ASK FATHER: Can’t go to Mass on Sunday. Are we obliged to go on Saturday?

From a reader…


I’m satisfied that Canon 1248 clearly grants us a generous concession to fulfill / satisfy our obligation to assist at Mass on a Sunday by going on Saturday evening. If my Church has a Saturday evening Mass but no Masses on the actual Sunday does that concession become an legal obligation?

Communion in the hand…
Blessings instead of Communion even by lay ministers…
Mass “facing the people”…

Saturday evening Masses as quasi-vigil Masses for Sunday is one of those poorly thought out decisions that, once implemented, has by now become so fixed in the Catholic psyche that they are as easy to roll back as the tide.

Granted: Saturday vigil Masses make attendance at Masses for Sunday Obligation possible for that small segment of society who are truly unable to attend Mass on Sunday morning.  The question is, however, begged: why weren’t Sunday afternoon or evening Masses considered?

Sadly, the prevalence of Saturday evening Masses have had the effect, in many parishes, of eliminating the Saturday morning Mass, depriving the faithful of the celebration of numerous feasts, not too mention the regular commemoration of the Blessed Virgin on those Saturdays in Ordinary Time when the day is otherwise unencumbered.

There are now Catholics who, for no other reason than convenience, have not been to Holy Mass on Sunday morning for years.

This plays into our culture’s desacralization of Sunday, which is no longer the Lord’s Day, but merely a “day off.”

That said, Saturday evening Masses allow a Catholic to fulfill her canonical obligation to hear Mass on Sundays, and Holy Days of Obligation.

The Mass that one attends on Saturday evening need not be a Mass of Sunday. It need not have the readings of Sunday. It need not have the prayers of Sunday. It need not have the Gloria, the Creed, the interminable and often incomprehensible prayers of the faithful, the collection, the joke-riddled homily, the cutesy introduction, hoards of Unnecessary Ministers of Communion, the warm and fuzzy comments at the end that one often finds on Sundays.  There is a lot of misinformation in this regard, but the law is clear – the obligation is fulfilled by attendance at any Mass offered in a Catholic rite on Saturday evening.  The canon has the Latin word “advesperascit“, which sparks some debate as to when “evening” begins.  Some people offer reasonable arguments that a Mass at noon fits the definition.  I don’t think so, but who am I to judge?

This concession is a favor granted by the Church to the faithful, and, as such, is subject to a broad interpretation. It is a favor. It is not an additional obligation. If a Catholic cannot hear Holy Mass on Sunday for a legitimate reason, she MAY fulfill her obligation by attending Mass on Saturday evening. She does not HAVE to. If she truly cannot get to Mass on Sunday, the canonical obligation ceases.


Luke 17:10.

“We are unprofitable servants; we have done only that which was our duty to do.”

We should all strive for better than just hearing Mass solely out of a sense of obligation.  Let us examine our consciences and ask ourselves if we are settling for the bare minimum.  Give the obligations of the virtue of Religion, that could be sinful.

Would that every Catholic might desire to attend Mass often, even daily, to worship God as is His due, not just with routine presence, but with fervent, interiorly active receptivity and gratitude.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    My family always attended the anticipated Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday Evening since I was a child, but I am no stranger to Mass on Sunday. Lately I have been attending the OF Mass on Saturday evening, and the EF Mass on Sunday morning. Best of both worlds?

    The only thing that really troubles me is that the Vigil Mass makes it difficult for parishes to celebrate Vespers… one more thing that Vatican II called for… and which was echoed by St John Paul II.

  2. JeffLiss says:

    It’s certainly not the only reason, but this: “the interminable and often incomprehensible prayers of the faithful, the collection, the joke-riddled homily, the cutesy introduction, hoards of Unnecessary Ministers of Communion, the warm and fuzzy comments at the end that one often finds on Sundays. ” is why I read your blog year after year, Father. When *I* say things like that, the family labels me curmudgeonly. To be able to say “Ahem. Not my words; Father Z. wrote them just this Tuesday,” makes Sunday brunch just that much more enjoyable.

