QUAERITUR: Mass cancelled for bad weather

From a reader:

My pastor "canceled" Sunday Mass this morning due to an icy parking lot from a recent snow/ice storm. Needless to say, I live in a part of the country where we rarely have such weather. However, while protestant churches all over the city canceled their services, ours was the only Catholic Church in town that where Masses were "cancelled."

If you were in my neck of the woods, where I grew up in Minnesota, that would not fly.

But while we know there is an obligation for Mass in Sundays, when people face a significant burden … such as truly inclement weather… their obligation is mitigated.

People are not bound to the impossible, or the truly burdensome when it comes to this obligation. Many people are sincerely afraid to out when weather is like that.

In places where winter weather is not normal inexperience with driving conditions and, frankly, fear of incompetent drivers, seems to me a sufficient reason to attenuate the obligation.

The pastor, by canceling Mass, could have been trying to put people ease about their obligation. Of course I hope he said Mass anyway at the times scheduled for those who showed up all the same.

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  1. Father S. says:

    I live in the Midwestern part of the country and we have had ice on the ground now for almost two months. Our general practice is to still offer Holy Mass even if only a handful come. On Christmas morning, we had only a handful, but we still had the entire Holy Mass sung. Even though there was no organ to sound the glorious Mass of the Shepherds, it was still wonderful. The only foreseeable time when we “cancel” Holy Mass is if a priest has multiple parishes to cover in the rural areas and highways are closed. Other than that, I can see no reason for canceling. Especially if the church is next to or connected to the rectory, Holy Mass should be offered. Plus, what else would a priest rather do than offer Holy Mass?

  2. southern orders says:

    I live in Macon, Georgia and we rarely get snow, sometimes we do. On Thursday, January 7th, it was predicted that it would snow on the Friday the 8th–every school in Macon, Catholic, private and public, canceled school for Friday and communicated this to the press Thursday night! It did not snow on Friday, cold and sunny! No snow, no school! That’s the south! We freak out at not only a snow flurry, but now at the prediction of a snow flurry. It’s a lot of fun. When I say freak out, I mean it, but we freak out over excitement about the possibility of snow.

    But more seriously, we did have a terrible tornado come through Macon on Mother’s Day three years ago, tremendous damage, etc. A state of emergency was declared and people asked not to drive on the streets. I put on our answer machine that people were dispensed from the obligation to attend, but since the priests live next to the Church, we would celebrate Mass at all the times we do. Some showed up, some didn’t which for Mother’s Day was quite unusual, but unusual circumstance.

  3. robtbrown says:

    Unless the priest cannot make it to the church, he should say mass because not only is it good but also there are some who are able to make the trip (by foot, 4 wheel drive, etc).

    This year we had a serious snowstorm Christmas eve. Christmas Day I pulled the car out of the garage, and that was that. Usually, the front wheel drive is enough to go up the driveway hill to leave, but I couldn’t go anywhere. I had to shovel to get it back in the garage. One woman, who lives in the country, told me a week later that the drifts were such they couldn’t get out the front door–her husband climbed out a window.

    Lay people aren’t stupid. They know it’s not their fault if the weather prohibits them from attending mass.

  4. robtbrown says:

    southern orders,

    Of course, the big problem in Georgia was the drought, which is now over. There were pictures on the Internet of coves at Lake Lanier that were just fields with boat docks on the ground.

  5. ckdexterhaven says:

    Here in NC, things are shut down. It wasn’t that much snow, but there aren’t enough snow plows here. Plus, no offense, but people in NC don’t know how to drive in the snow. The pastor was probably doing it for the parishioners safety.

    In Colorado, or the Midwest, there would still be Mass, but people probably have 4×4’s, and plowed roads.

  6. Jenny says:

    We are snowed in this morning. Six inches of snow with a top layer of ice. Nice for sledding, not so much for driving. I think every protestant church in middle TN is closed. Didn’t see a single Catholic church closed except for Sunday school classes. I’m sure that those within walking distance of our parish were there this morning.

  7. Random Friar says:

    robtbrown: I get a lot of confessions where the penitent is trying to explain to me why they missed Sunday Mass. A good number of those are, to most of us, obvious reasonable dispensations. But many folks do get comfort from hearing the priest say “You were under no obligation to come, God understands,” and I think announcing it would ease the minds of a lot of folks who might be a bit too worried about circumstances beyond their control.

