ASK FATHER: Can I fulfill my Sunday Mass obligation by watching Mass on the internet?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

If one cannot get to a live Mass (illness of spouse, having to ride bike long distance to get to church, etc.), does attending a Mass on the internet fulfill the Sunday Mass obligation?

No.

We have looked at this question quite a few times in the past, but it bears repeating for newcomers.

This is something of practical value that parish priests should teach to their flocks.  When people have been made aware of obligations, they are – in my experience – sincerely interested in fulfilling them, provided they understand the “why” behind the obligation.  At the same time, people also need to know enough about those obligations and the law so that they can be at ease about how to fulfill them and when they don’t.  They need to know enough law so that they aren’t filled with anxiety or fear about their responsibilities.

If you cannot go to Mass, truly cannot, then the obligation is suspended.

If you can go, you go. If you can’t you can’t. God doesn’t ask the impossible.

If you are sick, you don’t have to fulfill the obligation. If you are old and afraid to go out alone, or that you might slip on the ice, you don’t have to fulfill the obligation. If you are far from a church while travelling and don’t know where to go or can’t get to a church, you don’t have to fulfill the obligation.  If you are taking care of a sick person and cannot leave, you are not obliged to go to Mass.

Of course, if a person really can go to Mass, and doesn’t… well… don’t get hit by a truck, because you have probably committed a mortal sin, if you knew that not going was wrong, knew you could, and simply blew it off.

Furthermore, because it always comes up, watching Mass on the internet or on the TV does NOT fulfill the obligation.  Doing so can be edifying (depending on the Mass, of course) and even consoling, but internet/TV Masses don’t fulfill the obligation.

Finally, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, in can. 1245 gives to pastors (in England “the parish priest”) the ability to grant a dispensation from the obligation in individual cases or else to commute the obligation to other pious works.

You can debate whether or not watching Mass on TV or the internet counts as a “pious work”.

Fulling our Mass obligation is a serious matter for our spiritual well being.  That said, Holy Church’s laws underscore her practical experience of centuries, her common sense mercy, and her concern that we be at ease about how to fulfill those obligations.

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17 Responses to ASK FATHER: Can I fulfill my Sunday Mass obligation by watching Mass on the internet?

  1. rappingdaddy says:

    Thanks for that information. I suppose where you see video equipment set up to record the Mass, that that is pretty much done in vain.

    I ran into a situation that’s kind of related to the issue discussed here. I went to a Sunday Mass, where they announced apologetically that no priest was available, but invited everyone to stay anyway for Communion service. Now this was in a big city where there were plenty of other churches around. Would staying for a Communion service on Sunday fulfill the obligation? Or would it be the responsibility for everyone to get up and leave and find another Mass at another church to go to?

    I’ll tell you what I did… I told my family that we weren’t staying, and we got up and went to another church that day.

  2. APX says:

    If a person has to undergo high dose radioactive treatment and are deemed to be giving off radiation for up to 27 days following, but are capable of going to Mass as long as they stay away from little children, is a person still exempt from going to Mass “just in case”?

  3. OrthodoxChick says:

    APX,

    I’ll be interested to hear the answer to that one. Off-hand, I’m thinking that if having the flu is a legitimate reason to exempt us from the obligation, then temporarily being radioactive surely must fit the conditions as well.

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    rappingdaddy,

    You did the right thing. Communion, alone, does not satisfy the obligation to attend Mass.

    APX,

    It would depend on the type and level of radiation. The amount of energy needed to stop a radioactive particle is called the stopping power. The Wikipedia article is technical, so let me summarize some broad rules of thumb.

    There are 3 types of radiation-based particles the average person is likely to encounter:

    alpha particles (helium nuclei, helium missing its electrons)
    beta particles (high energy electrons)
    gamma rays (high energy photons)

    Alpha particles are very massive and only penetrate a few millimeters of skin, so are not used much in medicine, but they have a great deal of kinetic energy and are considered about 5 times more dangerous to biological systems than beta particles. The RAD (Radiation Adjusted Dosage) = REM (Roentgen Equivalent in Man) x RBE (Relative Biological Effectiveness). In other words, the radiation can be adjusted for the kind of particle by multiplying the radiation rate by the type of particle.

    So, RAD = REM x RBE

    The RBE are:

    alpha = 20
    beta = 4
    gamma = 1

    so, 1 REM of alpha is equivalent to 20 REM of gamma radiation, etc.

    These types of radiation are called, ionizing radiation, because they can knock electrons out of atoms, split apart or scissor DNA, etc. Most biological radiation sources are beta particles. The stopping distance can be several centimeters (if energetic, enough) , but usually, skin will stop it. Inside the body, beta particle emitters can destroy tissue (alpha particles are worse) and are, often, used for that.

    The point being that, unless you have take a gamma emitter (which can travel through lead), you are not likely to irradiate nearby people, especially if the amount is small and the energy emitted is low, as it must be, otherwise, you would run the risk of secondary cancers forming. I have known people who have had radioactive seeds implanted to destroy tissue and it does not stop them from going to Mass.

    In any case, ask your specialist.

    The Chicken

  5. Fr AJ says:

    I’m occasionally disappointed at some older people who I take communion to who do not come to Mass habitually because it’s on TV but can go out to shop, take vacations, etc.

  6. Tradster says:

    OK, I know there are readers out there who want to know so I’ll ask on their behalf.

    What about a traditionalist Catholic – one who attends the TLM at SSPX, FSSP, etc. not simply for preference but is deeply and sincerely committed solely to the Extraordinary Form? If he can no longer attend a TLM is he obliged to start attending the Novus Ordo despite his conscience against it?

