From a reader…
I travel to many places that don’t have a church (e.g. remote areas of Nepal; Bhutan; Ladakh) so I can’t attend Mass. What do I do? Pray the Rosary?
This question has been answered many times, but here is a…
GUEST RESPONSE from Fr. Tim Ferguson:
There are two axioms rooted in ancient Roman law which effectively mean the same thing: Ultra posse nemo obligatur and Nemo ad impossibilia tenetur. No one can be held to the impossible. The Church has utilized this Roman law principle as well. No one can be obliged to do something which is impossible. If you are traveling in a place where there is not a Mass available, you are thereby not bound to attend the Holy Mass.
I can hear the indignant replies already: “Well, I take my Catholic faith seriously unlike everyone else. I would NEVER travel to a place where it would be impossible to fulfill my Sunday obligation!” or the plaintive, “Surely your travel plans can accommodate a quick flight to Kathmandu where the Church of the Assumption has Sunday Masses!” or even the strident, “If this person took his faith seriously, he would quit his job if it required him to be away from Mass on Sunday! Harumph! Harumph!”
Respondeo dicendum quod – the Church recognizes that, while hearing Sunday Mass is a serious obligation which should not be dismissed lightly, there are legitimate situations where a good and faithful Catholic finds himself or herself in a situation where attendance at Mass is not possible. The necessities of one’s employment, military service, the due (and legitimate!) cause of the occasional vacation, the human need to explore our world – even the very Christian task of spreading the Gospel to all corners of the earth, all of these things can leave one in a place where Mass is not held.
Mindful that one is not bound to the impossible, but also mindful of the grave obligation that one assumes upon being Catholic, one should firstly consult with one’s proper pastor or chaplain. They have the ability to dispense or commute the obligation (canon 1245). The Church also provides that, if attendance at Mass is not possible, taking part in a liturgy of the Word celebration be a priority, and if that, too is not possible, spending “an appropriate time in prayer, whether personally or as a family, or as occasion presents, in a group of families” (c. 1248, 2).
Were I the pastor in question, I would consider commuting the obligation to a devout recitation of the rosary as well as reading the Sacred Scriptures, especially the Gospel of the day and spending time in quiet contemplation if at all possible.