QUAERITUR: Doctor’s orders legit reason to miss Sunday Mass?

Mass obligationFrom a reader:

Thank you for your ministry, your constant words of encouragement, and your prayers.

I have a question about Mass obligations. I recently (11 days ago) gave birth to a slightly premature but otherwise healthy baby boy. The doctor has told me that for his health I should avoid public places with many people for a minimum of two months. As I am nursing, it is not practical for me to attend Mass without said bambino.

The question I have is this: Can I attend daily Mass, which has far fewer people and germs, while not attending Sunday Mass because of the large number of people and germs present? Does this count as a legitimate reason to miss Mass?

If it is sure that many people are around and there is a serious concern, that is a legitimate reason not to attend Mass on Sunday or the evening before (cf. can 1248).

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

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  1. pinecone says:

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in #2181: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor…” I assume this is just such a serious reason, since it involves illness and the care of an infant.

  2. anilwang says:

    In the Eastern Orthodox (and I assume Eastern Catholics), there is a churching ceremony ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churching_of_women ) similar to the one Mary went through at the presentation of Jesus. It usually takes place at 40 days after the birth. Pre-reformation it was also part of the Western church but it fell out of favour afterwords.

    Personally, I think its a shame since women who give birth need some time to recover as a rule, not an exception, so formalizing the dispensation and raising it to the status of a blessing, IMO, raises the dignity of child birth.

  3. Paul says:

    I don’t have any wisdom to add to Father Z’s good response, but I will keep the mother and child in my prayers and hope that others do so also.

  4. priests wife says:

    While not every new mother stays away from church in the Byzantine rite, anilwang is correct that we have a beautiful ceremony that is usually after the baptism of the child to also welcome the mother back into the church (so she doesn’t hold the baby during the baptism)

    This 40 days at home also serves a very practical purpose- the more rest a new mother can get, the more likely she will heal well and be able to have more children in the future.

    many prayers to the writer- I had a 4 pound preemie and it wasn’t easy even though she was healthy. If the baby is gaining weight, you might call your doctor to get ‘permission’ to go to Mass when the baby is a month

  5. Slappo says:

    My daughter was born at 1am on a Sunday morning. My wife was on bed rest, and I was not going to leave my wife and 16 hour old daughter to go to mass while my wife was unable to do such simple things as get a glass of water or some food, so I called my pastor and invited him over to give us communion and a blessing and asked to be dispensed from my obligation to attend mass. Two months seems like a long time, but I’ve heard the same thing about babies that are at all premature due to the weak immune system they have.

  6. Slappo says:

    My daughter was born at 1am on a Sunday morning. My wife was on bed rest, and I was not going to leave my wife and 16 hour old daughter to go to mass while my wife was unable to do such simple things as get a glass of water or some food, so I called my pastor and invited him over to give us communion and a blessing and asked to be dispensed from my obligation to attend mass. Two months seems like a long time, but I’ve heard the same thing about babies that are at all premature due to the weak immune system they have.

  7. capchoirgirl says:

    This happened to me after my lung transplant–no Mass for the first month or so. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere since I was so immunocompromised. Now, it’s not so much a problem, but during the cold/flu season, I tend to avoid people during the Sign of Peace.

  8. dep says:

    I have often wondered if, when one is capable of making it to Mass but has, for instance, a bad cold, the obligation can be met by watching (and participating in responses and the like) the Mass broadcast on EWTN. Slightly off-topic, but it does at least offer a possibility to gain much of what Mass offers us.

    Is it in any way licit to engage in such a thing?

  9. Random Friar says:

    The Sunday obligation cannot really be met by watching Mass via tv or listening to it on the radio, although I would say it’s an excellent way to try to do the best you can under the circumstances. Your pastor may ask you to do that in place of it, anyway. But dispensed is dispensed.

    If the questioner were to come to me with this situation, I would shoo her away if you came within 1000 feet of the church. Stay home. Think of it as an opportunity to make a retreat of sorts. Lots of quiet time (albeit interrupted by a cry here and there), and ample opportunity to pray and read. I don’t know if it would be ok, according to your doctor, to have someone bring Communion.

  10. yatzer says:

    If you’d like to get out and feel up to going to Mass sometime in that period, you might be able to go by yourself at some point, especially a shorter daily Mass. Most new babies, in my experience (3 children and a member of LaLeche League) settle into about 2 hours between feedings. OTOH, you are recovering and do need to care for your somewhat delicate child, so don’t push it. That’s my 2 cents only.

  11. Nora says:

    The dispensation is a wonderful thing to know about and spread the knowledge of. Once or twice a year someone I know or I will have a situation come up where attending mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation looks near impossible. It is so easy to call the pastor and get his read on what your choices are: no fuss no muss, no mortal sin. Granted, I have a fairly large circle of folks who ask me, because I am the sacristan and am inherently friendly, so I hit the question more often than average, but whenever I facilitate someone requesting the dispensation, I ask them as a favor in the form of paying it forward to spread the word. In my experience, the dispensation is given 3 times out of 4 and the times it is denied, there is an option for getting to mass that the person requesting dispensation did not know about.