    In areas where ice is rare, I can’t imagine a more dangerous situation for folks, walking and driving, especially the elderly, than to try to navigate an icy sidewalk and parking lot.

  8. Walker says:

    A Protestant attended Mass this morning. Could do so because her Protestant church cancels when conditions are hazardous and elderly parishioners would go if they knew there was a service. Charitable concern, I’d say.

  9. beez says:

    In Northern Virginia, the pastors sometimes “cancel” Mass when, in fact, Mass is still being celebrated. The use of the terminology is only to prevent people who think that, because Mass is being celebrated, they must attend, regardless of the weather. Personally, I prefer what my own pastor does. He records a message on the parish voicemail informing us that we are dispensed from our obligation if we feel that attempting to go would put our lives or the lives of others in danger. Still, we know that Mass is being offered, regardless. Of course, in some parishes, the Rectory is a mile or more away and the priest himself may not be able to make it.

  10. ckdexterhaven says:

    Sorry for the double post. But just to give a flavor of how it is in NC: we have 8 inches!! of snow. Our governor gave a news conference yesterday, and declared a state of emergency. One of our news stations has an alert every 30 minutes with a graphic saying “don’t slam brakes on the ice” and “if you lose control of your vehicle, turn WITH the car”. This priest probably saved lives b/c if NCers don’t know not to slam the brakes on icy roads?

  11. capchoirgirl says:

    I’m a life long Ohioan, and I can only remember Mass being cancelled ONCE–it was Christmas Eve Masses (all of them) during an ice storm, when the pipes in the church broke. It was an unholy mess. Fortunately we all found out in time to make other arrangements.
    We get ice/snow here pretty regularly, and I’ve never heard of a Mass being cancelled–people know if it’s a snow emergency or something that it’s OK if they don’t make it out.

  12. Timbot2000 says:

    I too am from MN, and the reactions of the southrons to snow is truly entertaining!

  13. Fr Martin Fox says:

    We never “cancel” Mass, but we count on folks to use good judgment. Sometimes I will mention this in the bulletin. We have a chapel that is usually open 24/7, but we sometimes close that when adorers can’t get there.

  14. JonM says:

    I am a native Garden Stater (north Jersey, that is) who is in self-imposed exile in the Triad. It is true, people here simply are not used to snow due to a couple decades of mild winters. Most rightly stay off the roads. Some follow shockingly close and create serious hazards. Four wheel drive != perfect command of snowy/slushy/icy roads!

    We probably got about 6-8 inches of snow (including a pretty solid 1/4-1/2 inch of sleet). Anyway, we got a dispensation but I made an effort at going since I have four wheel drive. Took a while and missed the first reading but made it. Our pastor commented that all Masses were offered and a handful of people came to each.

    I think that we have to use judgment. A pastor is not being a bad shephard by possibly preventing serious accidents. Most of us live in broken up and far-flung communities so travel is a challenge even with a car in bad weather. I don’t think it is something to think too hard about; if the roads are bone dry and the sun’s out, we should probably make an effort.

    But if travel is dangerous (well, more than it normally is in a significant sense), we can stay home and look over the readings for the day, offer special prayers, etc. It’s like when we are sick: we know when we are skipping and when we are preventing others from being sick (why someone would want to skip, I don’t know though…)

  15. DelRayVA says:

    In 1993 I lived closer to the church than the Pastor did (Rectory was about 1/2 mile from the church.) After a Saturday “snow hurricane” that locked most of us in our homes, I walked to Mass. God bless the Pastor. He showed up and said Mass for the 4 of us there. He started with: “You all know you aren’t required to be here, right?” We nodded. Then he started Mass. He was probably the person who came from the farthest away that morning. I really appreciate that he came.

  16. Here in DC we had the double whammy of 6″ of snow and our schelduled priest was admitted to hospital. Luckily we found a priest studying at Catholic University to fill in and he has 4 wheel drive! Yesterday I got stuck going up our road and my husband had to rescue me. Wisely he went solo to Mass this morning and I stayed home with all the kiddos.

    Please pray for Msr. Olszyk, he is at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

  17. Ellen says:

    We had 6 inches of snow Saturday here in Kentucky, but the parking lot was shoveled off and happily the sun came out to melt the snow enough so that we could get to Mass. I was happy.
    I try not miss for silly reasons, but driving in snow freaks me out. I got used to a long run of snow free winters.

  18. An American Mother says:

    This one missed us, but we have plenty of ice storms.

