QUAERITUR: Can’t attend Sunday Mass. Wherein Fr. Z gives a long, convoluted answer with lots of history and some Latin.

From a reader:

I am currently in attendance at a law enforcement academy in order to become certified as a State Trooper. It runs until January of next year, is a live-in facility, and is structured in a very paramilitary format.
I’ve recently reviewed our schedule and have discovered that we will be having to go to class on certain Saturdays and Sundays in December. I am under the initial impression that no accommodation will be made permitting us to leave for Mass or other Sunday services during those particular weekends. Would I need to request a dispensation under these circumstances? What is the process? I had supposed that in the future, as a Trooper, I would time my break to attend Mass. I am very stressed out about not being able to attend, and plan on speaking with the class’

In the 13th century, Pope Gregory IX had St. Raymond of Penyafort collect important canonical legislation. Building on the important work done a century earlier by Gratian, this collection became known as the Decretals. Gregory’s successors, especially Dante’s nemesis Boniface VIII, added to and revised the Decretals.  These collections were the primary reference source for canon law until the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

There’s more!

Book VI of the Decretals is called the Regulae Iuris (on Wikipedia for your edification and light evening reading), published by the aforementioned Boniface in 1298. Though these 88 Rules are not found explicitly in the current, 1983 Code of Canon Law, they still have significant moral force.  Many of the Rules provide the basis of modern law.

“But Father! But Father!”, you are saying by now….


Regulae Iuris 6 states: Nemo potest ad impossibile obligari… No one can be obliged to the impossible.

This principle still applies today.

The Church will not impose a burden on someone that is impossible for that person to fulfill.  If it is impossible for someone to get to Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation, the obligation ceases.

It is salubrious for someone who, examining the circumstances, foresees that he will be unable to hear Holy Mass on a day of precept (which includes all Sundays) to approach his pastor for advice and counsel in order to determine if there truly is no reasonable solution.  This pastor may grant a dispensation or a commutation (e.g. altering the obligation to hear Mass on Sunday to some other pious work, such as praying a rosary, or even hearing Mass on some other day) in order to lighten the conscience of the one who will have to miss Mass. Alternatively, the pastor could simply note that, since attendance at Mass is impossible, the obligation is lifted.

Lastly, most police forces have Catholic chaplains.  You could check and see if there is a Catholic chaplain attached to the academy or to the State Police, and seek his input. It is likely that you are not the only person to face this situation.

I made this long and detailed by I have a soft spot for cops.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. APX says:

    May I kindly make a suggestion to the person who sent this in?

    If attending Mass is very important to him or her, and he or she plans on maintaining this throughout his or her career, why not kindly explain this to one’s higher up and ask if there could possibly be an accommodation made?

    As someone who has many friends and family members who either are or were police officers, as well as having spent a lot of time with seasoned police officers, and have also myself worked in the justice system, I can tell you that having a strong connection to one’s faith tradition is looked highly upon as a pro-social support system in a career that is very stressful and often leads to anti-social behaviour (ie: alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, etc) as a coping mechanism when the proper support systems aren’t there. Because of this, many supervisors are willing to make reasonable accommodations in order to maintain that support system (no, you likely won’t get every Sunday off, but sometimes you’re allowed to attend Mass while on duty provided you’re still reachable and able to respond if necessary). Unless you’re out in the boonies where no Mass is available, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst they can do (realistically) is say no.

  2. Moro says:

    I certainly sympathize with this reader’s plight. I think it’s worth asking about the police chaplain and if that goes nowhere ask the instructors at the academy. I don’t know what mass schedules are like where you live, but I suspect there is some option that could work. Tell them you are open to a Saturday vigil or mass at any time on Sunday that is convenient for the program. I’d be polite and accomodating but firm. You have a right to practice your faith and that needs to be respected, especially by law enforcement.

  3. dirtycopper says:

    Don’t sweat it rookie. You will be doing the Lord’s work for the next 25-30 years and you are going to miss more Holy Mass than you can count through no fault of your own. It comes with the territory. Pray a rosary while they are running you to death. It helped me survive the academy and the career that follows.

    As to this suggestion “why not kindly explain this to one’s higher up and ask if there could possibly be an accommodation made?”, if you have been at the academy for more than seven minutes I don’t have to explain to you what a bad idea this is.

    Thanks Father Z for a great post.

  4. APX says:

    You guys must do things differently in the US. Here in Canada such is encouraged, but training doesn’t happen on Sundays. RCMP Depot has its own Sunday non-denominational service in their chapel each Sunday and has all the info for where to find X religion service on Sunday.

  5. EXCHIEF says:

    As one who has been in law enforcement for longer than many readers of this blog have been alive let me offer a few words. #1 While “Police Chaplains” may be common on the east coast they are not at all common in most of the country. #2. There is not a government run police academy I know of (and I have taught at many) that will allow a religious “ceremony” to be held on its facility. #3 as dirtycopper says through no fault of your own you will, during your career, be forced to miss Mass more than once. I even had to miss the Baptism of one of my children because of a police emergency. You can plan to attend Mass on your “break” but once you hit the streets you will find that breaks are usually taken on the run, when you can fit them in, and can seldom be reliably planned in advance.

    Thankfully as Father says the Church does not demand the impossible. I can recall many a graveyard shift (midnight to 8 am) when I had planned to be off in time to attend 9 am Mass and I got held over (on a homicide, SWAT incident, etc etc) until long after the last Mass of the day.

    When you know in advance (sometimes in this profession) that you will have no choice but to miss Mass talking to your Pastor in advance and having some other avenue of meeting your obligation prescribed makes sense. That is your present situation. Believe me when you hit the streets it will almost always be a case of talking to your Pastor ex post facto.

    Congratulations on your choice of profession. St Michael is our patron Saint–the patron of Warriors and Sheepdogs. Welcome aboard from one whose paid and reserve time in uniform is 5 months shy of 50 years.

  6. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    In my military career, I missed more than one Sunday or Holy Day Mass. I also worked with my pastor, the Catholic Chaplain, on things I COULD DO, to meet the intent of the obligation. My husband is still in law enforcement and yes, there are many, many times I am alone in the pew.

    Do as you can, when you can, and remember that there are many praying for you, and fellow first responders, just as we pray for our priests and for vocations to the priesthood.

  7. Random Friar says:

    This leads to one of my least-favorite games in the confessional: “Why Did You Miss Mass?”

    I try to get people, as succinctly as I can, to see the same principle of Nemo potest… Could you get here? No? Then, God does not ask the impossible. I’d say half or more of the time folks confess this, it is “not a sin,” simply by applying this principle. One in ten or so involved planning better (see masstimes.org before you travel), and the rest, purposely missing Mass, usually by sloth.

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