ASK FATHER: Sunday obligation and sick child at home

From a reader…


I have read that caring for the sick (i.e. children) lifts the Sunday Obligation to hear Holy Mass.

Does caring for a sick child lift it for the entire day, or would parents be required to go to Mass “in shifts”?

Thank you for all that you do in Our Lord’s Vineyard. Be assured of my family’s prayers.

As parents, your obligation to your children overrides just about everything else.   Of course you must, as we all must, love God even more than you love your spouse and children, but in terms of your vocation and its duties, taking care of your children is at the top of the heap.

If a child’s illness requires your presence at home, then you do not have the obligation to go to Mass on Sunday.

However, I like the fact that you brought up going “in shifts”, which I take means going alternately rather than in long, loose-fitting garments worn with or without a belt.

Sure!  If that is a viable solution, spouses, especially parents with lots of kids who might be at a difficult age to manage in church, can always go in shifts.  As a matter of fact, that might give parents a chance to pray at church.

While I understand that parents – often deprived of lots of facetime with their children during the week because of the restraints of jobs and so forth – like going to church all together as a family, it might be that the Shift Solution could also be helpful, not only for the individual parent, but also for fellow congregants who may not be as filled with joy at the antics of your little stupor mundi.

However, this is now verging toward The Third Rail™.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Going in shifts when there is illness in the house has worked well for my husband and me (depending on the severity of the illness of course…if the kids just have a cold it works alright, but if they are all throwing up both of us might be needed at home ;-). Going in shifts can give each of us a needed break from caring for the sick little ones – we can pray, replenish our energy (spiritual and physical and emotional) and come back home ready to take on fighting away the kids’ illnesses again.

    A few thoughts about going to mass as a family, which is so important. Children – even very little ones – need to see their parents pray. Children – even very little ones – need to be exposed to the beauty and reverence of the Mass, the music, the vestments, the processions, Benediction, the rosary, etc. The fellow congregant who may not like the antics of little children (and anyone who does not have children or even who does not have a large family and so cannot really understand what it is like) needs to remember this: they have no idea what those parents may have gone through trying to get those children ready and there, present and clean, and on time, for Mass. They have no idea how many sleepless hours those parents spent with those children the night before, what tantrums those parents suffered through and worked through that morning, and what messes those parents cleaned up just in the last hour before getting everyone in the car to head to Mass. Loading the kids in the car and the baby’s diaper had a massive failure? Baby – and the car seat – now need to be washed and made re-ready for mass? Raise your hand if you can identify! Children are such blessings, but they are a lot of work and they can test parents to their limits and back. Are there parents who don’t take their little ones out from Mass when they should? Absolutely. Are there parents who don’t stop the antics when they should? Absolutely. But there are also so many parents out there who are desperately trying to get to mass as a family and raise holy little ones and teach them to behave during Mass. Sometimes that means showing the child “No, you do not get to walk around outside in the sunshine when you misbehave during Mass…you must learn to sit here with Mommy and Daddy and look at your picture book, quietly.” Where else can children be exposed to such Sacred Mysteries except in church, especially during Mass? If you can’t stand the antics, perhaps you could attend a mass not as frequented by families with young children (maybe attend the 8am instead of the 11am), or sit near the front (most families like to sit in the back near the doors so they can make quick escapes with loud little ones). But don’t be quick to judge… [?] just because that family is there, sitting in the pew in front of you, and everything appears calm, that family may have gone through the valley of death trying to get there that morning. Instead of getting cranky and annoyed, say a prayer for them and keep in mind – that crying little one rubbing their teary face on the pew in front of them may just turn out to be the next Fr Z someday (…someday… ;-).

    [No one is “judging” here… unless of course mom and dad do nothing to deal with their out-of-control bundle of joy.]

  2. Philmont237 says:

    My wife and I have taken shifts when we have a sick child. It works well.

  3. Imrahil says:

    With all due respect, Reverend Father,

    but I guess the inquirer – who is not me, but I might wonder the same Thing, even if as yet only from theoretical interest – did not want to know whether going in shifts is a good solution, but posed the quite different question whether if that is in any way inconvenient, it is a required solution. Or if, say, “one parent goes to Mass, taking the prayers of the others with him, the other prays a double-rosary at home*” would be another possible, if not so good, solution.

