Q. I was taught as a child that it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday, that if you did that and failed to confess it before you died, you would go to hell. Then, I thought, the Second Vatican Council changed this and said it was not a mortal sin anymore. But just recently I read in our diocesan newspaper that Catholics still have a serious obligation to attend, and now I’m confused. Personally, I can’t believe it could be that grave. Can you help to clarify? (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
A. The Second Vatican Council has been blamed for (or sometimes credited with) making a variety of changes it never discussed. One of the things Vatican II did not do was to change church teaching on the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that teaching clearly in No. 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). Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”
Gravity of matter, of course, is just one of the three necessary conditions for a mortal sin — the others being complete consent of the will and full knowledge of the sinful character of the act or omission. Certain circumstances can excuse one from attendance at Mass on a particular Sunday.
The catechism mentions illness and the care of infants, but others might be: unavoidable work obligations, lack of transportation or inclement weather sufficient to put one’s safety at risk. (To skip Mass to go shopping, to play golf or to get a couple extra hours of sleep clearly does not qualify and shows that other priorities have been allowed to replace the Lord.)
To appreciate the seriousness of the obligation, it helps to understand the centrality of the Mass. From the earliest days of the church, disciples of Jesus have gathered for Eucharist on the first day of each week to mark the day of Christ’s resurrection.
In the Mass, the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday coalesce, and those events comprise the core of our faith.
Not incidentally, the Mass also happens to be the one specific way Jesus asked the apostles to keep his memory alive, and the reception of Communion unites us intimately with Christ and strengthens us to live in the manner that Jesus taught.
Q. Is there a book you can suggest that would help a senior citizen to understand the Bible (one that does not require a DVD, etc.)? (Indianapolis)
A. I’m sure that there are many such books, and you would probably get as many answers as the number of priests you asked. One that I have found helpful over the years is called “The Collegeville Bible Handbook.”
It was published by The Liturgical Press in 1997 and contains a one-page summary of each of the 73 books of the Bible as well as a short commentary on the significant sections of each book.
What I particularly like about this handbook is the abundance of color maps and “timelines.” People learn in different ways. For me, it’s helpful to be able to “picture” things, and I seem to be able to do that easily with this book. (I’ve just learned, too, that this 350-page hardback is currently on sale for under $5 — and I don’t even get a commission.)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: Becoming worldly, weak is church’s biggest threat, pope says
NEXT: Pope: People have guts to be ambitious; instead, be courageous for God
I’m dismayed by the majority of these responses.
If you read the whole Bible, the importance of obedience is clear. The prophet Samuel even point-blank tells King Saul at one point that obedience is more important than sacrifice. This was in result to a specific disobedience, in which Saul knew what God wanted him to do, and he instead relied on his own reason to do what he thought better. Samuel’s point was that no amount of offered animals would atone for the disobedience.
At no point does Jesus change that importance. In fact, he reinforced it. Paraphrase: I have not come to rewrite Scripture but fulfill it; if you love me, you will keep my commandments, etc. He also said, “Do this in memory of me.” Jesus established a Church, and St. Paul calls that Church the pillar and foundation of truth. That Church was what became the Roman Catholic Church and varying Orthodox Churches. All those Churches retain the original view that attending Mass on days of obligation and receiving Communion at least once a year during the Easter season was central, and disobedience to the precept is grave matter.
As Father explained in the article, missing a Sunday Mass is a grave matter, but that alone doesn’t make it a mortal sin. Equally important, being in a state of mortal sin doesn’t mean we have to die in a state of mortal sin. Maybe instead of arguing that God should bend to our designs and will if He really is loving and merciful (and He is, but He’s also God), we should bend to His designs and Will, as taught by the pillar of truth He established, and get to confession.
If one reads the catechism or even the short list on Wikipedia it is clear that in the Catholic Church no one is saved unless they are some kind of superhuman or go to confession every hour. This is one reason among many that I dumped the Church. I think all religions are superstitious nonsense, but Roman catholicism makes the needles eye so tight that no one is able to be saved. Keep in mind birth control, failure to pay a fair wage, not believing in even the smallest doctrine of the Church and on and on are all mortal sins. It never ends. No wonder people leave.The clergy commit heinous sins and never repent but they lay this heavy yoke upon all others.
