I received a question by e-mail:
Dear Father Z,
It’s commonly accepted that shut-ins and invalids who are unable to go to church can fulfill their Sunday obligation by watching a live Mass on TV. It’s that "live" part that is the reason for my writing.
My problem concerns traveling (in my case, required business travel which I’m doing as I write this) and not being able to get to Mass due to scheduling conflicts with airlines, etc. Nor being able to understand the local language anyway since the universal language is no longer used. In those cases, rather than miss it altogether (an "excused absence"?) do you think watching a prerecorded Mass on a TV or PC could count as an honest effort and be just as valid as the live Mass for the invalids? I would use an EF recording, of course, and substitute the correct Propers from my missal for the ones on the video.
First, I appreciate your desire to fulfill your obligations regarding Mass on the necessary days.
However, I need to disabuse you, and everyone else reading this, about a what you say is "commonly accepted".
People do not fulfill their Sunday or Holy Day Obligations to attend Mass by watching a recording or transmission of a Mass, regardless if they are shut-ins or not.
If people are impeded from attending Holy Mass for a serious reason, for example they are invalids or they are ill, or even if they are terrified of slipping and falling on the ice during winter, they are excused their obligation.
God does not ask of us what is not possible.
So, watching Mass on TV, etc., can be a holy and pious thing to do, but it does not fulfill the obligation strictly speaking.
As far as traveling is concerned, there are certainly those situations when, for example, you are in a strange place and finding a Mass in the narrow period of time allowed would be a serious difficulty. In those cases, you are excused your obligation.
Of course God cannot be fooled. If you have 8 hours and the church is next to your hotel, and there are three Masses scheduled during that time, you might not have a very good excuse. I suppose if the Mass is being celebrated in Swahili, and you are psychologically terrified of hearing the Swahili language for some reason, that could be a mitigating factor. So would the sure knowledge that the dopey priest and his weird staff have scheduled liturgical abuses sure to infuriate you to the point of near occasion of mortal sin. But I digress.
If people are seriously impeded from attending Mass, their obligation is mitigated. It is good to want to watch something, and I applaud that. But let’s understand what is happening. Language like "just as valid" doesn’t apply.