Monday, July 25, 2011

Missing part of Mass

Somebody found my blog on Sunday by searching for the phrase, "missing part of Sunday Mass." The search engine brought up this old post of mine (along with some others about missing Mass generally on various sites).

I know what it is like to be scrupulous about such things; in fact, I told the mother of a young child just the other day that my own mother used to say, jokingly, that she felt like an atheist until each child was about two, because of all the time she spent in the vestibule with the baby and not really able to participate fully at Mass. Of course, those caring for small children have a good reason why they may not be able to attend Mass at all, so I think "vestibule duty" is setting a terrific example of heroic suffering and participating as much as one is able, anyway.

I can't, of course, assume that the person asking the question is actually being scrupulous, though. In fact, I can't assume anything at all about his or her motives in writing this query; but since the query existed, I figure it can't hurt to put out an answer of sorts--as always, subject to correction by the Church if I misstate anything.

So: is it a sin to miss part of a Sunday Mass?

The old answer used to seem to be that so long as you came in either by the Gospel (in some versions) or by the Offertory (in others) you were fine. As Jimmy Akin points out in this post of his from about four years ago, though, the liturgical law does not at present draw a clear line at which point a person has missed so much of a Mass that he must go again in order to fulfill the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday--and, of course, all Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation unless prohibited for a serious reason (and the Catechism lists such things as illness and the care of children as examples of some serious reasons one may legitimately miss Mass on a Sunday). So, today, the questions about whether one has satisfied the obligation to assist at Mass if one has arrived late will have varying answers depending on many circumstances, some of which I'll discuss here.

The first question is: Have I arrived late to Mass or missed some part of the Mass through my fault and for no good reason? A late arrival, for instance, because one is attending Mass at an unknown church in an unfamiliar town and one gets lost in traffic on the way is probably not one's fault; a late arrival to the last Mass of the day because one was drinking heavily the night before and slept through one's alarm clock might be. Or, for another example, missing part of Mass because one's toddler suddenly needs an urgent diaper change or because one is beset by a coughing fit that is distracting to others (and that sends one in search of the water fountain in the parish hall) is clearly not a fault, but missing part of Mass because one is bored and decides to go surf the Internet on one's phone out in the parking lot clearly is. And then there is the question of early leaving: if one has to leave Mass before the end of Mass because, for instance, one is a nurse and must be at work by 10:00 a.m. and the visiting missionary priest gave a thirty minute homily at the 8:00 a.m. Mass instead of the usual five minute one, one is fine; so is someone taken ill during Mass, someone who must leave with a screaming child, and so forth. But the person who leaves after receiving Communion just to be first in line at a popular brunch spot probably needs a bit of soul-searching.

The second question is: if I have missed a significant portion of the Mass, must I attend another? Here, I can share an experience: long ago, we went for the first time to a church an hour away from home with three children under age 3 on Palm Sunday. We got lost on the way there, and arrived either as the Passion reading was concluding or the homily was beginning (at this space of time, I can't recall exactly). The church was packed, and we stood in the back with the girls. The Mass was a noon Mass (we had thought that would give us plenty of time to arrive in the distant city and find the church, but we were wrong). There was no 5 p.m. Mass closer than another city three hours away from the city we were in, and no Mass later than that noon one that was even remotely possible for us to attend, even if three young toddlers could have made it through a late afternoon or evening Mass--there simply wasn't another Mass available. So although it wasn't ideal for us to have missed so much of the Mass, we realized that this was the only Mass we were going to be able to attend that day, and we made the best of it.

Sometimes, of course, arriving late or missing a significant part of Mass doesn't mean you can't go later to another Mass, and each person has to decide what is prudent and what is necessary. I have known young moms who sneak off to an evening Mass just because the morning Mass complete with young children was such a distracted and interrupted experience that they crave another encounter with our Eucharistic Lord, and while it may not be strictly necessary, it's never a bad thing, provided it can reasonably be done.

The bottom line, to me, is this: if you did not intend to miss part of the Sunday Mass, and you ended up missing a part for no fault of your own, you are fine. If you miss a significant part (even through no fault of your own) and can attend another Mass you are always free to do so, but whether you are obligated to do so will depend on individual circumstances to such a degree that you may have to consult with your pastor to be sure. Certainly if you miss part of Mass for a serious reason, such as needing to rush out of Mass with a child displaying signs of illness, and the child remains ill for the rest of the Sunday, you have the ordinary sort of serious reason which removes the obligation to attend Mass. If the reason is less serious and you can easily attend another Mass, certainly you may choose to do so. But if you missed a significant part of the Mass through laziness, indifference, or something else that is definitely your fault, the situation is somewhat different; if the fault is habitual, you may find it prudent to address it in the sacrament of Penance.


Charlotte said...

My traddy friend recently told me, with a straight face, about the whole "you didn't meet your Sunday obligation if you missed the Gospel reading" thing.

I laughed out loud at her.

Sorry, but I did. I can barely handle all the rules and regulations of the Church as it is. If I have to worry about somthing like that, well, then, I just don't know. Especially since we're the kind of people who show up that late to mass maybe once or twice a year as it is - if late at all.

I could care less about what point the mass is at if I show up late. I mean, if I was so late that I thought mass was half over, I wouldn't even bother going.

Besides, a person doesn't know how late they're going to be when they're late, anyway. We've got a priest here in town who does a weekend mass on Sunday afternon where if you're even 10 minutes late, you might be walking in on the offeratory. OK, that's an exaggeration, but sort of not.

eulogos said...

I am habitually late pretty much everywhere, and this includes church. I mean, when I was in college, I was late to seminar (the most important part of my college program) to the point where I missed the opening question. I was late at times as a nurse's aide, to the point where I missed report. I have been late to meet someone I was desperately in love with. I have lost jobs over this. I still struggle with it in my current job, where the parameters are quite loose. I once let a therapist try to hypnotize me and make positive suggestions to see if that would such luck.

Yesterday I was late, but Father was later. What a relief!

I have confessed being late to Liturgy, although I admit this was partially to apologize to the priest as well in the hopes of obtaining assistance from the grace of the sacrament. I think it helped for a while.

Jacque said...

I feel sorry for people who are aways late. I don't think it is ever intentional.

On the other end of the spectrim, I am always early, so early that sometimes the place is still locked up. I have tried to come later but I just can't seem to do it.

So if I can't control getting someplace to early, how can I expect someone who is always late to get there on time?

Late people irratate me, but I do have sympathy for them.

Hector_St_Clare said...

Weirdly enough, I hear that the Orthodox actually have a rubric about this: apparently if you arrive too late and miss the Gospel reading, you're not allowed to take communion.

MacBeth Derham said...

My daughter's Sundays are often very busy with gigs (she is a student violinist, and must book gigs on weekends for money). One Sunday she had to leave Mass at the offertory, but ran into the post-offertory end of a later Mass. When she went to confession a few days later, the priest laughed (in a kindly way) and gave her credit for the effort.

Kimberly Margosein said...

Don't worry, Charlotte. Just hate gays extra hard during the week.

Charlotte said...


You're talking to someone who was involved in gay relationships for years, so take your juvenile rhetoric to someone who's stupid enough to buy into it.

I've marched in the marches, I've carried the banners, I've been to the gay committment ceremonies and I've been to the gay AIDS funerals, too. Spare me. I know how the gay community works and I know how they think.

Anonymous said...

When my brother and I were babies/toddlers back in the pre/early-Vatican II era, my parents went to separate Masses -- they didn't bring us along until we were each about 4 or 5 years old and capable of sitting reasonably still throughout the proceedings.

It was their understanding (and it's mine as well) that children below the age of reason are NOT obligated to attend Mass -- and parents, therefore, are not obligated to bring them along at all times.

Waiting until we were older to attend Mass doesn't seem to have hurt me or my brother at all, since we have both been faithful practicing Catholics to this day.

I understand the desire to keep the family together and impress the children with the importance of Sunday Mass from an early age. Still, parents of children in the "terrible twos" stage shouldn't feel bad if they leave the kids home once in a while with the other parent or another family member so they can enjoy some peace at Mass.
Just my two cents.


Kimberly Margosein said...

I've marched in the marches, I've carried the banners, I've been to the gay committment ceremonies and I've been to the gay AIDS funerals, too.

I bet that had tongues wagging.

eulogos said...

Kimberly, why are you here making unpleasant comments about "hating gays" on a thread which is about being late to mass?

And I don't think Charlotte has kept her past a secret or she wouldn't have spoken of it so casually here. Furthermore, it is no surprise to a Christian if another Christian has sinned in the past and then converted and amended her life.

"Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be ye not deceived: neither fornicators nor adulterers nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, [Jerusalem Bible " the self indulgent, sodomites" ] nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God..

And such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6, 9-11

It has always been true that "such were some of you." Including some who are now honored as saints. So, no, we don't "wag our tongues" when we hear one of our fellow Christians was once any sort of sinner.
Susan Peterson

Anonymous said...

eulogos, habitual lateness can be a sign of serious control issues. It can also be a manifestation of deep depression and anger. Instead of hypnosis, a good therapist could help. If your poor time managament is interferring with a normal life like you describe, it has gone beyond a "quirk" and you need help. It's kind of a diffferent form of hording. Likely it's a self esteem issue.
(this is kindly meant)

eulogos said...

It may be kindly meant, but I think you ought to be willing to put your name to it, as I always do.

And you may well be right. But the various episodes of therapy I have engaged in have made little difference. My Strattera helps some. Adderall etc increased anxious habits and encouraged not sleeping.

I am 61. I am surviving at my current job, although my vacation time does get eroded by having to claim bits of benefit time for lateness several days a week. I am quite sure to keep my job until retirement.(Work for the state, funded by the feds, public workers union, will keep job unless the whole shebang collapses.) My husband puts up with me. So I guess I will just keep on struggling against this habit on a daily basis, just as I always have.

Thanks, though, for your intent to be helpful.

Susan Peterson