Sunday Obligation

Must Catholics Attend Mass Every Sunday?

An Article by Scott Windsor

A short and simple "yes" is in order for that question, though it's a bit deeper than that. What are the ramifications for a Catholic who does not attend Mass every Sunday? Will a Catholic go to Hell if they miss Mass? Well, let's start with some background here first.

What is Sin?
Sin is anything opposed to God and is offensive to God. Let us look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Edition) says: (hereafter CCC)
CCC 1850 Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight." Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods," knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God." In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.

Are there different kinds of sin?
Yes, the Catholic Church uses the terms "venial" and "mortal" to distinguish between the two types of sin which exist. Scripture tells us there are sins which lead to death and there are sins which do not lead to death, let us look at that passage:
1 John 5:16-17 16If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.

17All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

Thus a sin which is "not unto death" is what we call a "venial" sin. A sin which is unto death is what we call "mortal" sin. Let us look at the CCC on the matter of the gravity of sin:
CCC 1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture,129 became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.

CCC 1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

CCC 1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:

When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. . . . But when the sinner's will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.130

CCC 1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."131

CCC 1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother."132 The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.

CCC 1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart133 do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

So we can see the different types of sin and their relative gravity, let us move on to the next question:

What Can Send Someone to Hell?
First off, no man, not even the Catholic Church sends anyone to Hell - in fact, not even God "sends" anyone to Hell. If one goes to Hell, they go there of their own accord. Mortal sin is what sends someone to Hell and as stated above, it must be a grave matter, with full knowledge and deliberate consent. If a person is unaware of the gravity of the sin then they may not be culpable (responsible) for the sin. I need to stress "may not be culpable," for final judgment is left to God. Only God knows the heart and the full intent (or lack thereof) of each individual. Each individual will be held accountable on "the Last Day" for all their works, good or bad (Rev. 2:23; 2 Cor. 5:10).

What is the Sunday Obligation?
For Catholics it is obliged that we attend Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation. Code of Canon Law (hereafter CIC) says:
CIC Can. 1247 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.
Therefore it is Church Law which prescribes participation in the Mass (we participate by being there celebrating with our fellow Catholics). It must be noted, this is not just for Sundays, but also for the Holy Days of Obligation as set by one's local ecclesiastic authority. This brings us to one of the first questions asked:

Will a Catholic Go To Hell If They Miss Mass?
Being Church Law, this constitutes as a "grave sin" to deliberately avoid attending Mass on any Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation. It is a mortal sin if done with full consent (you know it is Sunday and decide to do something else other than going to Mass). Thus "just missing Mass" CAN be enough to send someone to Hell. Again, we must stress - only God judges whether any given person goes to Heaven or Hell and deep down, every Catholic knows their conscience and knows if they are being honest with themselves when it comes to deciding whether or not to participate in Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation.

Are There Exceptions? What If I Have To Work on Sunday?
Well yes, there are exceptions. If you must work on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation then you can be excused from your obligation - however - all effort should be made to not miss Mass on these days. If you can trade shifts or, better yet, not be in a job which requires regular Sunday scheduling that would be preferable and should be desirable for faithful Catholics. If you had the opportunity to get out of work and chose not to, that could be culpable - talk to your confessor.

Another valid reason can be sickness. If you are too sick to attend Mass then you should not go, especially if your sickness is contagious. Similarly, if you're the parent of a sick child and need to stay home to care for your child, that too can be excusable.

So, If I Miss Mass For A Good Reason, What Should I Do?
Just having a valid excuse for not participating in the Mass does not let you "off the hook" so to say. If you must miss Mass, then you should try to set aside time alone or with your family to devote to God.
CIC 1248 §2. If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.

One More Thing, What Are The Holy Days of Obligation?
Well, this is set by one's regional authority. In the United States, the following are the regular Holy Days of Obligation which are not already Sundays. Local bishops can also add more to this list - they cannot subtract from it - though some feast days are moved to a Sunday in some diocese.

  • Holy Thursday (Thursday before Easter, varies each year based on Easter)
  • Good Friday (Friday before Easter, varies each year based on Easter)
  • Holy Saturday (Saturday before Easter, varies each year based on Easter)
  • Corpus Christi (Thursday after Trinity Sunday, varies each year based on Easter)
  • Assumption of Mary (August 15)
  • All Saints Day (November 1)
  • Christ the King (Last Sunday of Liturgical Year, Sunday before the First Sunday of Advent [formerly December 11])
  • Immaculate Conception (December 8)
  • Christmas (December 25)

I hope this has helped answer your questions. If you have more, feel free to join me in the ACTS Forum - where we encourage honest questions which are asked with respect. ACTS isn't always real busy (and wasn't at the time of this writing) so if you'd like to participate in a more active forum, ACTS also hosts the Catholic Debate Forum, and you can participate or just read along there as well.

Anathema Defined

> > a·nath·e·ma
> > n. pl. a·nath·e·mas
> > 1. A formal ecclesiastical ban, curse, or excommunication.
> >
> > (MLA citation)
> > "anathema." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the
> > English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin
> > Company, 2004. 28 Jul. 2009.
> > .
> >
> > sw: I trust this is enough for you to concede that
> > we are not misrepresenting the term.
> >
> > In JMJ,
> > Scott<<< >
> BJ: I acknowledge your reply.
> BJ: English dictionary definitions are not adequate
> documentation for the meaning of the Catholic
> Church, nor are they adequate for the meaning in
> the Holy Bible.

sw: An English dictionary should suffice for you for the English use (the language we speak). There are more definitions unrelated to ecclesial circumstances but to answer your objection, allow me to continue.

sw: Anathema originally meant something or someone given to God. "Thus anathema according to its etymology signifies a thing offered to God. The word anathema is sometimes used in this sense in the Old and New Testaments: In Judith 16:23, it is said that Judith, having taken all the arms of Holofernes which the people had given him and the curtain of his bed which she herself had brought, offered them to theLord as an anathema of oblivion."