When I miss mass I feel very guilty. The problem is that I have extreme anxiety. I want very much to be with the Lord and to fulfill my obligations. Sometimes to sit with my thoughts while in mass can be almost unbearable. Life can overwhelm me. Then I think that I am just being lazy. I hope God forgives me when I miss. I love him greatly.
Maybe this is one example of why so many have left the Catholic Church. The Bilble states clearly that we cannot save ourselves, lest we brag. Do we listen to the Bible or my church? It is indeed very frightening to think that one mortal sin will send on straight to Hell. I do not remember that being said in the Bible. To me, this is a very sad teaching
Imagine finding your soul mate. You know that one person you can’t wait to be intimate with and give yourself to completely. Then imagine making it to your wedding night and your new spouse says “I love you but I’m too tired, I’m busy painting my toes, I’m…. whatever.” How rejected would you feel? When we miss Mass on Sunday we are rejecting our soul mate, our spouse, Jesus. Would you feel as connected to your wife or husband of you were not consummating your marriage on a regular basis? We miss out on graces given to us through the sacraments especially when we don’t show up ready to receive Him, on purpose. I am guilty too. And I miss Him. When you’re in love you want to give and receive as much as possible. I argue, if you’re in love with Jesus you’ll want to receive Him regularly, as often as possible.
Many times I go to the chapel at our church. I do miss Mass on Sunday at times. I love going to the chapel and being alone and praying and talking to Jesus. There are no distractions. At times I go there instead of Mass.
If you are a giving, kind, good and helpful person during your lifetime, but do not attend Mass, why would God punish us for this in going to hell because of Mortal sins, why bother being a good person, etc. during your lifetime if you know the outcome is Hell for eternity. Is this a just God? I thought God was all forgiving. Is this a church law or did this come from Christ himself? I feel depressed if this is my outcome at the end of my life.
Disciples were Jews they did not take communion. This happened at what is referred to as the last supper which actually was the Passover Seder . His disciples would have never missed Passover and Jesus told them as often as they celebrate Passover they were to remember him and what he did for them. Part of the Passover ritual actually includes this . But it was somehow turned into something to do every week.
Whether or not someone has a serious reason to attend Church, I loathe the fact that it is obligatory. I do not want to attend mass for the sole purpose of not dying in mortal sin and henceforth not going to hell. How can I go to church when going out of obligation will make me feel raped, forced, manipulated!. I believe in God, pray and know He has been present in my life but I cannot accept that all other good deeds I do or that the kindness of my heart are not enough for God. I feel so angry right now! So, should I assume that all the bad things that happen to me despite being a good person are a direct consequence of not going to church? This cannot be true! I really hope that the God we believe in is more forgiving that us humans on earth. I would hope that God doesn’t use coersion or punishment as a means to salvation. So, of not going to church without serious reason means I’ll go the hell despite all the other components if my life, then I may as well give up on everything! I am so sad right now!
Grace…your name says it all. When we miss communion purposefully, we reject the grace God gives us in that sacrament. If you have a catholic bible you should read the gospel of John,I mean the whole thing. Jesus was so adamant about his body being the bread of life that we must eat (John 6:54-58). We have food to nourish our bodies but the Eucharist is the food to nourish our souls (John 6:64-65. Unless we go to mass we do not receive the life that Jesus offers us. How else can we? Don’t be afraid to go to confession,it’s like psychiatry for the soul.It helps heal the wounds that sin has left on the soul and the grace of the Eucharist fills in what is left of the scars. Bishop Fulton J Sheen had a good sermon on confession, it might be on you tube. Yes it is a mortal sin to miss mass, I’ve always known that and yet through laziness I committed that sin.Too ashamed to go to confession but the bishops sermon changed that.The seven deadly sins are rampant today and laziness (sloth) is one of them. Laziness and indifference are the two things that separate us from Christ. You don’t have to go to mass if you are sick, infirm or snowed in and for that there is the mass on TV. If you go you will really feel like a part of the body of Christ. Don’t be angry at the church,she is just doing her job to help save our souls. God give you grace and PEACE.
