Theoretically, could the Church do away with the Sunday obligation?


The commandment is to keep the Lord’s day holy, right? Could the Church, theoretically, say one day that you are no longer obliged to go to mass, and place something else in the spot to keep the day holy?

I was thinking about the ways that the Church has shifted the obligation to “Sunday…or Saturday evening” and shifted the dates of certain HDOO. I understand that Saturday evening is now considered part of Sunday (although shouldn’t this technically mean that Sunday evening is now part of Monday? I’ve never heard this explained in full) and that the obligation of the HDOO is still there, just on a different day. But clearly there is some flexibility. Where exactly does this flexibility end? I am only curious.


The Sunday obligation isn’t doctrinal so it’s possible for it to change, however it is immensely improbable and I don’t expect for it to ever happen.

The Church isn’t magically changing the calender of days. Saturday evening is still Saturday evening and Sunday morning is still Sunday morning. It just allows for Saturday evening to fulfill your obligatory Sunday Mass. This was instilled for the primary purpose of freeing up those who worked a lot on weekends and sometimes or always can’t make the Sunday Mass, but still had a desire to participate in the Holy Day. It’s also a reflection from the Jewish observation of how their Sabbath went from Saturday at sundown until Sunday at sundown.


Right now in certain districts of France you are lucky if a priest comes round every 8 weeks to say Mass. Congregations just meet, pray & do the readings. There just aren’t enough priests to go round anymore & those that are, are very old. I guess the Early Chruch was rather like that.
‘Keep holy the Lord’s Day’ means what it says; it does not say go to Mass on Sunday.
Of course if it is possible then one should since we believe the Mass is the Sacrifice of the Mass ( the same as that of Calvary).

I’m sure RCs in certain parts of Africa or the Amazon may only see a priest once or twice a year. I doubt if the Chinese, Syrian or Iraqi RCs are going to Mass each Sunday these days. Everything is relative…God is not standing by with a clip-board.


Sunday begins liturgically on Saturday evening and extends through midnight on Sunday. Because it is the Lord’s day, it is longer than the others and more solemn. It has two celebrations of Vespers, the first on Saturday evening and the other on Sunday evening. The only other extended days would be the handful of major feast days called solemnities, which have a similarly extended celebration. All others are midnight to midnight.

This was the ancient understanding of Sundays and major holy days. What changed was the advent of afternoon and evening Masses in the 1950s.


AFAIK, in theory, the Church could dispense with the Mass obligation altogether.

We still are obligated to keep the Lord’s Day holy, though.


I don’t think the Church could remove the obligation, actually. It’s an obligation to go to Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation when possible, physically and morally. God can’t ask us to do the impossible, of course (if you’re in the hospital, prison, somewhere without enough priests to say Mass at the local parish, etc., your obligation to attend Mass is abrogated as long as going to Mass is truly impossible; attending to a sick relative or young children also makes going to Mass morally impossible or at least extremely difficult at times). But - the Church has always considered Sundays to be Holy Days of Obligation. As Jesus rose on Sunday, God Himself declared Sunday to be the “Eighth Day” of the week - the Day of the Resurrection, and that we should celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday. As the day was instated by God Himself, the Church cannot remove the obligation.


No, Church teaching and tradition are very clear.

According to the CCC:

2177 The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life. “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be **observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.”**110

The Sunday obligation

2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass."117 "The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day."118

2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.119 Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

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.

I. The Eucharist - Source and Summit of Ecclesial Life

1324 The Eucharist is** “the source and summit of the Christian life.”**134 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. **For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”**135

1325 “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. **It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.”**136


This is an interesting question, because I don’t believe that the Sunday obligation extends to the Eastern Catholic Churches, if I recall correctly. That said, I think there’s an equally high expectation that they will attend, even if it’s not proscribed in Eastern Canon Law.


Yes, the church could do away with the Sunday obligation. The Sunday obligation rule is one of the Precepts or commandments of the church. These are man-made rules, and they can be changed. There are six precepts of the church:

  1. attend mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation
  2. keep prescribed days of fasting and abstinence
  3. go to confession at least once a year
  4. receive communion during the easter season
  5. contribute to the support of the church
  6. follow the church rules regarding marriage

The precepts have changed over the centuries, and there are different versions in other countries.


[quote=…God is not standing by with a clip-board.

God knows if we’ve purposely missed Sunday Mass and individuals commit a mortal sin by missing Mass without good cause.


I am assuming that the Sunday Obligation as mentioned in the title is to be interpreted to mean “attend Mass”.

The commandment from God is to keep the Lord’s Day holy. Jews and some other sects still interpret the commandment to refer to Saturday. Catholics, Orthodox, and most other Christians now honor Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

So I suppose you could say the Church has already ‘transferred the day’ and I don’t believe the day will ever be changed from Sunday. (Naturally I am not referring to the case where a priest advises an individual to attend Mass on another day because it is not possible to attend on Sunday.)

But it could happen that the Church eliminates the obligation to attend Mass/Divine Liturgy on Sundays. (I don’t believe this is likely; but it is possible.) We would still be expected to treat the day as special in some way just as those who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend Mass on Sundays are asked to pray (if possible in community), refrain from unnecessary work, etc.



The irony of it all is that the eastern Catholic churches are more strict than the Latin. Just to name a few differences:

*]confession of serious sins ASAP rather than annually
*]Wednesday *and *Friday penitential practices in Lent and other times
*]some sins reserved to the bishop as he so chooses
*]aliturgical days normally abstaining from the Eucharist
*]there are additional impediments to marriage
*]invalidity of a marriage celebrated under any type of condition
*]marriage celebrated before pastor of eastern Catholic groom
*]deacons cannot hold public offices
*]deacons cannot bless marriages nor give blessings
*]deacons do not normally baptize
The precepts of the Church:

  1. To foster an understanding and appreciation of one’s own rite, and to observe it everywhere unless something is excused by the law (CCEO 40.3)
  2. To maintain communion with the Church (CCEO 12.1)
  3. To fulfill with great diligence the duties owed to the universal Church and to one’s own Church sui iuris (CCEO 12.2)
  4. To participate in the Church’s mission of Evangelization of Souls (CCEO 14)
  5. To avoid any contrary doctrines to the common deposit of faith adhered to by Christ’s faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium (CCEO 15, 598.1)
  6. To firmly accept and hold the everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals. (CCEO 15, 598.2)
  7. To assist with the needs of the Church (CCEO 25.1)
  8. To assist the poor and promote social justice (CCEO 25.2)
  9. To confess serious sins to a priest at soon as possible. (CCEO 719)
  10. To attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, and resting from servile works. (CCEO 199, 378, 880)
  11. To obey the laws of the Church concerning Matrimony (CCEO 800-866)
  12. To observe the days of abstinence and fasting. (CCEO 882)


I would hope that no law proscribes Mass attendance! I would break that law so fast!


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