Sunday Mass Obligation Explained 

Dear friends in Christ,

Last Friday February 12, Bishop Walkowiak announced that the suspension of the Sunday Mass obligation will be lifted beginning Thursday, February 18.  Therefore, this coming weekend, February 20-21, the first Sunday of Lent, the Sunday Mass obligation will again apply as it did before the pandemic.  We are still required to maintain social distancing, mask wearing, and so on, as before.  In order to accommodate the increased attendance, for the time being we are adding an 11:30 Sunday Mass.  We have set up radio transmission if we reach our capacity, in which case people can tune into the Mass from their car radio and come to the door to the church to receive communion.

What is the Sunday Mass obligation all about?  The Third Commandment is to keep holy the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11).  This includes setting this day (for Christians the Sabbath of course is Sunday) aside as a day of worship and of rest.  Part of what it means to be a faithful Catholic includes coming to Mass every Sunday (or Saturday evening for the Sunday Vigil Mass).  This has been referred to as an obligation that all Catholics must fulfill.  Intentionally failing to attend Sunday Mass without good reason (such as illness, caring for a sick family member, blizzards, etc.) is therefore a serious sin which should be confessed. However, in recent decades, the practice of coming to Mass every Sunday has sadly become less common across all Christian denominations, and for Catholics as well.  More and more, Sunday has become a day much like any other, filled with all kinds of activities.

Why is it important for Catholics to attend Mass every Sunday?  Briefly, the Mass is the highest and greatest prayer of the Church.  God has given us the Mass as the form of worship He most desires us to make to Him.  In it, we come together as a community of faith – not isolated individuals – to worship the Lord, to hear His word, and to receive the Body and Blood of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist.  Our worship of the Lord sustains and nourishes us on our journey through this life.  Through the Mass, the Lord shares His grace, or His very life, with us.  It is a great gift and a great privilege for us; Catholics throughout the ages have died for the sake of the Mass.  We should regard it as the gift that it is, not as a burden, and make Sunday Mass the top priority in our week.  Going purely out of a sense of obligation is not at all a bad thing, but even better would be to go because it is an opportunity to worship the Lord as He most desires, and to receive His love.

The bishop as a successor to the apostles has been given the authority to bind and to loose (Matthew 16:19).  This means, for example, that bishops can for good reason temporarily suspend our obligation to attend Sunday Mass.  (Priests however do not have the authority to do this.) Our bishop suspended the Sunday Mass obligation last March in response to the pandemic, meaning that all Catholics could choose to not attend Mass on Sunday due to the pandemic.  However, in line with many other dioceses in the country, Bishop Walkowiak has now seen fit to reinstate it.  This means that all Catholics should make a good faith effort to return to Sunday Mass.

There remain, however, some exceptions, which really are not that different from those that normally apply, i.e. health and other significant reasons – things that are essentially out of one’s control.  If for example, you find yourself on a Sunday far from a Catholic Church and without a car, you would not be guilty of a sin for missing Mass.  On the other hand, if you were particularly tired on a Sunday and decided you just didn’t feel like going, then – better get to confession!

Hopefully this helps in understanding what the Sunday Mass obligation is all about.

Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Bill