    [It seems to me that you still have to fulfill your obligation. There could be an exception for a person who is so narrow, truly unyielding that he morally cannot go to the NO, but I don't think those people exist in any numbers. Remember: you can't fool God. We have an obligation to submit to the Church. Again, you can't fool God.]

  7. CarpeNoctem says:

    I would hazard a guess that one could in one’s own good conscience forego Mass if one were temporarily radioactive, however it would seem a fruitful and assuring exercise to ask the pastor if 1) there were might be alternate accommodations that could be made–even accommodations that would not draw undue attention to your ‘quarantine’ (ie, attend Mass from the sacristy or a choir loft or etc), and 2) if he could commute the obligation to some other pious act, of which I would be of the opinion that attentive TV Mass ‘participation’ (in the fullest sense of the word …to exclude picking up a guitar or dancing in your liturgical tights) could qualify, and 3) to make sure that, if alone at home, sacramental needs are being taken care of… even the smallest parishes often have priests, deacons, and lay folk who take communion to the sick and homebound on Sundays, for instance.

  8. Gratias says:

    Yes. But if you really ache to see a Latin Mass you can try the iMass app. Click on the Sunday Mass button.

  9. Ellen says:

    I try to go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, but I am taking care of my father who has dementia and there are times when he is upset and agitated so I can’t. It kills me not to be able to go.

  10. HobokenZephyr says:

    An interesting event at a local parish under the care of the Redemptorists happened here. There was a “provincial” retreat and the assigned pastor and vicars were away. Sunday was to be covered by a elderly retired priest who lived some miles away from the parish (and mission). Ice storm cometh and father was unable to drive to say Mass. Admittedly, it was bad and they are not equipped to handle such weather in the American South (cf. Atlanta). I believe the end result was that the parishioners were relieved of their obligation for that Sunday.

  11. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    I wonder whether some of the older folks who are able to go shopping and to go on vacations, yet have stopped attending Holy Mass on Sunday, may be suffering from a crippling fear of the crush of a crowd in a confined setting (a form of claustrophobia). This fear can be a feature in some cases of clinical depression, which is fairly common among the elderly.

    One can feel especially vulnerable when one is frail and achey and slow, and everyone else seems swift and strong and in a hurry to get into their seats, and then in a hurry to get out to the parking lot, and there are lots of running, leaping children scooting through the mix, and one feels like a half-submerged, rusty buoy anchored in a gale at sea.

    It can be scary.

    Being old, as my mother-in-law says, ain’t for sissies.

    Never judge old folks.

  12. Imrahil says:

    One other, if less important, reason to remember it’s an obligation is this:

    Reverend Fathers, we are not there of our free volition.

    I guess Mass quality would be higher if priests remembered that.

    And please, please, if you have to read out the entire parish council protocol or so for announcements, then either give Blessing and Dismissal before, or declare them free of the obligation. (And have us sit down, but that’s another thing.)

  13. Sonshine135 says:

    Based on what I am hearing here, it is good judgement and an informed conscience that determines whether or not you really can go to Mass. I know that for me, there is a strong desire to be with God as much as possible, so missing Mass has a definite feeling of absence. The feeling is very similar to the guilt one feels when disappointing someone close. That being said, I miss Mass if I have the flu or believe I am sick enough to cause others to be sick. If I have a sniffle, or I am not feeling 100%, I will excuse myself from receiving the cup. This is just common sense to me.

  14. OrthodoxChick says:

    APX,

    I think Chicken’s advice to check with your doctor is very sound. My dad had several courses of external beam radiation for prostate cancer back in 2004 and some of my older children were toddlers at the time. His doctor advised us not to let my kids sit on his lap or get too close to him for more than a few minutes at a time because of the radiation. He also advised us to wait a month after the final treatment before allowing the kids up on his lap again.

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Some people get really really radioactive, and have to stay in motel rooms away from everybody else and have their sheets and beds specially treated. Obviously this isn’t such a case….

    Having a Mass broadcast from a local parish isn’t “in vain.” It’s nice for homebound parishioners to be able to stay in touch with the parish as well as being edified by the Mass. At all times, I find it comforting when sick to have EWTN or other Masses running in the background. If I can pay attention, it helps; and if I’m sleepy or lonely or feeling bad and can’t pay much attention, I still feel like I’m close to God and the Church, and that makes me feel comforted a little. There is a deep peace in the Mass, even in recorded form. It also helps you remember to do a spiritual Communion.

    But obviously, it’s not the same as assisting/attending the Mass in person.

  16. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Some people get really really radioactive, and have to stay in motel rooms away from everybody else and have their sheets and beds specially treated. Obviously this isn’t such a case….”

    Suburbanbanshee,

    No pressure, but I would love to have some examples of people getting really radioactive (outside of being around atom bomb blasts) because I am teaching pre-nursing students, this semester, and one of the components is nuclear radiation. It certainly can happen with either Beta or Gamma emitters, if swallowed, but if a person is that radioactive, aren’t they in danger of secondary cancers, not to mention anemia and all of the other symptoms of radiation poisoning? I don’t know much about the details of nuclear medicine, but it would be nice to talk about things other than dirty bombs.

    The Chicken

  17. Shonkin says:

    Interesting question and answer.
    In our cathedral (Saint Helena in Helena, MT) on Christmas and Easter things sometimes get crowded . Latecomers (who might be people who arrive on time rather than 45 minutes early) are sent downstairs to the meeting room, where the Mass is televised. Of course, at Communion time they can walk out the door, up the outside stairs, and into the church proper to receive. Or, if old or infirm, they can take the tiny elevator.
    Anyway, they are watching the Mass on CCTV, but theoretically they are “at church.”
    A word to people who worry excessively about their Mass obligation: If you are infectious, have mercy on your fellow Catholics and STAY HOME! God is not a tyrant Who wants you to sicken others.