Returning to Sunday Obligation

On the First Sunday of Advent, the dispensation from obligation to attend Mass on Sunday will be lifted in the Archdiocese of Chicago. While many people have returned to regular Sunday Mass attendance—our numbers at St. Mary of the Angels are very close to those of pre-pandemic days—some may still feel vulnerable to be in public due to health concerns and can be excused from this obligation with no fear of sin, as the Code of Canon Law states:

Canon 1246 §1. Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation. The following days must also be observed: the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter and Saint Paul the Apostles, and All Saints…

Canon 1247 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.

Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

Canon 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.

§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.

We put these canons here not to be legalistic about our obligation to attend Sunday Mass but to show how the law of the Church is so pastoral: the Church sees Holy Mass as a greatest mystery of our Faith, yet we can fulfill it “anywhere” and on the vigil of Sunday or the holy day. She even makes it easy for us to be excused for grave cause, such as illness, age, difficulties in transportation, etc., etc. Many online Masses will continue for individuals in such situations.

Ultimately, Christ’s words from his Eucharistic discourse: “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53) resonate in our hearts. To be able to receive Holy Communion is the principal driving force that moves us all to want to attend Holy Mass. But even when we are not disposed to receive Jesus Christ, it is still important to join our Lord in this family gathering, be fed on his Word, and make a good Spiritual Communion.

Let us prepare ourselves for the renewal of our faith this coming Advent with a good Confession. Perhaps you know other Catholics who have been away from Mass the last few years, let them know that they are welcome to come back to pray with us in this great family of the Church. May our Lord reward you for your efforts.

Fr. John Waiss