Our Sunday Mass obligation is based on the Third Commandment: “Remember the sabbath day — keep it holy” (Ex 20:8). All of the commandments of God are serious matter, so to deliberately miss Mass on Sunday — without a just reason — would objectively be considered a mortal sin. However, there are reasons that excuse from the Sunday obligation. While the Third Commandment is part of Divine Law and therefore admits no exceptions, the specification of how we fulfill that commandment (Sunday Mass) is part of human positive law and thereforce can admit of exceptions. Such an exception would be the physical or moral impossibility of attending Mass. Physical impossibility would include the person who is too ill to attend or just lives too far away; moral impossibility would be higher extenuating circumstances for a higher act of charity, such as caring for the sick, or a young mother having to care for infants.
The local pastor of a parish has the authority to dispense from the Sunday obligation for certain personal and individual cases. Canon 1245 of the Code of Canon Law states:
“Without prejudice to the right of diocesan bishops mentioned in Canon 87, for a just cause and according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop, a pastor can grant in individual cases . . . a dispensation from the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance, or commute the obligation into other pious works. The superior of a . . . religious institute or society of apostolic life has the same power in respect of his own subjects.”
Rev. Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., is Executive Director of Relevant Radio. Follow him on his Facebook page “Father Rocky.”