ASK FATHER: Mass obligation and falling asleep during Mass

From a reader…


This morning at Mass (All Saints), as I held a sleeping toddler and fought fatigue myself, I recalled the Holy Father’s recent words (echoing St. Therese of Lisieux) about not being too upset about falling asleep during prayer because we are like children falling asleep in the arms of our Father.

However, as an aspiring Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist, set aside such sentimental thoughts and asked myself:

If one is physically present, but asleep, at Mass, does one still
fulfill one’s Sunday obligation?

Thank you for your reference to Unreconstructed Ossified Manualism!   We need it more than ever.

To your question.

A manualist will respond that to fulfill your obligation your body has to be there continually and morally, that is to say, for the whole Mass unless there is some grave reason why you have to absent yourself from part of it.  Say, there are too many people and you have to stand outside the doors: you are morally present.  Say you have to take your screaming toddler out for a bit, you were still morally present.  If you show up half way through… sorry.

Do you have to hear and see everything that happens?  No.

As for being mentally present, we can talk about internal and external presence.  The first is when you with full will apply yourself to everything that is being said and done and are reaching for the content and mysteries they convey.  External would be attention you give to those things that impede the former.  You can still fulfill your obligation even with the later.

So, what if you are physically present, but asleep for part of it?

First, that could be the fault of the priest… the Lord knows how many preachers have tossed me into River Lethe.  There are some preachers from whom God mercifully protects us by means of the grace of a brief snooze.

If you were asleep for the whole Mass, I’d say, sorry, you didn’t fulfill your obligation.

To a father who drifts off for a little while holding his sleeping child, I’d say….

… you get a pass on this one friend.  Don’t worry.

I have little doubt that you fulfilled your obligation.  And even if you didn’t, no one is held to the impossible.

Parents of children have a lot on their plates and you often have fatigue.  Combine that with a rare moment in which you don’t have to hold down the toddler, with short hours of rest and perhaps a warm church with boring priests… yep… you get a pass.

So, next time… for the sake of your immortal soul and the removal of doubts about your obligations…


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thank you for this post, you answered many of my own questions. We have a very spirited 2.5 y/o boy who is still learning to sit still. Pray for us :)

    PS – pray for you every day. Thanks for all you do.

  2. Imrahil says:

    If you show up half way through… sorry.

    But, as we know from the manuals, if you made it for the Gospel then no need to worry about mortal sin – at least, I might add, if it was only a delay, however lacking of valid excuses, and not a premeditated decision to miss the former part of Mass because you considered it unimportant.

    (Yes, I do have my problems with that sort of thing.)

  3. EcclesialKnight says:

    Imrahil – Does this mean you are unreconstructed ossified manualistier than Fr.Z?

  4. TonyO says:

    EK, wouldn’t that be “unreconstructeder” ?

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