Friday, December 19, 2008

To My Northern Readers

Someone found my blog today by searching for the words "Catholic missing Mass due to snow."

While the Catechism only gives two examples of serious reasons to miss Mass, specifically illness or the care of infants (sometimes translated 'young children'), these are by no means the only serious reasons one may have to miss Mass.

Travel concerns can't be brushed aside. Sometimes one may not be able to get to Sunday Mass because of distance, or a problem with transportation, and these sorts of things are usually out of our hands. When weather conditions exist that make it unsafe to drive, in that you may not arrive safely, may cause problems for emergency crews, etc., it is my opinion that this would indeed constitute a serious reason that would permit one to miss Mass.

Remember, the Catechism puts it this way:
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.
It's my understanding that ordinarily one's pastor will only dispense one if there is a reason you know about in advance, or a continuing situation of some kind (e.g., business travel to Saudi Arabia). Inclement weather usually has to be assessed at the time it happens, as does illness or the needs of an infant.

Here in Texas we don't get icy/snowy weather very often; the downside of that is that we also don't have a lot of road-clearing equipment. So it's been my family's practice to go to the Texas Department of Transportation website and check out road conditions. When they issue advisories that strongly state that only emergency travel should be undertaken, and that for anything less than an emergency you should stay at home, we take that seriously--and yes, that has led to one Sunday where we remained indoors and missed Mass. That particular storm came in Saturday afternoon, so the chance to go to an anticipation Mass was not there, and the icy roads weren't any better until late Monday or early Tuesday from what I remember.

The point is that we don't, as a family, take missing Mass lightly. We wanted to go to Mass that Sunday, and hoped that the weather would clear up in time for a noon or even a 5 p.m. Mass. But it didn't, and we saw lots of examples on the news of people who went out and drove anyway and had to be pulled out of ditches, so we knew our reasons for not attending were good ones.

Many people today don't live within walking distance of a Catholic parish. Many of us have to rely on car transportation, which means paying attention to driving conditions. If we make the prudent decision to stay home and find out later that the roads weren't as bad as the Transportation Department was telling us, there would still be no sin, provided we had done our best to ascertain the truth of the situation. This is because, as the Catechism puts it, we have to "deliberately fail in this obligation" to be guilty of sin; trying to figure out if you can make it to church safely and concluding, reluctantly, that you can't, isn't a deliberate failure of the obligation to attend Mass, but an attempt to consider honestly a serious reason that may be an impediment to the obligation.

Clearly, each family and each storm will be different. If there's a thin and melting layer of snow on the road and you have a four-wheel drive vehicle equipped with snow tires etc., there's probably not really a valid reason to stay at home. But as the Northeast and Midwest continue to be blanketed by heavy snow, and as Chicago officials tell people point blank to stay off the roads unless travel is absolutely necessary, many Catholics may have to pay close attention to the weather this weekend and make good choices about whether the inclemency constitutes a serious reason to stay at home and miss Mass.


Melanie B said...

Last year we did live within walking distance of a Catholic church and still decided it was most prudent not to try to get to mass. We lived on a busy street, the sidewalks had not all been shoveled yet and the snow was still falling thickly so that my husband deemed escorting a very pregnant wife and a one-year-old down the middle of the road to the church three blocks away was not a risk he was willing to take.

I'd have gone for it if the decision had been up to me, but this was a real-life moment when that whole wifely obedience thing kicked in and I decided it was his place to decide what risks we could take and I didn't argue with him.

freddy said...

Melanie: a very good example of both prudence and wifely obedience!

Where we live, our county issues advisories that include giving out tickets to those who are on the road in the most extreme conditions. It's a very good guide as to when to stay home.

Bottom line, if trying to get to Mass would put yourself or others in danger (beyond the normal!), then stay home and offer prayers!

Anonymous said...

Your post is timely - we are in Seattle not going to Mass right now, as it has been very icy the last few days due to snow on Thurs/ Fri, and is now snowing again and expected to continue through tonmorrow. We don't have much snow clearing equipment here either as it usually only snows once or twice a winter. This week has been different because the snow is coming during a cold snap, so it is not melting. We almost never miss mass, but as you said, if it is dangerous to be driving that is a valid reason to stay home.

Anonymous said...

Where I grew up as a kid it was not unheard of to put the chains on the car tires at some point in winter and leave them on until the icy season had melted, but wouldn't expect that to be something someone would be commonly skilled for winter driving nowadays. The commandment is to honor the Lord's day and what better way than to participate in Mass, but if in so doing would endanger lives, why dishonor the Lord by making foolish decisions with God-given gray matter?

LeeAnn said...

Well, we did make it out today, despite the ice and snow. We put the chains on the van and found that outside our neighborhood, it wasn't bad at all. We did take a little longer than normal to get ready though so we ended up at the 12 noon Spanish Mass at our parish. My 5yo had some mysterious anxiety about going to this Mass--afterward she said, "Well, this is pretty much just like our regular church!" There are plenty of our friends though that couldn't get out of their driveways, just too hilly and icy. My 9yo was hoping we ended up staying home so we could pretend Mass with Dad as the priest and some crackers and grape juice. I said no.