    Two years ago we got iced up pretty badly (4WD doesn’t work particularly well on black ice, you have to sort of tip toe around) and church was cancelled (there was also no power to the church). In the event, the priest, the choirmaster, the choirmaster’s wife, and a bunch of choir members were the only ones who showed up – so we had an excellent small schola but no congregation. No power in the church, so we had a candlelight Mass and unaccompanied chant — which was awesome. Choirmaster has perfect pitch, so no difficulties.

  19. Henry Edwards says:

    Sometimes in the South we have ice storms that leave driving far more treacherous than anything I observed in several years living in Wisconsin. On one such occasion I called our Georgia parish rectory next door to the church to see if a scheduled Mass would still be available if we tried to make it on foot. Our pastor replied, “So long as there’s a priest alive on the premises, you may be confident that every scheduled Mass will be celebrated, no matter what the weather.”

  20. An American Mother says:

    Henry, your pastor sounds like our pastor! Marching across to the church from the rectory in his cassock tastefully accessorized with parka and snow boots, cigar firmly clenched in square Irish jaw. Mass will be celebrated regardless, come rain, sleet, snow, or dark of night . . .

  21. JoanW says:

    Being from the North, I used to make fun of the Southerners for closing school for a mere chance of snow and freaking out over a half an inch. But now that I see what six or seven inches does to the city — I’m not laughing any more. It’s not the Southern cities’ fault that they can’t handle the snow — it happens so rarely that it’s silly them to have the salt trucks and the plows that you find in Wisconsin or Michigan or North Dakota.

    So even though it only snowed six or seven inches, it was dangerous for people to be out on the roads and the police told people to stay home so that roads could get cleared properly. The police and road crews spent the whole day dragging cars out of ditches!

    As mentioned above, the priest probably wasn’t cancelling Mass as much as he was setting people’s minds at ease so they wouldn’t endanger themselves and others.

  22. EXCHIEF says:

    Here is a little different twist. In our part of the country heavy winters are the norm and everyone is used to driving on snow and ice unless it is in the extreme–which it usually isn’t. Our main parish is definitely too far (45 miles over a mountain pass) if the weather is really bad. That parish, however, has multiple “mission churches” in outlaying farming/ranching communities. So, we go to the closest one which is 12 miles and almost never impossible for us to get to.

    The priests, however, always have to go over one mountain pass or another to get to any of the mission churches. Add to that the fact that both of our parish priests are newly arrived from Africa. They have never seen snow or ice, much less driven on it. Thus far this year they have only missed getting to our mission church once. Frankly, for the priests safety, there were several other times that we prayed they wouldn’t even try to get there.

  23. C. says:

    I live in the North. Masses in my diocese are routinely cancelled due to snow in some “usual suspect” churches. You can show up at the Mass time and find the priest there in civvies, and he won’t say Mass for you, and he won’t give you Holy Communion. We get snow a lot, we know how to handle it, people have to go to work, etc., but the priest will take a snow day. Neighboring dioceses will get hit harder by the same storms and their priests won’t cancel Mass, but ours will.

    Once I found a church open after all the other area churches had closed. I sent in a sizable donation to that parish.

  24. Tobias H says:

    If the concept of “snow day” had been known in Scandinavia, we wouldn’t have had Mass celebrated in public since Rorate Sunday.

  25. Mary Kay says:

    Bad weather is a strong argument for the priest to live in the rectory next to the church (not in a house in a different neighborhood as is the case here).

    I’ve never seen Mass cancelled either even when the roads were closed (blizzard), but of course, people have to use common sense.

  26. Mary Kay says:

    on second thought, the road closings might not have been the blizzard, maybe one of the ice storms. At any rate, the police were out to make sure there was no travel. But those of us within walking distance made it to Mass.

    Lifting the obligation makes sense, cancelling Mass is a bad idea.

  27. robtbrown says:

    In areas where ice is rare, I can’t imagine a more dangerous situation for folks, walking and driving, especially the elderly, than to try to navigate an icy sidewalk and parking lot.
    Comment by Random Friar

    I have no doubt that is true, and I understand that some might need reassurance about not being able to attend mass because of the weather. That is not hard to address.

    On the other hand, if a pastor cancels Sunday mass, what guarantee is there that everyone will know? Even if it is posted on the Internet and put on the parish answering machine, that doesn’t mean that everyone will know.

  28. John 6:54 says:

    I thought Mass was only “Cancelled” if the priest doesn’t show up?

    Now http://www.GetToMass.com :-)

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