QUAERITUR: Mass obligation and crossing the International Date Line

From a reader:

I plan a trip to New Zealand to attend a conference. Current travel plans call for leaving LAX Saturday evening. The flight crosses the international date line, and so it lands in Auckland on Monday morning. What becomes of my Sunday obligation? (Attending a Saturday vigil Mass, I suspect. will be impractical, as I’ll be flying into LA from the east coast.)

I’m sure the question must have come up before; is there any authoritative answer?

If there is no Mass where you are on a day of precept, and you are there for a good reason and not to avoid going to Mass, then you cannot fulfill the obligation. If you cannot do it, because it is not possible, then you are not culpable for not not fulfilling the obligation.

This would apply also to astronauts on the International Space Station. I am not sure you can even tell, easily, what day it is there, since it is moving across the date line often during a terran day. Unless, perhaps, they are working from, say, UTC? Even then, unless they have a chaplain aboard, they can’t go to Mass.

Which of course raises the issue of how to follow the rubric about the priest raising his eyes heavenward,… not to mention the pouring of wine and water, etc. But I digress.

If you can’t get to Mass, really, then you haven’t committed a sin.

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  1. Random Friar says:

    While I think there is a valid way to celebrate Mass in normal low-gravity conditions, the dangers and general floating around might be detrimental to the reverence.

    One thing, if or when it comes to that, that we could do is celebrate on a rotating section of a spaceport. You see one in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    As for the time, one would simply have to choose a time and stick to it. Certain rubrics, such as not celebrating the Easter Vigil until after sundown are just not practical or sensical in space.

  2. tzard says:

    As I understand it, it is truly not a sin because you are ‘excused’ from the obligation to attend mass if you are unable to do so. (see Fr. Z’s Q. response on Mass and TV last month)

    You are still obliged by scripture to make holy the Lord’s day – which to me is more of a problem in this case since you are actually missing a day in there. Were it me, I would just do my best to make the travel time holy in some respect – perhaps with a rosary.

  3. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I guess to an astronaut heavenward means relative to the currently designated floor or on a line drawn from the center of the earth through the spaceship. His choice.

    I believe the space station has clocks set to a particular time, probably the time at the Johnson Space Center? Maybe?

    I miss Mass a lot because I feel crummy and don’t feel safe to drive. It always makes me sad. I suppose at the end of time God might if He wants to, tell me what good it did for me to miss Mass like that. Builds “character?” Or something?

  4. jesusthroughmary says:

    tzard says:
    19 November 2011 at 11:20 am

    You are still obliged by scripture to make holy the Lord’s day – which to me is more of a problem in this case since you are actually missing a day in there.

    Some easily calculated portion of the flight will fly through Sunday; dedicate that portion to prayer, spiritual reading and relaxation, and make a spiritual communion.

  5. uptoncp says:

    In space is relatively easy, keep a consistent date and time related to earth base. For the Easter Vigil you’d just have to pick a sensible time.

    The real problem comes when you land on another planet and have to deal with its day and year length.

  6. pfreddys says:

    Yes, I know he is a blue comedian, but did anyone else think of George Carlin when they were reading the question?

  7. I will presume to provide an additional suggestion to the problem. Since the trip is planned seek dispensation from your Pastor. Usually, the power to dispense from some obligation, promise, or precept is delegated by the local Bishop to his Pastors.

    The power to dispense exists for a reason. Utilize it when needed. This sounds like a perfect reason to grant a dispensation.

  8. M. K. says:

    Which of course raises the issue of how to follow the rubric about the priest raising his eyes heavenward,… not to mention the pouring of wine and water, etc. But I digress.

    I used to know a priest who devoted a lot of thought to this issue, including how liturgical vessels could be adapted for use in space. He never made it there, though, so it was all academic speculation. Another question, I guess, would be which bishop would have extraterrestrial jurisdiction!

  9. OP-ter says:

    Saturday vigil before you go?

  10. One question I would raise is if a Catholic should voluntarily place himself in a position where he knows he will be unable to get to Mass. I would also be careful about how I defined “a good reason.” The advice to seek a dispensation is always good in such a case because it gets too easy for one to excuse oneself. Advice from a disinterested, objective third party is valuable in such an important matter.

    As for space travel, one thing that annoyed me about Star Trek is the notion that 400 (and later 1200) people would be sent into space for extended journeys without a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, a Protestant minister, and perhaps religious leaders of other faiths. There’s no way I would volunteer for a five-year mission without some reasonable assurance that someone would be available to provide for my spiritual welfare. It would make as much sense as heading out without food, water, or oxygen. What price glory– what difference will it make if we conquer the stars and risk losing our immortal souls in the process? Remember– God doesn’t need our attendance at Mass; we do. “Our praise adds nothing to your glory,” to quote from an oft-used Preface.

  11. RichR says:

    Since the Pope has universal jurisdiction, and since there are no dioceses in space, it would be interesting if a space station with a priest on board would celebrate according to Roman time and custom.

    Just pondering…..

  12. Scuffy the Tugboat says:

    Father, if your correspondent does hear Mass while in New Zealand, he or she will NOT hear the new translations. The NZ Bishops elected to have their own Missal prepared and printed for New Zealand and, after the Missals were printed, it was discovered that there was a problem with the paper that had been used! The Missals were unusable for the liturgy, and they are not to be released to parishes. Anyway, the full adoption of the new translations down here in New Zealand lies somewhere in the future, at a date yet to be specified…

  13. A space-chapel would have to define a liturgical ‘up’ as well as a liturgical ‘east’. Liturgy in space has the potential to encourage lots of ill-advised enculturation. As it seems that space liturgy would most likely be first done by the Russian Orthodox, we ought to see how they do it.

