ASK FATHER: Stuck at work for all Sunday obligation Masses

From a reader…


I work 12 hour shifts at a hospital, including 1 weekend a month. This means even Saturday night Mass is out of the question. Is it a sin to miss Mass because I am required to work?

I will assume that there are no more Masses available after your shift within a reasonable distance.   If that assumption is correction, NO, you do not sin by missing Mass in those circumstances.

People are not held to the impossible.  If for the sake of your vocations that job is critically necessary, and therefore you have no flexibility on Sundays, then you are stuck.

However, in many places there are “last chance” Masses.    You want to be sure about your options.   Do some research.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father, am I remiss in thinking that if this situations arises, making up for the weekly obligation by daily Mass on a Friday or Monday fulfills said obligation?

    [No. The fulfilment of the obligation takes place on the day itself or on its vigil. Not before, not after. But it one can’t do it, there is no obligation!]

  2. Giuseppe says:

    This is exactly the type of situation where the internal forum had been helpful to me in the past.
    I had a similar hospital-based work schedule, and I approached the Roman Catholic chaplain at the hospital for advice. He shared with me a solution he offered to one of his parishoners years ago, but he said that I should discuss this my circumstances with my pastor.

    His solution was that the nurse should spend some quiet time over that weekend thinking about the patients she cared for, their circumstances, and to then pray for as many of them as she could. (The nurse laughed at him, since she knew she would be able to recall exactly who was in what room and with what ailment, so she wouldn’t need to miss a patient.) Then, he instructed her to go to Mass on Monday and light a candle for her patients.

    I suggested this to my pastor who thought it was overkill, but I did it when my schedule was loaded up on the weekend, and I think it made me better at my job as well.

  3. rcg says:

    Once you start looking, it might get easier. I have always had luck finding a chaplin in a hospital and they seem to come prepared for Holy Days. They are often old pros at the hospital ops tempo, too, and can conduct a Mass that fits. They are often more meaningful, too. I was working in a country that did not allow Catholic Mass, or any Christian worship. But people sort of Know Who You Are. One Sunday I get a knock on the door and am told to go to a certain appartment at a certain time. I did and a young priest celebrated Mass. Nothing more was said and we all left, one at a time.

    If you want it, somehow you find it. Or It finds you.

  4. Fr. John says:

    And, if no “last chance” Masses are available within a reasonable distance, is it not also possible to request that the Sunday obligation be commuted to another day? For a limited period of time, anyway, not indefinitely.

  5. tomthumb says: is a great resource.

  6. Fr. Kelly says:

    Father Z has answered this well. I might just add this consideration:
    Our obligation to keep the Sabbath Holy is of Divine Origin and so admits of no exceptions.
    Our obligation to keep the Sabbath Holy by attending Mass is a precept of the Church, and so binds according to the mind of the lawgiver. The Church does not intend to bind us to the impossible, and hence, as Father Z said, “people are not bound to the impossible.”
    Look around for opportunities to attend Mass. There may be more available than you know.

  7. Fr. Kelly says:

    As an encouragement to look around for opportunities, consider this:
    Our Spiritual need for Sunday Mass is in a certain way like our need for a family meal.
    The benefits of a family sitting down together regularly for meals together is amply attested to. That being said, there are a number of reasons why a family member might miss the family meal without blame. He might be working late on an urgent project. He might be helping a neighbor with a flat tire, etc. Both he and the family miss out from the community building that his presence would have been, but a sufficiently serious reason could excuse him.

    But, in the end, he is still hungry and needs to be fed.
    If this extraordinary situation happens for too long, he will starve for lack of physical nourishment. The same can happen to us spiritually for lack of the spiritual nourishment which God provides for us at Mass.

  8. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    1) Check and click on “near me.” You may find a “last chance” Mass, an “early, early” Mass, or one you could attend during a lunch break. (You could speak to your HR dept or labor union–if that applies–and ask for some leeway. The phrase “If I were a Muslim…” seems to open a lot of doors today.

    2) Another option is to ask your pastor, beforehand, for a dispensation for work reasons, to attend Mass Monday mornings. When I dispatched alarms, I had to work on weekends and often did double shifts. When I knew I couldn’t make it including catching up on sleep in between shifts, I would call my pastor, and he obliged me.

    Attending Mass and receiving the sacraments automatically assumes that they are freely available. If you find yourself marooned on an island, you’re not sinning by missing Mass because it’s not available. If you’re about to die–plane crash or trapped in a burning building–and need to have some big and mortal sins forgiven, you (providing you’re truly sorry and being honest) can ask God for forgiveness if Confession is not available, and you won’t be damned. (Correct me if I’m wrong or off-base.)

  9. hwriggles4 says:

    I have been in your shoes. Here are some suggestions:

    1. If you are in a university town, there may be a Catholic Mass on campus as late as 9 pm or 10 pm on Sunday evening. This is not uncommon at several colleges and universities.