"In the New Testament anathema no longer entails death, but the loss of goods or exclusion from the society of the faithful. St. Paul frequently uses this word in the latter sense. In the Epistle to the Romans (9:3) he says: "For I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh", i.e. "I should wish to be separated and rejected of Christ, if by that means I would procure the salvation of my brethren." And again, using the
word in the same sense, he says (Galatians 1:9): "If any one preach to you a gospel besides that which you have received, let him be anathema." (ibid.)

"Anathema remains a major excommunication which is to be promulgated with great solemnity." (ibid.)

"The Church, animated by the spirit of God, does not wish the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live. This explains why the most severe and terrifying formulas of excommunication, containing all the rigours of the Maranatha have, as a rule, clauses like this: Unless he becomes repentant, or gives satisfaction, or is corrected." (ibid.)

This from anti-Catholic William Webster:
"We need to say a word here about the meaning of the term anathema. In the formal sense the term means excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church."

sw: The bottom line is, in Catholic theology an anathema is separation from communion with the Catholic Church - or excommunication. In Catholic theology if one is separated from the Church upon their death - and the Church is THE path Jesus established for salvation - which IS the position of Catholics (or else we wouldn't BE Catholics!) then an excommunicated person most likely will find their self in Hell if they die without reconciling with the Church. But again, we must emphasize, the GOAL of the Church in excommunicating someone or anathematizing someone is to wake them up and/or bring the BACK into full communion with the Church. The desire of the Church is reconciliation, NOT condemnation. So excommunication is NOT ipso facto damnation, but it COULD end up that way.


(The above comes from a discussion in CDF)

Leaven or Unleavened?

From a discussion in CDF:
Sandra has challenged Dana to document that the Latin
Church has always used unleavened bread. That too has
been (and remains) my belief as well. Does this mean
the Latin Church ALWAYS used unleavened bread? No!
There may have been times when leavened bread was used,
but the NORM of the Latin Church has ALWAYS been to use
unleavened bread.

The controversy really arose at the time of the Great
Schism between the Oriental and Occidental (Eastern
and Western or Latin) churches. Prior to the schism
though the Latin Church almost, if not exclusively
used unleavened bread - the Greek (Eastern) Church
almost exclusively used leavened bread.

Why the difference? Does the use of one or the other
invalidate the consecration of the Eucharist? Well,
answering the latter question first - it depends on
whom you ask! Eastern Orthodox Christians may say
the use of unleavened bread invalidates the
consecration. Eastern Orthodoxy has long been very
anti-Jewish. Just about anything Jewish or of Jewish
tradition is rejected by Eastern Orthodoxy. The
"turbulent Michael Cerularius Patriarch of
Constantinople in 1043 in order to make the rupture
between the two churches as great as possible so
far as to assert that consecration in any other
bread leavened was invalid and that hence the whole
Latin Church was heretical because it used unleavened
But the theologians never adopted this teaching nor
is it to day although with the exception of the
Armenians (and) Maronites all the Oriental churches
follow the Greek in the use of leavened bread.
Another text only view of O'Brien's book:
Or in PDF:
[A History of the Mass and its Ceremonies in the
Eastern and Western Church, pg 154, By John O'Brien]

So we can see from John O'Brien's research that the
Latin Church used unleavened bread and by the decree
of the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1043, he was
declaring the whole of the Latin Church to be in
heresy. In short, it was a political move of the
Eastern Patriarch which was not and is not held by
theologians - even though they do exclusively use
leavened bread - with the exception of the Maronites
and the Armenians.

Why do the Greeks use leavened bread?
It is really a matter of symbolism, with leaven
being, in their view, more symbolic of the body
of Christ. Leaven is life whereas unleavened is
a bread of affliction. The Orthodox see Passover
as a feast of hardship and affliction and since
leaven is life - it is a feast of thanksgiving
and "Eucharist" is defined as "thanksgiving."

Why do the Latins use unleavened bread?

Latins use unleavened bread because Jesus was
celebrating the Day of Unleavened Bread, or the
Pasch. During this Passover time no leaven is
permitted in the homes of any faithful Jews,
(Exodus 12:15), since Jesus would not have
sinned in breaking that law, He could not have
had leavened bread during the Pasch. Latins
take the command to "Do this in remembrance
of Me" (Luke 22:19) quite literally, they do as
Jesus Christ did.

Does using leavened v. unleavened invalidate?
No. Whether the bread is leavened or unleavened
is a matter of discipline, not dogma. It would be,
however, illicit for a Latin Rite priest to use leavened
bread or an Eastern Rite priest to use unleavened.
Each church has their own set of disciplines but is
is not dogma for either of them, however not just
any flour will do!
Can. 924 §1 The most holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist
must be celebrated in bread, and in wine to which a
small quantity of water is to be added.
§2 The bread must be wheaten only, and recently made,
so that there is no danger of corruption.
The above is from Canon Law in the Latin Church, but
for Eastern tradition, though they use leaven (yeast)
the requirements of purity are still there.
Click herefor an Eastern Orthodox presentation of Prosphora.

In short, exactly what the earliest of the Early Church did
is in debate. The fact of the matter is that the use of
leaven or unleavened is a matter of discipline - not dogma.
A Latin priest could use leavened bread, but that would be
illicit but still valid (consecration does take place, it is the
Eucharist). Both sides in this debate have valid points.

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