ASK FATHER: Mass on TV and Sunday Obligation… again


From a reader…


if I go to nursing [home] to visit someone and I go for mass and watch it on a tv and fr is in the chapel does that count for filling my sunday obligation

We are treading in interesting waters (along with grammar and punctuation).  When in interesting waters, it is wise to keep one’s eyes open for traps.

You cannot fulfill your Sunday obligation without actually being at Holy Mass. Watching it on TV in your living room, while a good practice for someone who truly can’t get to Mass (and who therefore does not have an obligation to attend Mass, because no one is obliged to do the impossible), does not fulfill your obligation.

Is there more to be said?  Yes.  And when in interesting waters we Unreconstructed Ossified Manualists will obviously reach for our manuals for advice.  This time I look at Sabetti-Barrett.

We are obliged (most of us), as it says in the manuals, to hear Mass on days of obligation.  I like that phrase, “hear Mass”, because it points to a deep mode of “active participation” which most liturgists and all liberals fail to grasp.  I digress.  We are obliged to hear Mass.

We must be present where Mass is in order to hear Mass.  In order to hear Mass we must be present corporeally both morally and continuously.  Moral presence means we must be where the Holy action is taking place so that we can be said to be one of the congregation assisting at the Mass.  We must be present continuously, which means we must be there for the greater part of the Mass, not being absent for a notable share of it or a notable moment.

Does moral presence require that you see and hear the priest and his words, everything he says and does?  No.  You are still morally present if you are behind a column or barrier or even outside the church’s open doors in a crowd who would, space permitting, otherwise be inside.  You are morally present even if you are not too near the door.  St Alphonsus Liguori, citing another author, offers that perhaps some 30 paces isn’t too far from the door.  I don’t know about that.  It’s a good guess and I suppose it has to do with capacity of human hearing and of sight in a time before sound systems and even eyeglasses.

We now have microphones, sound systems, video screens, etc.  That extends by magnitudes the distance of what we can consider “moral presence”.

And so, …

… if you go to a large venue for Mass, say, the big parking lot called St.
Peter’s Square for a Mass in the square, and you can only see what’s going on by watching a jumbotron screen, do you fulfill your obligation? It isn’t optimal but, yes.

(Whether it is edifying or not is another question.)

How about a small, crowded venue, say, St. Idelphonsus Mission in Dry Gulch (a neighbor to St. Fidelia in Tall Tree Circle and not so far from St. Ipidipsy), where all 50 seats in the pews are filled but a closed-circuit video link is set up so that the overflow crowds can follow both outside the church and in the nearby quonset hut hall?

It seems to me that, yes, the folks watching outside and in the quonset hut  fulfill their obligation.  They are morally present.  Were there room in the church, they would be in the church.  They are as close to the church as they can be.  They are striving to be present within the church for Mass.  The new technology extends the range of the priest’s voice and gestures in the very moment of his speaking and acting.

This applies, mutatis mutandis, to the nursing home, where not all the residents can fit in the chapel and some cannot, for other reason, easily enter.

The patients follow along, live, on the TVs in their respective rooms.  They are morally present.  It is possible that Father or a deacon then makes the rounds with Communion.

Again, if a person cannot get to Mass, there is no obligation.  It may be that the patient has no obligation because getting to Mass is too much of a physical burden.

And the patients guests? They are not constrained to be in the patient’s room because of lack of space.  They could make it to the chapel.  They choose instead to sit with their loved one and follow on TV, thus providing solace and human comfort.

However, I think they are morally present, provided that what they are watching is live.  It isn’t optimal, but I think, yes, they fulfilled their obligation.

Watching Mass live from another city?  No.  Watching it live within the same building or area, but with constraints on mobility, space, other reasonable circumstances?  Yes.

Again, this is new ground we’re covering. There is not much in the manuals about distance and so forth, and nothing about live video feeds.  But the principles laid down in the manuals are sufficient for us to have a clearer sense of what presence means.

It goes without saying that you should give your full attention, as due to every Mass, whether you are present in the chapel or you are confined to your room.

As long as the Mass is being broadcast in the nursing home live, that is, it isn’t a recording for later rebroadcast, you are morally present at Mass, and therefore you fulfill the obligation.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    This posting is a model of real moral reasoning. So much silliness is deftly but calmly avoided. It is pure. It is humble. It is passive. The moral spirit, the will to find out what is right, is the centre and foundation. I recommend that people who want to “do” medical ethics read it over and over. Think like that.

  2. Nan says:

    Around here, because priests are busy with Mass at the Church on Sunday, nursing homes have Mass during the week, usually once a month with others taking communion to the home each week but not necessarily on Sunday. Where my mom is now, they have Mass once a week which is unusual. The volunteers go and find the Catholics and bring them to Mass.

  3. Phil_NL says:

    While I reckon most people in nursing homes would be excused the obligation, especially if the home isn’t a catholic institution and an on-site Mass would be the exception rather than the norm, it’s great that so many people, priests included, try to make Mass accessible in one way or the other for those living there.

    All small bits help and are nice, as I can see in the case of my grandmother (who, by the way isn’t doing very well. Please pray for her; I’d add it to one of the prayer requests threads, but none are active anymore). May the Lord reward those who help the elderly!

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