    2. Some hospitals have a Catholic service on Sunday in the Chapel at a set time. You might be able to (or have tried and asked) to use this as your break time. Honestly, I have often heard that these Masses are shorter than an hour, mostly because they are small in attendance. If you are a nurse your supervisor might let you go some Sundays if it’s a slower day on the floor, and other nurses may not mind covering for you for a short time.

    This may help a little. It’s only in recent years there are more flexible Mass Times.

  10. MrsMacD says:

    Isn’t anyone caring for a sick person dispensed from attending Mass? I’ve used this when caring for my sick children on Sunday.

  11. ChesterFrank says:

    If you are employed in a hospital, there might be other Catholics there in the same situation. Could a Mass be said in the hospital chapel? If the hospital does not have a chapel, could a priest come and set up a portable altar ( in a room to say the Mass ?

  12. clarinetist04 says:

    To tag onto what hwriggles4 says, it doesn’t have to be a university town, just anywhere that has a university or college. During school season (and in some cases all year round) they almost always have one after 8pm (I’ve been once to a 10pm Mass). So between the early masses and the college masses it should work.

    I’ve found that university masses are usually NOT advertised on nor on diocesan websites. You need to check either the “campus ministry” or “Newman Center” or something like that. If Father Z will post the city or town you live in I’d be happy to try to find something. Sometimes you have to get creative and be willing to drive a little.

  13. Charivari Rob says:

    I can definitely see how having to work something like 7 to 7 both days of the weekend could outflank opportunities (even in a city neighborhood with a lot of parishes in range)

    I agree with hwriggles4. If you’re in/near a college town, that may be your best chance for a late Mass after a twelve-hour day shift.

    I had forgotten about the MassTimes website. Hadn’t used them in years. Pleasantly surprised to see their interface and organization are much improved. Any information, though, should be treated as a possibility that requires verification (and that doesn’t do anything for omissions).

    I suppose printers’ Masses and the like have gone the way of the Pony Express. A pity, though of course a post-midnight Mass between two long dayshifts isn’t very practical for someone who has patients’ health and lives in their hands and has some need to be rested & alert.

  14. Rob83 says:

    In former times, I used to head to a 10:00 or 10:30PM last-chance Mass that was held during the academic year when the need arose. That one wasn’t really advertised despite being well-attended.

    I have seen medical personnel coordinate their break schedule with the TLM community to arrange confession visits where they could go straight to the front of the line. I don’t know if the hospital situation permits, but if there’s a priest on-site, ask him for possible solutions. He may be offering a Mass for a patient or in the chapel that could be managed within the length of a 30-minute break. An efficient priest can probably offer a lightly-attended Mass in 20 minutes, since some old Jesuits I once knew could pull off Sunday Mass in a church with homily in 30 minutes (there was no music or other fluff).

  15. Netmilsmom says:

    LifeTeen masses seem to be late Sundays. Mass is mass, even if it’s got drums.
    Also, check the Eastern rites. We have Chaldean parishes with masses at 6:30 and 7:30pm Sunday.

  16. frjim4321 says:

    “People are not held to the impossible.” – Our Congenial Host.

    Thank you! That is such an important principle, and we don’t always convey it very well.

    “[No. The fulfilment of the obligation takes place on the day itself or on its vigil. Not before, not after. But it one can’t do it, there is no obligation!]” – OCH

    I entirely agree; however I’ve found that people in this instance feel better if they go during the week, but I would tell them that it’s an option, and not required, since as stated, there was no obligation. Some people like to receive communion at least once a week, so the opportunity for daily mass is appreciated for them.

    “LifeTeen (sic) masses seem to be late Sundays.” -NMM

    Assuming the mass is valid [/sarcasm] … is there anything more banal than a LifeTeen (sic) mass?

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  18. TonyO says:

    People are not held to the impossible. If for the sake of your vocations that job is critically necessary, and therefore you have no flexibility on Sundays, then you are stuck.

    Thank you, Father Z, for clear and sound advice.

    I would add that this position comes almost directly from Christ’s own words: “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And, separately: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”

    Taking care of immediate, urgent demands that MUST be dealt with now and cannot wait is legitimate reason for setting aside the specific obligations under Church law on how we observe the Sabbath requirements. It is even legitimate reason for setting aside the general obligation to “keep holy” the Sabbath, in terms of its external observations (bodily activity). Working at a hospital where there is one urgent medical demand after another fits into this picture perfectly, almost paradigmatically. (Even if your own job isn’t medical – orderlies and clerical staff are also essential to the operation of a hospital.)

    Perhaps, though one could still attempt to keep holy the Lord’s Day by internally consecrating one’s work on that day specially to God’s service; to treat your work as being for God Himself through taking care of His own children. In a sense all of our work should be that way, but we can specifically lift up our minds and hearts to God by remembering all good work is God’s work if done for His sake.

    I also like frjim’s suggestion to try to go to mass during the week sometime – not as an obligation, but in order to try to preserve (much of) what weekly Sunday mass provides for us.

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