  3. CradleRevert says:

    So often Vigil Masses just seem to affirm and support the minimalist attitude of so many Catholics. I can’t count the number of times that I have heard Catholic friends and family members state plainly that they were going to go to the Vigil Mass prior to heading out for a night on the town — sparing them from having to stumble into Mass the next morning with a hangover.

  4. 2H84 says:

    Quandry: My parish falls into a merger or mergers- 4 parishes became three churches in one parish, with one priest. Mass as the church at my end of things is Saturday evening, with the other two being ealt and late Sunday morning. I stick with that becasue i’m sometimes elsewhere in another rite on Sunday, but principally because i’ve always been involvedf with the servers here, and i’d feel bad passing my own church on the way to another in the same parish.

  5. Papabile says:

    I am remembering this from 20 years ago, but when I was deep into reading obscure liturgical documents, I seem to remember a particular from the SCDW in 1968 about why anticipated Masses should be on Saturday – thus rejecting allowing Sunday afternoon Masses. It was an effort to continue to connect the Mass to mornings before 1 PM, and the thought was that Saturday would truly be seen as an extraordinary permission rather than something regular that might occur on Sundays.

    Additionally, during revision of the Code of Canon Law, the argument to start the obligation (attached to Holy Days) the night before the liturgical day was outright rejected. I cannot remember where I read this…..perhaps Communicationes or something alng those lines.

  6. CatholicMD says:

    Wow I never knew this. We were told we had to use the Sunday readings at our wedding or else our relatives traveling from out of town would have to go to mass again on Sunday morning to fulfill their Sunday obligation.

  7. Latinmass1983 says:

    Tito Casini in his “Dicebamus heri … “La Tunica Stracciata” alla Sbarra,” put it well in 1967. The liturgical reform, like Saturn, has devoured all its children, ESPECIALLY Sunday Mass. Read his points below:
    The Weeping of Asaph

    This liturgical reform, as we see it in action, is like Saturn, which, as we all know, devoured its own children. It has devoured Latin, after having given birth to article 36, meant to secure it a long life in the Church, “Linguæ latinæ usus servetur,” and it has devoured it with such voracity, with a string of “etiam… etiam… etiam…” that has not left any crumbs.

    It has destroyed sacred chant after having declared it, in article 112, a treasure of inestimable price, “thesaurus pretii inaestimabilis;” Gregorian chant, after having, in article 116, recognized it as proper to it, “liturgiæ romanæ proprium,” and guaranteed it the crown: “principem locum obtineat.” And it arrived — passing over so many meals, luncheons, and snacks made with its own tender creatures – at the reason why we decided to enter the debate, it has destroyed Sunday.

    “Etiam,” «also», not first and foremost, not «above all», which was the way it was always understood, making it very clearly understood that «the day of the Lord» certainly wanted something for the Lord.

    «Remember to sanctify the holiday» (“memento!” Not one of the other ten commandments has this solemn command) and to sanctify it one used to go to Mass, on Sunday morning; one used to go to the «liturgical functions», in the evening, as the Church used to instruct: neither the five psalms from Vespers seemed «too much», as it appears they seem too much to the reformers and as Father Bugnini (the Segretario) has expressly told us.

    The Reform has devoured, as we want to say exactly here, even Sunday, incorporating in one of its many instructions “ad exequendam,” or better yet “ad destruendam,” this article 28 that kills, word for word, article 106 of the Constitution here quoted:

    «Permittitur… It is allowed to satisfy the obligation of Sunday Mass the evening of the preceding Saturday…» Of which if everyone took advantage, as everyone has the option, the churches could remain empty that day [Sunday]: empty like no other day of the week: empty, without a faithful and without a prayer, that sacred «day of the Lord» in which, for the Lord, even in non-Catholic countries there are scruples and prohibition to give oneself too much to «pleasure», whether it be innocent pleasure like playing with a ball.

