Monday, December 1, 2008

On Missing Mass

Thanks to the continued grip of the Cold of Endless Crud, I missed Mass yesterday morning--for the second week in a row.

The first week I expected it: I had just come down with the durned thing and was still running a fever. But having made it through Thanksgiving, and a Friday tour of the retirement community my in-laws hope to move to here in Texas and Saturday's choir practice, I would have thought...

...except I didn't. A little more than halfway through Saturday's choir practice I felt ill enough to ask my children if they minded leaving early; I apologized to our choir director, and we left.

Truth is, I had hit the wall, hard. And though I tried to get up for Mass Sunday morning, it took a shower and a partial attempt at dressing for me to realize just how unwise it was going to be for me to go anywhere beyond the confines of my bed for most of the day. Which was disappointing, as in addition to Sunday it was my in-laws' last day visiting with us and their 49th wedding anniversary to boot, but I couldn't do anything but grit my teeth and accept the reality that I was out of commission.

Because, stubborn redhead that I am, I hadn't admitted that any time earlier during the week. And I did too much, and refused to miss any part of the Thanksgiving celebrations with my in-laws or my own parents who were also in town; I kept saying that I was fine, even though I wasn't, not really. And by Saturday I had reached the point where willpower and stubbornness were no match for the lack of sleep, the waves of nausea from all the congestion, the nagging cough and the lightheadedness; this was still true Sunday morning, and most of the day Sunday--I didn't really start feeling like a human being again until around 8 p.m.

As a good Catholic, I take the obligation to attend Mass very seriously. At times in my past I've had a legalistic approach toward this question, which is not what the Church intends, though; and that can be a problem.

The Catechism puts it this way:
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.

I've had problems with the "unless excused for a serious reason" part of this before, and here's why: the Church doesn't spell it out. "Illness" is mentioned as the sort of serious reason that excuses one--but what constitutes "illness"? Should you be running a fever? In the hospital? Contagious? Is it enough that the room spins a bit when you stand up? What if you feel sick to your stomach, but don't know if you're really ill? Should you chance it? And the care of infants is mentioned, but what about toddlers, or young children who aren't infants but who are sick enough to want Mommy there the whole day? Transportation issues aren't mentioned, nor weather conditions, nor anything else that might be serious enough to make you think twice about getting to Mass. What's a good Catholic to do?

After a while, though, and with some good spiritual advice, I learned to relax about these kinds of things. The Church's teachings are so beautifully consistent, and in a way a teaching like this one isn't that different from the passage, much discussed, about torture. The Church says, "Don't torture," and expects us to make that the guiding principle from which all prudential decisions flow. The Church says, "Go to Mass," and expects us to make that the guiding principle, as well. If our regular habits and general intentions are that we are going to Mass, no question about it, then we needn't worry when some impediment springs up that makes one Sunday or even a succession of Sundays an exception to that general principle.

For instance, when I was trying to get ready Sunday morning, I prayed that I would be able to go to Mass, because I really wanted to do so; but after Saturday's wake-up call where I had less energy and stamina than I thought I could muster I also prayed that I would be able to make the right decision. Our Lord heard my prayer, and His answer, coming through the nausea and the coughing, was, "Stay home." I knew that even if I had gone I might only have made it to the bench in the back that's nearest the restroom, and spent Mass dragging back and forth between these two places--worse, I might have made my family leave early to take me home, and put them in the position of possibly needing to go again later. So I stayed home, said some prayers, and fell into the first deep sleep I'd had in days.

This is, after all, what we're supposed to do when we are in the place where we need to make a prudential decision: consider what our Church teaches, consider our circumstances, pray, make the decision in accordance with Church teaching, and then be at peace. There is no special level of "illness" or of needing to care for others that automatically obligates you to stay at home; this is why these are prudential decisions, because two people in roughly the same circumstances may make two different choices and both of them may be equally correct in their own situations.

One mother may stay home with a colicky teething nursing infant; another may go to Mass, expecting to stand in the back for much of it, but needing to be present as best she can be. One person battling a winter cold may stay home either for his own sake or for the sake of those fragile parishioners whom he may endanger with his virus; another may feel well enough to go to Mass, but will prudently bow towards those near him instead of shaking their hands at the Sign of Peace. One person with a four-wheel drive vehicle may venture out on uncleared roads in a snowstorm; another may pray at home, aware that the family's old car in need of new tires isn't safe under these circumstances. And so long as none of them takes the obligation to attend Mass lightly, or is, as the Catechism says, "deliberately fail(ing)" in the obligation to attend Mass, they needn't worry about the specifics of their prudential decision.