I’ve missed Sunday Mass due to an ongoing pain problem. I was involved in a few collisions that left me with ongoing pain. I’m 67 years old and am very Religious. I’m afraid I’m in moral sin. Will you please help me with my question?
God wishes us to attend mass and to find it spiritually rewarding and consoling to us. I attend many weekday masses and they are so different to the noise, late arrivals and early departures of some who attend Sunday mass. God demands we love him, and to be honest, I think if one misses mass and reads scripture or does a good deed one has done the will of God. The idea that one is damned for missing mass is problematic for me. God’s demand is we love God and one another. So, do non-Catholics all go to hell even if their moral lives are superior to many Sunday-only Catholic church goers?
I never went to Church and was a life long atheist. My devout Catholic girlfriend, now fiance, never missed Sunday Mass and told me how important going was, so I started accompanying her every week. This aroused my curiosity about all the rituals, readings, songs and more. With added knowledge I eventually enjoyed it so much that I felt I had to go, even more than once a week and, so, I’d sometimes go on my own.
I felt a comfort in the experience and started reading the Bible, with the scholarly notes helping me give a context to the reading. I joined an RCIA class for the added depth of what I was experiencing, wanting to learn along with others. Realizing the importance of prayer I experienced its many advantages and soon felt a need to join my girlfriend in faith as I felt more comfortable believing than not believing.
I’m at the point, now, where I need to convert to Catholicism as it is a good fit for me at my age now. I look forward to the day I can join in Communion and find that believing in God and Jesus fulfills what was missing previously.
I understand the importance of going to Church and sharing the love with others. So, I totally accept that not going to Mass is a sin.
Hopefully this helps. It helped me a lot and brought me to understand two very important things – (1) God gave me a brain for a reason and (2) God’s goodness and mercy are limitless.
It was in 1963 during my junior year at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit school.
We had all just arrived and took our seats for an English literature class. The professor was a Jesuit, Father Richard Grady. Father Grady wrote the movie “Angels in the Outfield” under a pen name.
In any case, at the beginning of class one of the students (all students were male at the time)asked Father if we go to hell for eating meat on Friday.
Grady walked up to him and asked in a gruff voice (that’s how he talked) “do you study theology and philosophy at this university?”.
The student nodded “yes”.
Grady – “In theology and philosophy classes have you learned that God is all knowing, all merciful, all just?”
Student nods “yes”.
Grady – “Now, did I just describe a Being capable of condemning your soul to Hell for eternity for eating meat on Friday?”
I learned more about God in the one or two minutes during Grady’s literature class than I had combined Catholic grade school, high school and college.
The way I see it, a God who becomes man and suffers for me the way Jesus did doesn’t give a damn if I eat a hot dog on Friday.
It’s about Jesus. It’s not about Popes, Cardinals, Bishops.
Leon, I love your response. Thanks. This is truly about Jesus. Pope, Bishop etc. can be just a lost men sometimes.
does going to service on ash Wednesday count as weekly church commitment.if I go on ash weds do I have to go that sunday too.
Ash Wednesday mass is not a substitute for the Sunday obligation. We must attend the sunday mass. Some parishes offer anticipated mass on saturday afternoon which has the Sunday gospel. That fulfills the sunday obligation.
Your answer has a poetic quality but it blurs distinctions and makes little sense.
The Church does not teach that you commit moral sin here because you have a poor relationship with God, or that if you deliberately miss Sunday Mass you are unfit to spend eternity with God and it is this that results in a state of mortal sin.
