Does the Church still teach …?
Does the Church still teach that missing Sunday Mass is a serious sin? We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) that:
“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. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” (CCC #2181).
So the answer to the question is yes, it is a mortal or serious sin to deliberately miss Mass on a Sunday or a Holyday of Obligation, unless you are prevented from doing so for a serious reason. If there is no serious reason, you should go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion again. So what is a serious reason? Apart from illness, and looking after a sick person already mentioned in the above Catechism quote, other legitimate reasons would be no priest being available, dangerous weather conditions, you’re housebound, you’re travelling, your car breaks down, or the nearest Mass is too far away and difficult to get to. We ought not to arrange other activities which will prevent us from attending Sunday Mass because God must always have first place. Of course, the Saturday evening Vigil Mass also fulfils the Sunday obligation. In addition to Sundays, the seven Holydays of Obligation in England and Wales are: Christmas Day, Epiphany, Ascension Thursday, Corpus Christi, St Peter and St Paul, The Assumption of Our Lady and All Saints. Canon Law gives the Parish Priest the authority to dispense from the obligation in individual cases and for a just reason. So if someone has to regularly work on a Sunday and they have tried to persuade their employer to alter the schedule and they have refused, the Parish Priest may transfer the obligation to another day in the week or commute it to some other pious works (Canon #1245). So those are the rules, but why does the Church insist upon attendance at Sunday and Holyday of Obligation Masses under pain of mortal sin?
The first reason is because Sunday is the Lord’s Day and it is also the day of the Resurrection and therefore the Sabbath Day for Christians. From the earliest days of the Church, Christians came together on a Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist (Acts 20:7-8).
It is also in the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8 clearly says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” So God requires our presence, He commands it! The book of Leviticus explains the requirement like this: “Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest and sacred assembly; you shall do no work; it is a Sabbath to the Lord” (23:3). “Sacred assembly” means “church”. So we must attend. And Our Lord Himself obeyed this because the Gospel tells us that He attended the synagogue on the Sabbath habitually (Luke 4:16).
Finally, God has given us everything. He has given us life and so in strict justice we owe Him everything, and so we must worship Him. You might feel closer to God in other places, but that’s not the point. The Sunday Mass obligation isn’t about our feelings. It’s about giving God what is His due. We offer Him our time and our hearts, but we also offer Him the Sacrifice of His own Son on the Cross. This is what the Mass is. And we offer it to God in atonement for our sins and for the salvation of the world. This is the supreme act of worship, and so your presence matters. When you don’t come to Mass, God is less glorified and the world is much less sanctified. God and the world need you to be there.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC