QUAERITUR: Can I fullfil my Sunday obligation on Saturday evening?

From a reader:

I’ll be pithy:

I’ll start my final semester of nursing school next week, it appears as though I will be required to train in the hospital for the next four months from 7am-7pm every Sunday. Is it possible to keep the holy the Lord’s Day by attending Saturday Vigil Mass, or should I dig in my heels and fight this requirement? (I attend a very secular school that almost appears to be anti-Christian, so, there is little sympathy for my position from the administration.) Thank you, Sophia P.S. I feel greatly blessed by the opportunity to read your blog daily, thank you, and may God bless you with great love.

I’ll be pithy.

You fulfill your obligation by going to Mass on the Saturday evening before or the evening before other days of obligation.

Canon 1248 says:

1. The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.

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36 Responses to QUAERITUR: Can I fullfil my Sunday obligation on Saturday evening?

  1. Legisperitus says:

    But isn’t there a broader Third Commandment question here about working on the Sabbath?

  2. Banjo pickin girl says:

    One would think that medical personnel working on the Sabbath is different than whatever it is that I do (it’s not medical). This is not a one size fits all thing.

  3. Legisperitus says:

    Usually it’s described as “necessary work.” Whether training counts is, I suppose, open to debate.

  4. Dr. Eric says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but back in the day before Saturday vigil Masses that start at 3 pm when there were only Sunday Masses, weren’t certain professions allowed to work on Sunday and the obligation to attend Mass was abrogated?

  5. Benjamin says:

    Just another sily question (which happens to be connected to the case): if the preceding day also is a holy day of obligation (e. g. 1st of January at 2011), participating in the evening mass means having fulfilled one’s obligation for that day (January 1), or for the next day (sunday, January 2)? Two obligations can or cannot be fulfilled by participating one and only evening mass in the preceding day?

  6. JPManning says:

    This does’t affect me yet but it might in the future. As an engineer I may have to work some Sundays as power stations work 7 days a week. It’s not as clearly necessary as medical work but I would assume that it was okay if I went to Mass on Saturday night. If I worked Sunday and had Monday off, should I treat Monday as a day of rest like the Sabbath and refrain from shopping etc.? Are there any shift workers out there? What do you do?

  7. MrD says:

    JPMannig:

    What do you do? You do the best that you can and attend Mass either Saturday night or Sunday. Reserve at least an hour a day (spread throughout the day) for prayer and reflection… try to live as best you can and go to confession often… oh… and avoid scrupulosity

  8. asophist says:

    Benjamin:
    You cannot fulfill two obligations for different days on the same day. Both the holy day and the Sunday obligations need to be fulfilled either on those two days or on the TWO evenings before those two days. I believe Fr Z will concur.

    JPManning:
    Whenever you are expected to be at a work-related training or at work itself, it is considered necessary enough if it would have a negative impact on your ability to keep your job. The ability to continue to procure the necessaries of life, which result from gainful employment, supercede the Mass obligation. I think Fr Z would concur here, too.

  9. asophist says:

    Don’t take a layman’s word for it though. Wait for Fr Z or another priest to weigh in on these matters. I’m just venting what I think I know (yes, I should just be quiet!)

  10. mike cliffson says:

    One : The catholic church , being universal, sensibly says 6pm and has done. It helps, for the NT AND the CHURCH to understand the jewish custom we follow of both the daylight AND the day ending simultaneously.Having Jews for friends and /or neighbours is equally educational. (muslims too, but they don’t count, inter alia, they’re johnnies-come-lately).
    The rst of the third commandment is ably set out in the Catechism. I don’t want to get anyone out of a job for being” Holier than thou” but I confess to having been less than firm enough myseklf this very summer past: I teach, some locality-wide exams unnecesssarily included a Sunday morning,(for logistic reasons, a saturday would have been equally viable) I protested in writing to the elected official nominally responsible, including the catechism passages and the commentary that in previous years these same exams had had dates changed to accomodate other faiths (exam candidates, not teachers)- to no avail. I worked. I shouldn’t have. But not enough of us even voice any protest.

