Need to explain not missing Mass under penalty of grave sin to an Evangelical



I need some help. I’ve been asked to be godmother to one of my yet-unborn-nieces. I’m very honored by this, as I love my s-i-l “Sue” and her husband “Bill” and their kids very much. My only quandary: Bill isn’t Catholic. He’s always been very supportive of Sue going to Mass, and getting the other babies baptized promptly. However, sometime in the last year or two they’ve all started attended a “bible church” near their house. At first I thought this was in addition to Sunday Mass, but I found out recently that they actually alternate Sundays-- Mass one Sunday, Bible Church the following.

So far all I’ve been able to explain to Sue (when she asked me, unexpectedly, on the phone) is that I’m very honored by the request, but that being a godmother is more than just an honor, it’s also a resposibility, and that I had some concerns about their current practice. She’s missing Mass every other week, and there will come a point in time when my niece will presumably also be missing Mass every other week. They live too far away for me to reasonably try to get her to Mass myself every other week.

I need to have a sitdown conversation with Bill and Sue both, I think, and try to help them understand the importance of Mass every week for a Catholic. I know it’s sad that Sue doesn’t already get that, but – there we are.

I’m anticipating the sticking point in the conversation will be the part that Sue CANNOT miss Mass deliberately or it is a mortal sin. Knowing Bill, I know that’s the part where he will get antsy. “Well, I don’t see that in the Bible…” You know. I will also need to diplomatically explain that attending Bible Church simply doesn’t fulfill Sue’s obligation.

I’m hoping that if I am eloquent (ha!) enough in my explanation of what the Mass truly is, and what an amazing privilege it is for us to be able to go, that the whole obligation/mortal sin thing won’t come up, but it may have to.

So far the closest analogy I’ve come up with is, “You make your kids eat your vegetables, right? Obviously you hope that in the long run they will make that decision themselves, right now you are still teaching them how to make good eating choices, and if you gave them free reign nothing green might ever pass their lips. So while you want them to do it freely, you may have to insist on it, for their own good.” But I could see that raising hairs on the back of both their necks-- they are both adults and won’t appreciate the idea that the Church knows best what they ought to do.

Any suggestions?




I believe the justification for treating this as a mortal sin is because it is viewed as not honoring the Sabbath, thus breaking one of the 10 commandments.

In the early church, mortal sin was reserved for the most serious offenses such as adultery, murder, fornication and apostasy. That much is very clear through historical texts. So it wasn’t a tradition passed on from the Apostles, rather it was introduced centuries later. Most likely in response to the need to control people, making sure they were faithful in attending regularly. The Church claims the right to use the keys of binding and loosing as justification for being able to make up rules that people have to follow, so once they decided it was a mortal sin, everyone had to go along with it.


I don’t think their current practice really has anything with you accepting to be a Godmother. You will be baby’s Godmother not Sue’s. So you don’t have to try to teach anything to Sue except throught example.

They are getting baby baptized Catholic, right? If so, you could be Godmother and when the confused baby is old enough to reason and starts asking questions, good Catholic Godmother will be there to guide the child in the Catholic Truth.

Sounds like that baby will NEED a good Godmother. Why would you turn that down and risk SIL taking baby to get baptized in Bible Church with a Godmother of another religion?

Anyways, if they are getting baby baptized by a priest in the Catholic Church, it sounds like Sue at least is pulled to Catholicism. Just be an example and don’t preach unless Sue asks your opinion on the matter. You will most likely alienate them if you turn down their offer to be Godmother and worse, if you continue to try to show them the error of their ways. They will probably not appreciate that.


Hi Margaret,

I’m afraid that you may be doing more harm than good. Your accepting to be a godmother does not imply that you have to keep the family on the straight and narrow. It means that you will do your best to influence your godchild to be a good Christian.

Chances are that, if you take the path you’re talking about, they will choose someone else who may not be as good a godmother as you are likely to be. And you may lose your influence with the family.

As for the proving that it is a mortal sin, not to go to mass, the bible says that we have to keep the Sabbath holy, and your friend’s husband can very well say that, they are keeping the
Sabbath holy, in one church and in the other.

Well, this is one person’s opinion, and others may think differently. You might also want to consult your priest.




Thanks to everyone for your input. I’m open to hearing more.

I know it’s not my job to get Sue to Mass every weekend. But if I am godmother to one of her kids, then it will be somewhat my responsibility to see that SHE gets to Mass every weekend once she’s reached the age of reason.

The thing is, Sue’s the youngest of six. Everybody is practicing. If it was just a matter of her having enough good examples around, that would have done the trick already, I think. I’m just wondering, in all seriousness, if she’s ever heard (at least since she left high school) the honest truth of the matter that she needs to be at Mass, or if Bill knows at all the nature of her obligation. People in the family tend to really dance around these types of issues and not want to call a spade a spade.

…Sigh… I hate talking about it terms of “obligation,” because it’s such the wrong way to look at it, but there is a good reason the Church has these bare minimums set up.