  12. One who lives within a reasonable drive of an inner-city parish that is almost deserted could perhaps attend Mass there until the situation is less risky. I have seen many parishes where entire pews are empty on Sunday morning, and, of course, there was the Easter Sunday Mass I attended some years ago with only seven other people at a dying parish in lower Manhattan, since closed.

  13. ckdexterhaven says:

    I wouldn’t even go to Daily Mass. The thing with a new baby is that everybody wants to come ooh and ahh over the precious child. It would be difficult to shoo people away with charity.

  14. JenB says:

    My older two children had prep class during one of the Masses on Epiphany Sunday. Since I was already at the church, I thought that I would attend Mass by sitting in the lobby, rather than inside. But, it was as ckdexterhaven pointed out, even people who know better (working in NICU) wanted to see the baby, and since I was not in my normal front pew seat, people wanted to shake my hand during the sign of the peace. It feels very weird, and wrong, to be going to church – dropping my older two off for classes and choir rehearsals, but not attending Mass myself. Also, we live outside of the parish boundaries, and over a large toll bridge, so I don’t know if I can even fairly request that Eucharist be brought to me. During Sunday Masses, we have several hundred people attending each of the four Masses. But, I think there are only a handful of people who go to the daily Mass (mostly because it is in the middle of the morning, and many of the parishioners work). I have worked very hard at making sure my older two sons have always attended Mass, but as my husband is a nominal Catholic, who prefers to stay home on Sundays, no one in my family will be going to Mass until the baby is strong enough to withstand more germ exposure, and this also feels very weird. It is odd to feel healthy and strong, and yet to not be able to go to Mass. There is the logical part of my brain that understands this is a reasonable absence, but then there is the part of me that feels healthy and can’t get over that I *should* be there. Thank you for the suggestion of the dispensation. I think I will call and speak with my pastor (although he is currently grieving the loss of his mother) and discuss the situation with him. (And no, I do not live close to an inner city parish – technically I live in a rural area, although it’s more like the suburbs of the suburbs…) Thank you all for the kind words and advice :)

  15. 1. Better safe than sorry. Stay home. Don’t feel guilty about it for a second. If it distresses you, offer it up. You could even offer it up for your baby, if you like.

    2. If Mary and Joseph went all the way to pagan Egypt to keep their baby safe, you can stay home for yours. And you can feel virtuous about it too — because it is virtuous.

    3. Get dispensed formally for your peace of mind, if you’re worried about it. (Though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “parent who has to take care of kid” as being as automatic as “I’m sick” for releasing you from the obligation. It falls under “for other grave cause.”)

    4. Spiritual communion is your friend. Watching Mass on TV can help you with that, but you can just do it mentally whenever you want. It’s not the same, but it’s good.

    5. Pray. Do some nice spiritual reading, from the Bible or otherwise. Maybe the baby would like you to start reading out loud. Rest up (if the baby lets you) and eat good food. Cuddle.

  16. Sherrytex says:

    Having been home with sickly infants (Have ten children) on multiple occasions, please stay home to protect your baby. You and he need that rest, that quiet time. And it is short. It will keep your baby healthy and that is what matters. Read the daily readings. Invite your pastor to come, perhaps bring you communion once a week, and allow yourself to take in this time. It does not last even though there are times when it feels like it is forever.

  17. jmhj5 says:

    I have seen some beautiful “Birthing” in Latin. Most people do not take time off for proper healing after giving birth, especially if you have a preemie. There are issues you still have to grieve.
    I guess I am saying let us seek God in His Wisdom and Love.

  18. I have been home sick for over two months. I should be able to go to Mass the first time this weekend, according to my doctor. I was unable to stand or even sit for more than an hour, due to a cardiac “incident”, and after the initial crisis, I was on medication that made me faint constantly, so had to stay at home. I have not worried about “missing my obligation”(although I have wanted to go to Mass) and did not even feel the need to seek a dispensation from my pastor. When my priest-friend (not my pastor) would visit to offer sacraments, the Sunday issue never even came up. If you are sick, you are sick. God is a loving Father, not a lawyer.

  19. coeyannie says:

    I had five babies, the first one 5 lbs 12 oz, very tiny. I have a bulletin for everyone. There are breast pumps and bottles and husbands. Going to Mass and receiving Holy Communion is far more healing than staying in bed, unless of course, you are bed ridden. Women are usually happy to have an hour to God and themselves and get away from the incessant “drop-ins”. The baby doesn’t HAVE to go to Mass with you.

  20. Ana says:

    I believe it is an over simplification this issue to say the mother should go due to the invention of breast pumps, bottles, and husbands provided she is not bedridden. A premature infant’s (5lbs 12oz isn’t premature, but only tiny so the issues are totally different) immune system can be so compromised that the germs a mother comes in contact with at Mass (many people go to Church with cold, may not know they are a carrier of a particular germ, or may be coming down with something and not know it) can compromise the infant’s immune system when the mother arrives home as she may become a carrier for an illness although she does not show any symptoms or become ill and unable to care for her premature infant so I don’t see how it would be unreasonable for a mother to attend to her premature child for two months.

  21. oddfisher says:

    I’m a little confused. If some one has a serious reason (e.g., taking care of a baby that can’t be brought to church), for not being able to go to Mass, why would they need a dispensation? If some one did not have a serious reason, how would a dispensation, (I’m tempted to write “dispensation”) make it OK?

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