    “Permittitur…” and I will not say that it is the fault of the Reform, or of the reformist spirit that has granted the concession, if the «empty» day of the churches is or will be always that which is less empty than hospitals and morgues, the day less “vacationis ab opera” of the ambulances. May God forbid: I am simply saying that that “satisfieri possit” other than on Sunday has caused and will always tend to cause this day (Sunday) [to become], not “etiam” nor I”n primis,” but “tantum,” but “unice,” the day of pleasure, the day of amusements and we all know of what amusements, on the streets, the woods, the mountains, the beaches, etc.

    I have discussed this with an English friend of mine, and he told me that one of the conditions that the Anglicans will put forth in order to return to union with Rome will be that Rome should return to honoring Sunday… I looked at him, uncertain if this was a joke, but not without wondering if it is true, if we will accept that condition… No, he was not joking (and neither am I).

  8. Elizabeth M says:

    So: 5pm Vigil Mass on Monday night satisfies Tuesday obligation. Also, 5pm and 7pm Mass on Tuesday night satisfies obligation. It doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t the Tues evening Masses then count for Wednesday liturgically speaking?

    Make up your mind. Either Tuesday is Tuesday or it isn’t. It’s from sundown the previous day to sundown that day or it isn’t. There shouldn’t be this sundown to midnight business. Too confusing, especially trying to explain to a non-Catholic. You pretty much sound like you don’t know how to tell time and at the end of the conversation both parties are shaking their head. When you start speaking of stars and Old Testament Sabbath there are generally blank stares.

    Sunday is Sunday or it isn’t. For lay faithful, we’re walking around so confused and at the mercy of the feelings of the local pastor it’s a wonder anyone can follow! The sheep need simple. Truthful and clear – but simple.

    It would also be most helpful if the diocese would kindly, on their front page, list when it’s a Holy Day – clearly.

  9. Fr AJ says:

    Amen! My thoughts exactly! I’ve been in parishes where the majority of the parishioners go to Mass Saturday evening and not Sunday morning.

    I used to tell people who’d ask that a Saturday afternoon wedding did not count for the Sunday obligation but then I found out that parishes in some dioceses have a 12:05 pm Sunday vigil Mass on Saturday…now I’m not sure what to tell people given that.

  10. Adaquano says:

    I’ve always thought too that the sense of community is less following the Saturday vigil than on Sunday morning.

  11. Bthompson says:

    The residents and visitors to one of the communities I serve as parochial vicar enjoys a special indult to fulfill their Sunday Obligation on Saturday morning (We are instructed to say the Mass of the coming Sunday, not the daily Mass or even feast of the day) because the mission church is so remote. I’ll bet there are any number of similarly odd situations throughout the Church.

    However, Fr. Z, your explanation of this nuance about vigils is new to me, and I will need to keep that in mind for pastoral (and hypothetically, penitential) purposes. I.e. the “may” of the Saturday vigil Mass fulfilling the Sunday Obligation not constituting a “must,” provided Sunday is a true impossibility or grave hardship.

  12. Simon_GNR says:

    In nearly 30 years as a Catholic I have normally attended a vigil Mass on Saturday evenings and fulfilled my Sunday obligation by doing so. Yes, it is more convenient, but more than that, I find it a quieter, more prayerful and contemplative occasion that the busy, bustling Sunday morning Mass with so much going on. It suits my spiritual temperament to worship at the Saturday evening Mass.

    I’ve never been to a Saturday evening Mass which started earlier than 5.30 pm, but the norm at my current parish is 6pm and has been for many years. Our former parish priest used to talk sometimes about the “sunset Mass” and I liked this idea as it mirrors the Jewish tradition of regarding the Sabbath as beginning at sunset on Friday evening. What might be said to be the continuity of Catholicism with Old Testament Judaism has considerable appeal for me, and I find the passage in the Roman Canon (OF) to “…sacrificium Patriarche Abrahae, et quod tibi obtulit summus sacerdos tuus Melchisedech…” deeply significant.