  11. Nathan says:

    I think we may be conflating two issues here. First, because Holy Mother Church, by legitimate authority, has said that to make one’s Sunday obligation, attending Holy Mass both the evening before and the Sunday itself suffiices, one does not commit sin in going to the Saturday evening vigil in order to fulfil that obligation.

    The second, which some of the commenters post to, I think falls not in the area of obedience but in the positive application of practices aimed at growing in virtue and perfection. From what I’ve heard, the ability to make one’s Sunday obligation on the day before was intended to allow workers and others with legitimate reason who could not make Sunday Mass to practice their religion. If that’s true, while regularly going to the Saturday evening vigil with the purpose of, say, freeing up Sunday morning for your tee time at the golf course, while not in itself sinful, may not be as fruitful in growing in virtue and perfection than making attendance at Holy Mass on Sunday the focus of the day. Some of the other commenters have made valid obervations in this regard.

    I would think the more difficult issues for an growing in virtue might be in the case where an elderly person regularly goes to the Saturday vigil because it is comfortable, in the sense that it reduces ones anxiety about having to worry about being up to going to Holy Mass on Sunday morning. Is it legitimate to think that one is more disposed to prayer and love of God if you’re making your obligation at the first possible time?

    In Christ,

  12. Liz says:

    Our local church doesn’t have a Saturday daily mass because of the vigil masses (there are two.) They do this on the day preceding holy days too. It drives me nuts. Thankfully we have an FSSP church not too far away.

  13. albinus1 says:

    if the preceding day also is a holy day of obligation (e. g. 1st of January at 2011)

    But of course this past Jan. 1 was not a Holy Day of Obligation in the US, because it fell on a Saturday. According to the US bishops now, when holy days fall on Sat. or Mon., they aren’t days of obligation. (No, I don’t like it either, but that’s what the US bishops say. Heaven forbid people should have to go to Mass two days in a row!)

    I actually was unable to get to Mass either for Jan. 1 or Sun. Jan. 2 this year. The advertised (in the parish bulletin) Mass for Sat. ended up not taking place (I don’t know why); and when I went to Sat. vigil Mass for Sunday (because I had to be traveling all day Sun.), I found that the regularly-scheduled Sat. vigil Mass had been canceled because of the Sat. holiday. So, two strikes.

  14. Tim Ferguson says:

    JP Manning – canon 1245 gives your pastor the right to grant a dispensation from “the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance.” He can also grant “a commutation of the obligation into other pious works.” If you foresee that your work will keep you from regularly fulfilling your Sunday obligation, talk to your pastor – don’t just try to make something work on your own, and no, being precise about one’s obligation is not (necessarily) being scrupulous.

    Your pastor could, in the situation you describe, dispense you from your Sunday obligation, or, perhaps more ideally, commute it to some other good work – such as requiring you to attend Mass on Monday, or spend a few hours on your day off in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

    I know of firefighters, who often work shifts over the weekend which prevent them from regularly attending Mass, or having a guarantee of time for keeping the Lord’s Day holy who obtain from their chaplain a commutation to attend Mass on their day off, whenever that might be. Have recourse to your pastors for these things – that’s what they’re there for.

  15. pseudomodo says:

    There are two issues here that are based in the prohibition against work on the sabbath. One is; physical work on the sabbath and two is; mass obligation.

    You are obligated to fulfill your sunday obligation on either sunday or the vigil mass on saturday.

    As for servile work on the Sunday (where you HAVE fulfilled your obligation to attend mass) I offer the proposal that work that is tied into the corporal works of mercy can be done. Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Clothe the naked, Shelter the homeless, Visit the sick, Visit those in prison, Bury the dead.

    This is obvious by the praxis of the church. We eat, we stay at hotels, we garden and cut the lawn, we work at thrift stores and Starbucks, work at nursing homes etc. We have to be reasonable in this but I don’t think working at a club sling drinks may constitute giving drink to the thirsty!

  16. pseudomodo says:

    There are two issues here that are based in the prohibition against work on the sabbath. One is; physical work on the sabbath and two is; mass obligation.

    You are obligated to fulfill your sunday obligation on either sunday or the vigil mass on saturday.

    As for servile work on the Sunday (where you HAVE fulfilled your obligation to attend mass) I offer the proposal that work that is tied into the corporal works of mercy can be done. Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Clothe the naked, Shelter the homeless, Visit the sick, Visit those in prison, Bury the dead.

    The police or firefighters who are catholic still do thier works on a sunday.

    This is obvious by the praxis of the church. We eat, we stay at hotels, we garden and cut the lawn, we work at thrift stores and Starbucks, work at nursing homes etc. We have to be reasonable in this but I don’t think working at a club slinging drinks may constitute giving drink to the thirsty!

  17. pseudomodo says:

    yikes – double post!!

  18. Sophia should check if there is a college/university in driving distance to the hospital. Those that provide Mass(es) for students tend to do so on Sunday nights, acknowledging the fact that most college students don’t come alive until after noon time on a Sunday. As an example, in my own diocese, Rutgers U. Catholic Center has Sunday Masses at noon, 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm.

  19. People are sick twenty-four hours a day, and power stations have to run twenty-four hours a day. Those of you who work medical or utility jobs are not only doing necessary work, but saving lives and preserving civilization. Of all the lay jobs in the world, surely those are ones where the sense of work as a vocation is particularly clear. Thank you for your service.

  20. catholicmidwest says:

    Yes. It is true that laypeople often like to legislate their own rules for everyone else, but the Church has decided this one. You can meet your Sunday obligation by going to church on Saturday night. You can also do it by going on Sunday afternoon or Sunday evening.

  21. Luvadoxi says:

    @asophist: Hopefully Father Z will weigh in here, but it was my understanding that supposing for the sake of example, Jan. 1 was a holy day (I know it wasn’t)….and Jan. 2 of course was Sunday–I would think one could go to a Mass on Jan. 1 for that holy day, and then later in the day go to the Vigil Mass for Sunday, and lawfully fulfill both obligations in that way. I don’t see anything opposed to that….but I’m very open to correction!

  22. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Liz:

    Having a Saturday morning Mass is great, but it can be pretty difficult if a pastor has no help and has two or three parishes, or simply one very large one, with a Saturday evening Mass, plus several on Sunday, plus weddings or funerals that fall on Saturdays to boot. Of course I don’t know your particular situation, but it’s not reasonable to expect a priest to offer multiple Mass day after day when there is no necessity, it’s contrary to canon law, and destructive of priestly spirituality. While I appreciate that a Saturday morning Mass is nice, a Mass on Saturday evening is a Mass *on* Saturday.

    Albinus:

    I don’t agree with the bishops’ rule about the obligation to attend holy day Masses being lifted on Saturdays and Mondays, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with the difficulty of attending Mass two days in a row. The rationale, as I recall, was that it’s a burden on priests in many areas to offer a full boat of Masses for a holy day of obligation so closely in conjunction with a Sunday.

    My solution would be: don’t change the universal obligation; rather, make it clear that if you live in an area with few priests, there may be few Masses offered for the holy day, and folks just do the best they can. To me, that is easier to explain than the current mess.

  23. Alexis says:

    Canon 1248 is curious language, I’ve always thought.

    I mean, does “a Catholic rite” mean any rite celebrated in a Catholic church, or does it mean any rite celebrated in the Catholic Church?

    If it’s the latter, then attendance at anything from a Divine Liturgy in a Russian Orthodox temple to certain liturgies in Anglican parishes would satisfy the obligation.

    They both seem equally plausible interpretations, especially given Pope Paul VI’s unfortunate allowance of fulfillment of Sunday obligation at schismatic churches. Wasn’t that rescinded?

    How to interpret?

  24. Benjamin says:

    Asophist: thx for your answer! I think you are completely right.

    Albinus1: But of course this past Jan. 1 was not a Holy Day of Obligation in the US – yeah, but I live in Europe, Hungary, my dear brother, and here 1st of January is indeed a Holy Day of Obligation. :o)

  25. albinus1 says:

    Benjamin: Glad to hear it! God bless the bishops of Hungary!

  26. JaneC says:

    Alexis,
    The phrase “Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite” means any of the Catholic rites at which the Eucharist is confected–be it a form of the Roman Rite, or Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil, or any of the other possibilities–as celebrated by a priest or bishop in union with the Catholic Church. The “celebrated anywhere” part is probably meant to take into account Masses celebrated outside a church or chapel, like large-scale Masses celebrated in a stadium, or a mission group that lacks a building and has Mass outdoors or in a private house. I don’t think it’s meant to be anything other than exactly what it says. There are non-Catholics that use the same texts as Catholic liturgies, but it wouldn’t be a “Catholic rite” if it’s not celebrated by a Catholic cleric.

  27. lucy says:

    When I worked as a registered nurse in a NICU, we had to work Fri/Sat/Sun every other weekend. My only option for Mass was at the Newman Center for 8pm Sunday Mass. It was exhausting to go after work, and it was a hippy dippy thing, but I was blessed to have a Mass to go to at all.

  28. wolfeken says:

    Back before that oh-so-wonderful year of 1967 (when the Saturday counts for Sunday rule was invented) there were Printer’s Masses and other odd time Masses for those who worked odd hours. But within the calendar day. So one could go to Mass at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on the way home or on the way to work. Acts of great charity by those priests.

    I still do not understand how the post-Vatican II “Sunday” since 1967 means 4 p.m. Saturday through 11:59 p.m. Sunday. If only my vacation days could be 32 hours each like a novus ordo “Sunday.”

  29. Lori Pieper says:

    I have a question that I haven’t seen addressed here. I belong to the Secular Franciscan Order, and frequently we have day-long retreats and regional chapter meetings or get-togethers on Saturday. We always have a Mass in the afternoon or early evening. Usually it’s not the Sunday Mass, but a celebration of a Franciscan feast occurring that day, or a votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin (fitting, since she is the Protectress of our order). I had always wondered whether attending this Mass fulfilled my Sunday obligation; I always assumed not, since the readings for Sunday weren’t used, and I figured only a Mass with readings for the Sunday fulfilled the Sunday obligation. But the canon Father cited makes no mention of this; it just says “a Mass.” Does this mean that other Masses fulfill the obligation? Any thoughts?

  30. Katherine says:

    “Back before that oh-so-wonderful year of 1967 (when the Saturday counts for Sunday rule was invented) there were Printer’s Masses and other odd time Masses for those who worked odd hours. But within the calendar day. “

    The rule was not invented in 1967. The secular world counts Sunday begining at Midnight. Catholic Liturgical tradition has Sundays and Solemnities begining with First Vespers (Saturday).

    I still do not understand how the post-Vatican II “Sunday” since 1967 means 4 p.m. Saturday through 11:59 p.m. Sunday. If only my vacation days could be 32 hours each like a novus ordo “Sunday.”

    God is more loving and generous than your employer and the other barons of capitalism. Tradition has the great joy of the Lord’s Day is extended as widely as possible.

    regularly going to the Saturday evening vigil with the purpose of, say, freeing up Sunday morning for your tee time at the golf course, while not in itself sinful, may not be as fruitful in growing in virtue and perfection than making attendance at Holy Mass on Sunday the focus of the day.

    To the same degree as going to an 8:00 am Sunday Mass to free up the rest of the day.

    Employers have an equal duty (and the same possibility of sin) to ensure that their workers have rest on Sundays and Holydays. Others here have spoken of the individual obligation. The duties of employers is co-equal. Obviously, certain professions are essential. But increasingly, particularly in blue collar jobs in the service industry, employers are willy-nilly giving workers irregular and anti-Christian work schedules.

    The late Sunday Masses for college student was mentioned. Young people, I find (but trust me, it will all change when they have children) seem to developing a lifestyle through their 30s that reserves Saturdays for active recreation (hiking, sports, going to dance halls) and Sunday as quiter recreational time (brunch with close friends, reading, time with family) and capped with a Sunday evening Mass. I think this is a very positive devel0pment. I am finding parishes with 7:00 pm Sunday young adult Masses packed to the gills. God bless them.

  31. dans0622 says:

    Ms. Pieper,

    Any Mass suffices as long as it occurs in the evening. Readings, prayers, etc., do not matter. “Evening” is generally accepted to mean after 4 pm.

    Dan

  32. Lori Pieper says:

    Thanks, Dan. Do you have a source for that?

  33. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Lori:

    The source is Canon 1248 quoted above: attend “a Mass” on the evening before. It says nothing about specific Masses, i.e., with specific readings, collects, Gloria, Creed, etc.

    That being said, there are rubrics addressing what Mass can be celebrated when. For example, a Vigil Mass for Epiphany could be celebrated on the evening of January 1, because–insofar as Epiphany was transferred to that Sunday, it outranked the Solemnity of the Mother of God. On the other hand, the same thing couldn’t be done the week before, on Christmas, in anticipation of the Feast of the Holy Family, because Christmas outranks the Feast of the Holy Family. Nevertheless, had someone attended a Mass on the evening of Christmas, it would have counted toward the Sunday obligation; or else the Christmas obligation. (No “two-fers.”)

  34. dans0622 says:

    Lori,

    That interpretation is common among canon lawyers and is based on both a literal understanding of the term “a Mass” (cf. canon 17) as well as a reply of the Congregation for Clergy, on April 3, 1971, which said “A Catholic satisfies his obligation by attending any Mass celebrated on a Saturday evening or the vigil of a Holy Day of Obligation.” The notion that 4 pm is the cut-off point is based mostly on the Apostolic Constitution “Christus Dominus,” no. VI, of Pius XII. To me, “evening” starts at 6 pm but 4 pm has been the common understanding of canonists (with a few exceptions).

    Dan

  35. wolfeken says:

    Katherine –

    It is not entirely fair to imply the Catholic Church has always treated Saturday afternoon/evening as Sunday for the purposes of Mass (which is what the post is about).

    This was indeed invented in 1967.

    Moreover, before Pius XII permitted Sunday afternoon Masses, Mass could only be offered in the morning. Not Saturday afternoon. Not Saturday evening. Not Sunday afternoon. Not Sunday evening. Therefore, the range for Sunday Mass was not 30 hours, as it is post-Vatican II. It was 12 hours (midnight to noon). So your “tradition” is but a few decades old.

    Between Pius XII’s relaxation of when Mass may be said and 1967, in fact, the range was 24 hours (midnight to midnight).

    What you are describing (Saturday afternoon beginning Sunday) is the cycle for the Divine Office. Yes, First Vespers always began the evening prior to the day. But Mass was never offered then.

    Now, sadly, the timeline for liturgy is a total mess. A priest could chant First Vespers on Saturday afternoon for Sunday, then say a Saturday Mass, then say a Mass that counts for Sunday. On Sunday night he could chant Monday’s vespers then go back to Sunday’s Mass. Then he could say Monday’s Mass on Sunday night.

    It makes a lot more sense to follow the logical flow of the Divine Office. First Vespers on the evening prior, Holy Mass on the morning of. There may be good reasons for liberalizing that flow, but they should not be described under a label of “tradition.”

  36. Katherine says:

    It is not entirely fair to imply the Catholic Church has always treated Saturday afternoon/evening as Sunday for the purposes of Mass

    As you point out, in the past it did not treat Sunday afternoon as Sunday for the purposes of Mass.

    Tradition sets the liturgical Sunday from First Vespers to Midnight Sunday/Monday. The discipline when I was born had celebration of the Mass limited to between Midnight and Noon on Sunday.

    For a brief period of less than 20 years, Mass was permitted during a 24 hour window based on the secularly defined day. I have trouble labeling a <20 year practice even a "small-t" tradition. (Though I am open to counter-arguments on how a 20 year practice can be traditional).

    The current and wise discipline is that Mass celebrated during the liturgical Sunday is a Sunday Mass. Tradition holds the liturgical day to be just that — a feature of the DAY (as defined by the Church, not the secular world) not narrowly and solely a feature of the Divine Office (if so, it would be the liturgcal HOUR not the liturgical DAY).