When are we technically "late" for mass?

I did a quick search and couldn’t find an answer to this question. If we arrive after mass started at what point in the mass are we technically late and it’s a mortal sin? I seem to remember in my catholic school education 20+ years ago Sister Aurea telling us if we arrived after the Gospel reading we’re technically late. My mother tells me if you arrive after the priest’s opening greeting you’re late. Also, if you’re late through no fault of your own, at what point are you not supposed to take communion? Sorry if I posted this in the wrong forum, but you all seem so knowledgable.

Usually it is when you are late for the gospel.

From what I understand, there never has been an “official” definition of late for mass. If there were, I promise you that the Church would be almost empty up and until THAT point.

Mass begins when Fr says “let us begin in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and ends when he says “The Mass has ended, go in peace.” The rest is up to your well-formed conscience.

In order for it to be a mortal sin, one’s lateness would have had to be done with full consent. If one leaves at about the normal time but hits unexpected traffic, road work, a detour, etc.; then it would not be a mortal sin.

The ‘old’ ruling was that you had to be present for the offertory, consecration, and communion to meet the Sunday obligation. Arriving after the beginning of the offertory meant that you had ‘missed’ mass. If another mass was available, you had to attend it to fulfull your obligation. This was the letter of the law. In Catholic school (early 1950’s) we were advised that if we had missed the gospel we should stay for the following mass until the gospel was read.

So suppose I’m late through no fault of my own and arrive during offetory, then I haven’t sinned and it’s fine to receive communion? What if I arrive just as communion is being distributed? It just doesn’t feel right to receive communion if I’ve totally missed the Liturgy of the Word,even if it isn’t my fault.

Asking “when am I considered late for Mass” is kind of like asking “when am I considered late for Thanksgiving dinner”.
There’s simply no one-size-fits-all answer. There’s too many variables to give a blanket answer.

Essentially, if you’re late through no fault of your own then there’s no sin involved. But if you realize that you’re going to miss nearly half the Mass, perhaps its best to wait for the next Mass or attend a later Mass somewhere else.

I am not sure it was *never *official – But if it ever was, it is not now.

If you reach the distribution station before the Minister of Holy Communion has left it, and you are properly disposed otherwise, you may receive the Eucharist.

NB: Receiving or not receiving has no bearing on the fulfillment one’s obligation to assist at Mass.


My understanding (per Fr Robert Altier) is that being late for Mass isn’t a mortal sin but a venial sin. It’s missing Mass altogether that is the mortal sin.

I don’t think you can be said to have missed Mass altogether if you were present for Offertory, Consecration and Communion

Amen :slight_smile:

@samovila: Since you’re being technical you are late if you arrive after mass starts and if you arrive after communion, you might as well not go in. I doubt seriously it would be a mortal sin, after all you need full knowledge, complete consent and grave matter.

At our parish they say the rosary just before mass - you would be surprised or maybe not at how many parishioners wait until the rosary is over before coming into church. :eek:

Unless, of course, you had already received that day, in which case you would have had to attend the whole Mass to be able to receive (sorry if that was implicit in ‘properly disposed’, I wasn’t sure).

:blush: Apologies if this seems overly picky, I realise from the OP that it’s unlikely to be relevant to this case, but since we were getting technical anyway… :twocents:

Once again, too implicit for my own good. :wink:

Yes, there are a number of conditions which might cause one to not be properly disposed. That is one of them.


IMHO, you are late if the procession has started, but then I am from the Deep South where blowing in late is considered, as we used to say, vulgar. I cannot imagine that many people would be late to an appointment with their mayor, but they seem to think nothing of dropping into Mass whenever they happen to get there.

Of course, there are going to be accidents on the way or other things that are unexpected. The occasional lateness should be the exception and not the norm. I simply am amazed at the people who make it a habit. In our last parish, you could almost set your watch by one man who always arrived 11 minutes late and then walked down to a seat at the front. You could never convince me that there were road blockages or whatever each Sunday at exactly the same time.

With the unexpected things that happen in life, there should be a small percentage of people late each Mass. There is no reason it should be 25% or more arriving late every Sunday.

You are late if you arrive after the opening hymn has begun, and you are leaving early if you leave before the last note is played.


For the record, Mass begins when the first note of the opening hymn is played and you are late for Mass if the Presider has already processed in. You should not present yourself for
Communion of you arrive after the start of the Liturgy of the Word. In other words, if you didn’t hear the first reading, you missed the start of the Liturgy of the Word. Also, Mass is not over until the Presider has left the Sanctuary and the recessional song has finished not after you have received Communion.

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