QUAERITUR: Are Catholics obliged to go to Mass on only Christmas and Easter?

From a reader:

Father please clear up for me our obligations for mass attendance.
Many times we hear that we are obligated to attend mass only twice a year, Christmas and Easter. Yet we also hear that we must attend every week. Which is correct and why?

I will be brief.

Unless there are some serious extenuating circumstances (e.g., infirmity, extreme distances, moral or physical impossibility, etc.) Catholics are obliged to go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation.

However, they are obliged to receive Holy Communion once a year (i.e, the so-called Easter Duty). This usually also means going to confession, for there are precious few people who do not commit a single mortal sin in a year’s time.

The 3rd Commandment of the Decalogue covers both of these, and especially the first point. So does the virtue of religion, which obliges us to give God is His due. Reception of Holy Communion seems to have been considered important by Our Lord for our salvation (cf. John 6) which is a good enough reason for me to suggest Communion more often than once a year. Also, the Lord Himself gave His own power to His bishops and priests to forgive sins, which leads me to think that that is how He wants us to be forgiven for our sins. We should not receive Holy Communion when conscious of mortal sin, so confession before Communion is reasonable and, usually, necessary. Holy Church, the greatest expert on humanity that there is, understands that some people have a hard time getting to Mass. Think of centuries past, heck – mere decades past – when it was harder to get around, when men were on long journeys aboard sailing vessels, who were on the march in the military, who were explorers and pioneers. Once a year seems a reasonable minimum to keep people attached to the Sacrament of Penance and Communion on the most gossamer thin tether. Also, a year’s time is often reasonable for getting many canonical problems resolved to a point where a person can receive again. That is a true wonderful carrot which ought to motivate every Catholic to work on resolving, for example, problems with a non-canonical marriage situation.

So,

Mass – every Sunday and Holy Day – even if you should not, must not, receive Communion.
Communion – at minimum once a year, usually around Easter.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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9 Responses to QUAERITUR: Are Catholics obliged to go to Mass on only Christmas and Easter?

  1. priests wife says:

    One of the things that I love about the Catholic Church is that knowledge about my faith is free and not secret. I don’t need to pay to get to the ‘next level’- Your reader might benefit from reading the new catechism
    http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm
    I also love reading the ‘Faith and Life’ children’s theology books- they are beautifully well-written

  2. JARay says:

    If I remember my “penny catechism” correctly we (in England) learned that we were to keep the sabbath day holy. We fully understood that, for us, the sabbath day was a Sunday.
    Catechism Question:-
    “How do I keep the Sabbath Day holy?”
    Answer:-
    “By hearing Mass and resting from servile work”.
    I learned that as a child at school.

  3. Edprocoat says:

    Sound info Padre ! I would have to add that any catholic should yearn to receive the cleansing sacrament of Confession and Penance as often as needed. More importantly one should be willing, no desirous of communion every day if they were able. I would love to be a daily communicant, I am a self employed contractor and could not take the time for mass every day as sad as that sounds when I read it, its true. I make weekly communion, last week I was able to go on saturday and sunday and was thrilled. I feel so fulfilled when I receive, so joyous, so lucky to be in His presence and to receive Him Body and Blood , Soul and Divinity in my soul. I could never go a year between receiving the sacrament, I would be lost.

    ed

  4. Giuseppe says:

    Don’t forget Mass obligation on Holy Days of Obligation, which vary in requirement in different regions. (Hawaii only has 2 – Immaculate Conception and Christmas)

    (From Wikipidea)
    United States
    (See United States norm complementary to canon 1246)
    Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (note 1)
    Ascension (only in the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia; the others have transferred this celebration to the following Sunday)
    Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (note 1)
    All Saints’ Day (note 1)
    Feast of the Immaculate Conception
    Christmas

    Note 1: However, when 1 January (Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God), 15 August (Feast of the Assumption), or 1 November (Solemnity of All Saints) falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass on that date is abrogated.
    Note 2: In Hawaii, in 1992, the Bishop of Honolulu, pursuant to an indult from the Holy See, established the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas as the only Holy Days of Obligation to be observed in the state.[14]

  5. kittenchan says:

    I would love to know where the notion that Catholics need only attend Mass on Easter and Christmas is being disseminated, as that ought to be stamped out like a brush fire. However, it makes me soften a bit towards Chreaster Catholics if indeed they innocently believe there is no further obligation, and their sparse attendance is in good faith (so to speak) rather than born purely from laziness and/or indifference.

  6. Giuseppe says:

    I had a theology teacher who also used to talk about PTA Catholics. Palms, Throats, and Ashes.

  7. Rosedale says:

    That is a good question to post. Growing up in the eighties we were just “encouraged” to go to Mass every Sunday. I guess they thought the idea of an obligation was too harsh to teach us. It’s sad but I believe many people don’t understand this.

  8. Panterina says:

    My cousin had the same misconception: She thought we were obliged to go to Mass only once a year. She was confusing the precepts that regulate the Eucharist (Holy Communion vs. Mass).

    I think part of the problem is that, at least in North America, going up for Communion at Mass has become an automatic reflex. Where do I receive Communion? = At Mass. How often must I receive Communion? = At least once a year. Ergo, someone incorrectly connected the two: How often must I go to Mass? = At least once a year. It might explain why the Churches are particularly full on Christmas and Easter…. ;-)
    Once you attend Mass only once a year, it’s no surprise that you become uncatechized.

  9. aviva meriam says:

    Our family relocated from a fairly secular area to the North Dallas suburbs….. and I’m amazed that the local Protestants not only go to church Cheerfully, but also discuss it publicly (as in ” where and when are you going to church tomorrow”) and often invite others to join them. They WANT to be there…..and they Want others to be there with them.