I’m toying with the idea of reading myself, and then giving on to them Scott Hahn’s “The Lamb’s Supper.” I was thinking it would just be nice to give them a scriptural grounding in the nature of the Mass. I haven’t read it yet, myself, though-- does that sound like a good match in this situation? Or can someone recommend another book?




I might try and explain it this way.

When we go to mass we meet Jesus. Literally, we meet Him. God comes down from heaven and meets us at the altar. When we go to other Christian churches, we are expressing a desire to be with God, a desire which will only truly be fulfilled by either dying and going to heaven or by God using the priest’s words “This is my body” to come to us now on earth.

From our Catholic perspective, on Sunday morning Jesus picks up the phone and gives us a call. He informs us that He is in town and would like to have breakfast. Either we can say YES! and go to mass to eat with Him or we can say, ‘I hear you have this really great book out. I’m going to be reading it with my friends.’

I think we teach that missing mass is a mortal sin because no matter what other good things we may do, we cannot ignore Christ’s personal invitation. As Revelation 22:17 says, “The Spirit and the bride say ‘come’”. We believe the bride is the Catholic Church and that ‘come’ entails coming to mass, the wedding feast of the lamb, the heavenly banquet of life.

Edit: The Lamb’s Supper is a great book to read. It’s central message is basically what I am trying to stress. When we go to mass we go to heaven. We meet God.


Really? Where, exactly, did you get information on your obligations as a godparent? I believe your obligation is to help form your godchild in the faith, to pray for the child and to provide a good example of someone living the faith - not to supercede her parents’ responsibilities.
In any event, your tactic of potentially rejecting the offer of Godparent accomplishes nothing whereas accepting that role may actually give you a little more influence in the childs spiritual formation.
Just so you know, I am in a similar situation - alternating Churches each weekend as a family. I do go to Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, though. My wife was Catholic when I married her, however, and the fact that your SIL married a non-Catholic speaks volumes about her commitment to her faith - the child needs someone like you in her life. Dont be afraid to get into an imperfect situation, thats what life is all about…


Hello, I highly recommend the book “The Lamb’s Supper”. I have pasted a couple of links for you.


Attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is one of the six precepts (positive laws) of the Catholic Church. “The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2041)

The Bible says:
And his [Jesus Christ’s] gifts were that some should be … pastors and teachers, … for building up the body of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2)


Yes, it is a precept of the church. The commandments tell us to keep holy the Lord’s day. The church sets attendance at mass as the minimum way to do this.The church didn’t ‘make missing mass a mortal sin’! It imposed an obligation on Catholics to attend mass.

A Christian who comprehends what the mass is (making present for us Jesus’ sacrifice, in a sense bringing us to the foot of the cross, and the intimacy of eating His flesh) will find it easy to understand and accept the reasoning behind this rule. One who is not well catechized can at least accept that the church has the authority to command this and that not going to mass is a grave sin of disobedience.

Now that we have the vigil mass for Sunday in almost all parishes, there really is no excuse not to attend mass, even if something else is planned for the morning.


The church doesn’t ‘make something a mortal sin’. Adultery, murder, fornication, and apostasy were sinful by their nature. Disobedience to a precept of the church (there are only 6 of these disciplinary regulations so it isn’t an issue of ‘controlling people’) is a serious sin of disobedience unless there is a good reason, in which case there may be no sin at all. If, for instance, someone needed to stay home with a sick family member or neighbor there would be no sin because the demands of duty or charity take precedence over church law.


As an early Christian, being a Christian and NOT going to break bread and hear the Word with your fellow Christians was like not taking advantage of a gift from God. Aside from the Christian message that they preached to all, the Mass was what set them apart from other faiths (just like a Muslim praying 5 times a day, it is unheard of to be a true practicing Muslim and not hold to all 5 of the pillars of Islam).

They went to follow Christ’s instructions to ‘Eat my body and drink my Blood’ and hear the Word of God. This was an essential Christian discipline.

These days, protestants and poorly catechized Catholics will tell you, “I don’t have to go to church to worship God!”. That is another one of those pop-phrases that unfortunately the protestant community infiltrated into some Catholics (don’t take that offensively, it was probably not on purpose, only by example). But, those Catholics have to realize that the Eucharist and the Mass is what sets us apart from anyone else. The Mass is the ultimate privilege given us from Christ by his example at the Last Supper.

Every Catholic must know that the Mass is not optional and is indeed a privilege in order to be a practicing Catholic. This is not how some modern day Catholics understand it. Missing Mass being a mortal sin may as well be thought of this way: Not practicing your faith in the way set apart and intended by Christ will sever your Christian relationship with God.

If you have ever read Pliny the Younger talking about the Eucharist you will understand what I am saying. He explains that the Christians in his jurisdiction have a special food that they eat, that others would count as ordinary, and yet it is the crux of their lives. He doesn’t distinguish them by the message that they preach, but the meal that they are known to eat (not saying they didn’t preach it).

To imitate the early Church is what being a Catholic is all about and in the early Church being a Christian was participating in Mass. Not going on Easter and Christmas and maybe confessing once a year, and only telling someone about your faith when they challenge you.

closed #13

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit