It's funny--just yesterday I was feeling bad that my "January blahs" have kept me from coming up with anything interesting or informative for the blog. True, blogs aren't what they were, but then my blog has always been my "think out loud" place for the most part, and I have to admit that I've been slogging through January without any heavy thinking.
And now, today, I have TWO things to blog about.
They're really unrelated, so I'm actually going to write two blog posts--this brief one first, and then the main event.
I just opened my "stats" page by accident instead of my "new post" page, and what I saw was that three of the last four search strings that apparently led people to this blog was some variation of the question: "Is it okay to miss Mass due to bad weather? Do I sin if I skip Mass due to bad weather? Is it a mortal sin to skip church when there's a blizzard?" etc.
I thought I'd answer this question once and for all, even though I'm just a lay person with no particular competence in this field except that of common sense: NO.
No, it is NOT a mortal sin, or a sin at all, to miss Mass when you cannot safely get to Mass.
No, it is NOT a sin to miss Mass if the ice storm is only just starting but there's a very serious likelihood you might not make it back home safely (Father doesn't have room for everybody at his house for the duration, you know, and probably not enough bread or eggs or milk either).
No, it is NOT a sin to stay home rather than walk ten miles each way to Mass in subzero temperatures because your car keeps sliding when you try to get it out of the driveway. If you are an Arctic explorer home on holiday and you have all your gear and equipment and really want to give the twenty-mile round trip hike a go anyway, and you know from your experience that you won't be unnecessarily burdening emergency personnel who will have to go rescue you or something, great--but even then I think you'd still be going way beyond any reasonable understanding of the Sunday Mass obligation.
Here's the thing: the Church expects us to cultivate the virtue of prudence, and the virtue of prudence is that virtue that says things like, "No, you don't have to fast on Ash Wednesday if you just gave birth after a two-day labor and you are STARVING right now...No, you don't sin if you miss Mass when a Cat 5 Hurricane has just made landfall in your neighborhood..." etc. If you are unsure of your situation and you have time to check with your pastor, by all means check with him: "Dear Fr. Smith, our pine trees have already begun to bend under the weight of the ice but the driveway is still clear-ish and people must still be driving because we can hear the sirens--should we head out for Mass as usual in an hour? Concerned Parishioner." "Dear Parishioner: Don't be silly. Stay home. Fr. Smith." But if Fr. Smith is too busy trying not to kill himself sanding the walkways for the handful of parishioners who live close enough to walk and/or wouldn't stay home during a nuclear attack ("I'm not a wimp! Missing Mass due to radiation and fallout may be okay for those weaksauce one-hour fasting types, but not me!"), then you must pray about it and make the most prudent decision you can make when weighing all the circumstances.
Now, most priests I know would add the caution that we're not supposed to take this lightly or make silly excuses to miss Mass. A light dusting of flurries, a mild cold that is almost over, a mere Cat 1 Hurricane--okay, just kidding, but you get the idea--anyway, there are times when we have to fight our weaker nature because our weaker nature would love an excuse to sleep in on a Sunday morning. But those times do not include times when the local Department of Transportation is sending hysterical representatives to the airwaves to BEG people to stay home, or times when you nearly end up in a ditch just trying to get out of your neighborhood. Use common sense, because God gave it to us for a reason.