Rather the Church teaches specifically that to deliberately miss Mass on Sunday without a serious reason is a mortal sin – assuming the two other necessary conditions of full knowledge and full consent. And concerning mortal sin the Church teaches, as you know, that to die in a state of mortal sin results in everlasting Hell in the company of Satan and the devils.
Your “explanation” simply avoids the specificity of this teaching and attempts to find justification for its apparent harshness elsewhere: in the person’s attitude and interiority rather than in the object of the action which is what the teaching concerns itself with. Hence your “explanation” fails because it has fallen short of the object of the act itself.
Or in other words, you failed to explain how the action of intentional absence from Sunday Mass on one weekend is equivalent – in its spiritual consequence – to the actions of murder, rape, abortion, euthanasia, etc.
Consider that a person could go to Sunday Mass every week of their life and also to Daily Mass on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of the same week that they deliberately/intentionally miss Mass on Sunday without a serious reason. According to the teaching of the Church outlined above by Fr. Doyle this person would thus deliberate fail in their “obligation” and so commit “grave [i.e. mortal] sin”. This person is then in the same spiritual company as murderers, rapists, abortionists, etc.
Additionally, the notion of “serious reason” is vulnerable to sensible criticism. If the action of attending Sunday Mass is so extremely important that intentional absence will result in mortal sin and everlasting damnation (if the person dies without absolution), then upward pressure on strength of what is “serious” is only logical: “Is my reason really serious enough? Am I really so ill that I can’t get in my car and stand at the back of church for an hour? Couldn’t I arrange somehow that my infant come with me? Should I not go the extra mile and make other arrangements to circumvent whatever apparently “serious reason” stands between me and fulfilling such an important obligation?”
This teaching of the Church seems to be based not on love which, within reasonable bounds, treasures a person’s freedom to choose, but rather on compulsion, obsessiveness, and an unnecessary scrupulosity which result in silly theological conclusions.
In a spirit of honest conversation and exchange if anyone can answer these comments I’d like to hear what you can say. But please reflect fully on the above before giving it a go.
Is It A Sin if You Are Out Of Town And Do Not Go To Mass Even Though You Are The Only Who Cares About Missing Mass For JUST 1 WEEKEND ??
What is your relationship with God? If you really can’t make the effort to spend ONE hour with Him on Sunday, how are you going to spend all eternity with Him? You have six other days of the week to pursue your own interests. We go to Mass in Memory of Him.
That’s the issue people pursue their OWN interest and not God’s. So even if they go to church they are going for the wrong reasons, one has to live a life for God not just 1 hour. So if a man chooses never to go to church, but submits himself to the lord he to will enter in the Kingdom. Just as a person who does go o church faithfully, but does not submit himself will be going south if you know what I mean. yes church is a great place to be with like minded people and to learn about Christ, but it is not what brings you one with God. Also, whats the difference between a Mortal sin and a (Regular sin) like stealing a pack of gum or something?
Is it a mortal sin if you miss Mass because you don’t have a way to get there? Visiting from out of town and I don’t have a car to use.
You will not be eternally damned if you miss church on Sunday’s. God is not one to punish you eternally for a sin like this. It is important to attend mass on a weekly basis for spiritual enlightenment. If you are a good person, you will be rewarded for it, you must repent your sins to Jesus or God for forgiveness, and you must strive to not commit the same sins repeatedly.
I hope this helps you understand that Jesus Christ and God only punish those who are truly wicked.
You say you must repent to Jesus or God, they are one in the same is this not taught in Catholic school.
Dear Father Doyle
I was discussing the matter of missing Mass on a Sunday with a friend of mine who is a Roman Catholic convert. He was under the impression that missing Mass on a Sunday is not a mortal sin. As an ex-Catholic I told him that I had been taught that deliberately missing Mass on a Sunday for no valid reason is a mortal sin. Hence my seeking clarification via the internet. I believe your explanation supports my position. Further to this I reminded my friend that to die with a mortal sin on your soul will guarantee Hell for all Eternity. Although your explanation implies it you do not say specifically say this. Am I right. If I am right eternal damnation seems harsh to say the least; don’t you think.