    [* The normal thing to say here would be “watches a televised Mass and spiritually unites with it”, but maybe that is not so really uplifting given the things they usually do in these Masses.]

    [I already answered the question.]

  4. mike cliffson says:

    I second Mary Jane above in general. Especially getting to know the beauty of the mass.
    We’ ve been blessed with over ten , (the youngest in midteens now).
    This includes four with dermatitis atopica : double extrawriggley, twins, one who had neonatal meningitis: in and out of hospital just about every week for two years and later minor side effects; some extraspecial diets and washing and clothes,two with asthma one extrasevere often at night requiring hospital visits….. with other usual ailments and otherwise, plenty of sleepless nights – we more than once slept in shifts – and busy days.All fairly normal – you should meet parents of special needs children ! Take my hat off to them!
    All said and done as a general rule it’s been possible with God’s grace to teach them to be quiet in church very young. Keeping completely still for very long , never. Anyone close behind us will have been distracted I fear.The whole family at mass together is very rewarding!
    You can’t make rules – I know large families whose kids for whatever reasons (some of which I know ) simply did not learn to keep quiet until nearly first communion age.
    How ever I did take them outside firmly if they were making a noise, I don’t think they took it as a reward, or they’d never have learnt. In Spain I ve nowhere come across a Godsend in some English parishes Id always understood a stateside idea of yours , a crying room onto the nave soundproofedly glassed in and with a loudspeaker, ideal for a cranky baby but not without drawbacks – some other parents WILL gossip , and toddlers and smalls in there develop a routine with picture books, toys and learn to be at mass but rumbunctiously not of it, as ’twere. Wellmeaning judgemental people making unhelpful remarks and glaring are a profesional hazard that the parish has just as the streets do…. par for the course.
    I ve heard, none of the ones I know personally, that some Jews have a psycological trick of taking a relatively small person to the synagogue, making sure it’s a n extraspecial ocasion with treats and stuff, then insisting it’s a top reward they may take months or years of rapt behaviour to deserve again – something about that seems too calculated , but I may be wrong. Rewards for good behaviour in church though, perhaps saying and hugging how proud daddy is of you that you were so much quieter this Sunday …. why not?

  5. msproule says:

    My wife and I call this the “divide and conquer” approach. With 6 young children, we sometimes need to go to Mass in shifts (due to illness, etc.).

  6. Maynardus says:

    Rare for me but I will try to be brief:

    1.) When something lifts the obligation, it is lifted… period! You have a sick kid, that is that… if one of the parents and the rest of the spalpeen can make it to Mass, great… no reason for the whole family to stay home for a two-year-old’s tummyache, but common sense prevails here.

    2.) As the father of six who have all been raised in the TLM I’d note that – no matter how heroic their parents’ efforts – kids will be kids. Unless they are truly and incorrigibly unruly, bite the bullet; do your best to teach them about the Mass during the week and to keep them under control on Sundays while smiling gamely at the grumpy and harumphing elders in the pew behind you… one never knows whether they raised 12 perfect kids who all graduated from Ivies and of whom two are now sisters and two others priests; or whether they are the largest benefactors in the parish; or even if they were part of the original group of 10 or 12 that petitioned for the “indult” Mass (which has grown into what you now attend)…

    The obligation to attend Mass isn’t meant to be onerous – do your (honest) best and don’t be unduly scrupulous… you know whether you’re trying or not!

  7. Mary Jane says:

    Sorry Fr Z, I didn’t mean to imply that you or anyone had done any judging.
    I was just speaking in general terms. And of course you are correct, and I agree, that it is an issue when the parents do nothing. We have an obligation to charity to those around us as well.

  8. KateW. says:

    Divide and rule works for us, too!
    Two Sundays in the month it means I can attend the TLM (50-80 mile round trip) with my disabled daughter. Last Sunday, she managed to kneel at the altar rail for the first time. I know it is not customary for those not receiving Holy Communion to present themselves at the altar rails during a TLM, but I can’t leave her in the pew as she could make a fuss or walk out etc. In the past we suffered the ‘flak’ at Mass, from some irritated parishioners responding to the cries of our disabled children. We did our best to take the crying one out in a timely way.
    Our non disabled children understood how to behave properly at Mass, perhaps because they could see firsthand how much it costs mothers and fathers to bring their large family to Sunday Mass.
    I believe most if not all priests understand this too, our parish priests have certainly been welcoming of our family.

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