    Regarding keeping the Lord’s day holy, during my travels, I’d stick with my departure time zone until landing.

  14. Penta says:

    Andrew Saucci: You do realize Gene Roddenberry was a militant atheist, right? According to Trek’s creator, religion is dead by the 23rd Century.

    On the general issue of Liturgy In Space: I have a sneaking suspicion The Powers That Be will never let it become an issue. It would, regardless, be inadvisable in any sort of microgravity environment, for a number of reasons.

  15. Dr. Eric says:

    Penta, Roddenberry was an atheist, I agree. But Star Trek, especially the 90s shows, treated the made up alien religions with great respect for some reason. It would appear that all religions are equal except the Christian one. (There were a few exceptions, like when in the original series they landed on a faux Roman planet.)

  16. ray from mn says:

    My classmates and I worried about this issue when we were in the Third Grade.

  17. ray from mn says:

    That was 58 years ago.

  18. C. says:

    Those who can’t drive to Mass might consider asking someone for a ride.

    I know one fervent convert whose conversion story begins with an injured neighbor asking them for a ride to Mass.

  19. JAS says:

    I’ve always made sure to be back from a weekend camping trip in order to attend Sunday Mass, but what about a couple of months on the Appalachian Trail?

  20. Dr. Eric may be right that Gene Roddenbury was an atheist, but the Enterprise that Kirk commanded in TOS did have a chapel (one episode shows a funeral); and when the crew encounters “Apollo” and are commanded to worship the gods, Kirk replies that the One is sufficient for them. (And in the move Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock’s corpse is launched into space while Scotty plays “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.)

    However, more to hand, Mr. Saucci says that he can’t see anyone going on a long journey when that would deprive him of regular services. Surely he realizes that many military men are ordered to go and often do not have the service of chaplains. In the English Navy the Captain was authorized to conduct religious services (which would have been Morning Prayer and perhaps the peculiarly Anglican service of the Ante-Communion). Jack Aubrey is shown doing this more than once in the Patrick O’Brian series. (This, of course, is the basis for a sea captain’s authority to conduct marriages that are recognized in law.)

    The good of the community will sometimes require this absence from regular religious observance on the part of the military and explorers could find themselves in the same “boat”; no, this would not be for everyone, but I’m not sure that a person under authority who obeys in this situation could be charged with sin for signing up for the military or an exploratory force knowing this could happen.

  21. I was incorrect in my first sentence; the episode “Balance of Terror” shows a wedding (although that episode ends with the groom’s death); with Capt. Kirk presiding in what is clearly a chapel.

  22. Chrysostom says:

    Being a New Zealander, the delay in the new Missal caused a lot of frustration. There is one bishop (not of my diocese, thankfully) who took a poll of opinions of the new translation, to which over 80% were hostile. The accuracy is doubtful, considering that it was taken in a liberal Catholic journal (Tui Motu, our local version of the Fishwrap). That being said, were were one of the first to introduce the people’s parts last Advent, and no one any longer has a problem with those, so we’re half of the way there. The remaining bishops have been very supportive (hence the wish for a local edition), and hopefully within the next week there will be an update.

    Our Lady of the Assumpion, (patron of NZ), ora pro nobis!

  23. redhood says:

    I have to cross the international date line plenty of times and always make it a point to avoid flying on a Sunday. Planning your schedule taking into account your life of prayer & worship as a member of the Church should always be a part of good business planning. Take it into consideration the next time you travel internationally.

  24. andreat says:

    Sometimes it is not possible to plan travel around Sunday, especially when it is your employer paying for airfares and accommodation.

    Steve Cavenaugh makes some good points. If no Catholic is ever to do something that would prevent them from attending Mass on Sundays, we would have no Catholic explorers, military, missionaries, pioneers.

  25. bvb says:

    @ray from mn: Too bad third graders 58 years later aren’t taught enough to be able to worry about it…

  26. Paul_S says:


    At least one bishop claimed jurisdiction over the moon


  27. Fr Jackson says:

    What about the breviary for us priests!? I used to travel regularly between the US and NZ and this question came up on every return trip: there would be one liturgical day that “existed” on the plane for, let’s say, something like 45 minutes in some cases, but always practically impossible to compute with any accuracy. What sort of obligation exists for the breviary for that day, if any? One older priest told me to just say everything on the evening of the previous day. Another priest said that there really can’t be an obligation for a day that doesn’t exist, so any breviary from the missing day would just be an act of devotion and not the fulfillment of an obligation. Any thoughts on that Fr Z?

    (I knew another priest who used to fly from Auckland to Apia – and the problem became even stranger because the travel time in the plane was much shorter. One could really “live” the same day twice…)

  28. leonugent2005 says:

    Scrupulosity is not a “safety margin.” It is disordered moral doubt. It is disordered because it does not take into account Christ’s love and mercy.

  29. LawrenceK says:

    Andrew wrote: As for space travel, one thing that annoyed me about Star Trek is the notion that 400 (and later 1200) people would be sent into space for extended journeys without a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, a Protestant minister, and perhaps religious leaders of other faiths.

    Roddenberry’s future had no more religion. Yes, there were a few episodes that were exceptions, but they were written by others. The introduction of interesting alien religions began in ST:DS9 after Roddenberry’s death.

    Babylon 5 is a much more interesting and realistic future: set in the years 2258-2262, with plenty of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, atheists, and members of new religions not yet created in our time. And occasionally it even has interesting theological debates: rabbis discussing whether alien foods are kosher, and Catholic monks discussing the souls of human beings whose memories have been completely erased by a new technology.

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