  13. Michael_Thoma says:

    Many Eastern Eparchies allow the faithful to fulfill their “obligation” by attending the Vesperal Vigil or Evening Prayers because of this pastoral conundrum, this way, those that cannot attend Sundays due to chronic illness, vocational career, mental health or something else will fulfill the letter of the law, at the same time, the Spirit of Sunday as Sabbath is retained. Those that can attend Sunday, do so for the Divine Mystery but – we pray – not out of “obligation”, but love of God and Community

  14. David Zampino says:

    Our parish has a Mass in honor of Our Lady on Saturday at 11:00 AM and the vigil Mass at 5:00 PM. Our Saturday AM group is growing.

  15. APX says:

    I always remember Saturday vigil Mass as being the quick under an hour go and get it over with Mass. It’s still that, but the music is horrid. Congas, guitars, really bad piano, drums, various electrical stringed instruments…haven’t had a synthesizer or keytar, yet though.

  16. Rachel K says:

    Thank you for the clarification about the readings, I had thought it had to be a Mass with the Sunday readings.
    Personally, I love a Sunday evening Mass if a I can get to one, (small, lively toddler usually precludes that, we go in the morning).
    I feel the evening is a more reflective time of day and the chores of family life are put aside a little, leaving one free to contemplate.

  17. Imrahil says:

    But dear Papabile, Sunday evening Masses are actually allowed…

    Dear Elizabeth,

    but the “First Vespers to Second Complete” counting is actually quite in conformity with Catholic tradition… and are there really so many non-Catholics that ask about the problem? It seems a rather “inside question”, to me: “I am Catholic. What do I have to do?”

    If some really ask, the answer will boil down: “because the Church has ordered it that way”…

  18. rickamdg says:

    For various reasons, we frequent the Saturday vigil Mass. The liturgy in our parish is always that of Sunday, the Mass lasts just as long as Sunday, and we don’t go so we can nurture our hangovers on Sunday morning. We keep Sunday the same whether we attend the vigil Mass or on Sunday morning. It’s no big deal either way. And, apropos one of the comments, we’ve also sometimes attend (for various reasons) the Vigil or Sunday morning Mass at an Eastern Right Catholic Church. It’s all quite Catholic. And Sunday remains the Lord’s Day.

  19. Imrahil says:

    “Complete”: As you may have guessed, I meant “Compline”. Sorry.

  20. taffymycat says:

    our vigil masses–we have 4 churches in one parish with 2 overworked priests—are 4 pm 5;30pm saturdays in 2 of different churches; we have saturday monring masses not vigils at one other church. it would be great if more churches had sunday evening masses…in my area there are no sunday evening masses at all—everything over by noon on sunday. all our masses are pretty full and sometimes early sunday mass there really is no place to sit and it is a medium large beautiful old fashioned 19th c church.

  21. dans0622 says:

    I’m regularly impressed by your canonical acumen, Father. A while back, I fielded comments from other canon lawyers about the question of whether or not we have an obligation to attend Mass on the eve of a day of obligation if we predict that we won’t be able to attend on the day itself. I thought not, given the plain meaning of the text of the law. Some agreed with me. Nevertheless, a canonist or two thought otherwise. I didn’t get many responses…

  22. DcnJohnSaturus says:

    May I take this opportunity to rail against the practice of some Roman Catholic high schools. who schedule graduation ceremonies on Sunday mornings, apparently with the idea that people can go to Mass on Saturday and have Sunday free for a school event? This is particularly rough on those, like me, whose kids attend Roman Catholic schools, but whose Churches hold Sunday services only on Sunday. (The same schools tend to have Friday evening cookouts — bratwursts, hamburgers — to raise money for football teams, etc., but … don’t get me going.)

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