizes a little, but believes he or she is excused? Is that mortal or venial?
Here is another scenario. What if, in a certain parish, the priest makes an announcement to the parishioners: “Don’t come to church if you are sick. We want to share in the Eucharist together–not your germs!” What if you are sick and still have a lot of symptoms (stuffy, runny nose and cough), but don’t know if you are actually contagious–the symptoms possibly now being a non-contagious secondary infection. What if, on a Holy Day of Obligation, you have to go to work to attend an important meeting to present some informaiton, but come home right after the meeting to go to bed? Is it a mortal sin to miss Mass for that Holy Day? If someone is able to attend a meeting (though miserable and displaying symptoms), is that person well enough to go to Mass? What if someone is not certain whether he or she is contagious? If someone in this situation should go to Mass, there is potential for rationalization, and given the complex variables, it seems that an error would be a venial sin rather than mortal. This assumes that the person would otherwise ordinarly go to mass without hesitation.
If the Church really does teach that missing mass can never be a venial sin, then subties in the above examples make the difference between absolutely no sin being committed at all and someone being severed from grace and justification–a state of eternal damnation if that person were to drop dead. If subtle, but selfish rationalization has occurred, that person may not even realize it needs to be confessed.
Philosophically, it doesn’t make sense to me that there are never occassions in which missing Mass is just a venial sin. It seems that there are times which a person may not directly reject Christ, but sins of weakness affect his or her decisions.