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.