In my case, I apologized to my husband and children for being unable to accompany them yet again, and asked them to pray for me. When they came home, they told me that they had, and that the choir also had prayed for me (we say a little prayer together after each Mass is over). An elderly friend told my family he'd offered his Mass for me and hoped I'd soon be well. With such rich blessings as these I am sure that I soon will be, and will return to my ordinary practice of attending Sunday Mass this coming Sunday, God willing.


Tim J. said...

Sorry you have felt so cruddy, lately.

Praying for your quick recovery.

Juli said...

I struggle so much with when is it okay to miss Mass. Not that I want to, because I love to go. But last week my husband was sick and so was my baby. I didn't want to leave him home alone to take care of the baby and a two year old that doesn't behave. This week we were stuck in a foot of snow. I don't struggle as much with the sick times, but sometimes my husband has to work on Sundays and we can hardly manage our two year old together let alone me by myself with a two year old an infant and the older ones. Do you have a thought on the last one? Is it okay to miss church if all I would be doing is wrestling with a toddler and infant and disturbing everybody else? I know it's not the same, but I do watch Mass at home on those days.

Mary Poppins NOT said...

I hope you recover soon. Rest!!

freddy said...

Praying for you!

Juli: a few thoughts from a mom with seven.

1. Talk this over with your priest or a good spiritual advisor and your husband. They'd have a better feel for where you are and where you need to be and be better able to advise you.

2. Depending on how old the older ones are, you might just go (and stand in back with the little one) for their sakes. I have a 20 mo. old who is an unholy terror at Mass these days, but am blessed that my olders can actually help with him or at least mind the 4yo when we're in the back.

3. If going to Mass with the children & no husband leaves you wrung out and frazzled, condsider treating yourself (once in a while) to a sitter. Balanced with toughing it out once in a while, missing Mass once in a while, and going Saturday night once in a while (if that's an option), it might help keep you sane on those Sundays your husband has to work.

4. (Finally!) Don't worry about it. Do what you have to do and try not to measure what you can do with what other people seem to be able to do. Just know that whatever you do is for Our Lord and for your family, and relax.

Rebecca said...

Red, I'm sorry you're sick. I recommend taking a bunch of bee propolis and pushing fluids. The bee propolis always helps me and I've been able to avoid antibiotics for a few years now.

Rebecca (another Red)

Anonymous said...

Glad you're feeling better, Red, and that there was a chance for a good 'sleep' finally.

After a serious viral infection in my late 30's (with long-term ill effects-- contracted after being 'run down' for weeks on end during a flu season), I learned the hard way that when the immune system is depleted, it's dicey to go out to be exposed potentially to worse 'bugs' (as those that depended on me also bore the brunt of long-lasting consequences), as well as ... not knowing if exposed others to that raging flu 'bug'.

So, take it easy. And, take walks, but don't overdo the intensity that keeps one from adequate rest--my advice.

Maclin said...

I've missed Mass very few times in my going-on-30 years of being a Catholic--a few times sick, a few times traveling. My basic rule can be summed up as "good faith effort." Doesn't sound like you had any reason to worry about meeting that test. Especially since we've learned how diseases are transmitted, the decision to go to Mass when genuinely ill isn't just a matter of one's own heroics.

NancyP said...

I base my "miss Mass" decision on several factors. As you rightly point out, some parishes have a large population of older people, who might end up with pneumonia if you coughed on them.

We were in a parish like this for two years, where most members were older, the nearest hospital was an hour away, the church was tiny, the facilities were cleaned by the parishioners (which means the arm rests were never disinfected) - you get the idea. I stayed home with a bad cough, for fear of infecting my friends. Now, I feel okay about attending with my cough if I stay out of folks' way - different parish.

Feel better soon!

Anonymous said...

so glad for this article!! i just missed mass this past sunday due to illness and i wrestled with myself all day do i go do i not go and essenitally what i decided is i would be sitting in the back falling asleep and feeling terrible. this article put my guilt ridden heart at rest. dont torture!!

thanks! :)