From a reader…
This Sunday morning a big snow storm made the roads look treacherous.
I live 10 miles from church. I assumed Mass was cancelled but could find no texts or other notices either way. Later, I found out Mass was, indeed, celebrated (to a congregation of 15). I shall confess my failure to attend Mass. I’m concerned I’ve incurred a mortal sin. What do you think?
I don’t think you have to confess that as a mortal sin. You made a mistake in judgment about the cancellation and there was a big winter storm.
In the case of a serious winter storm, or similar circumstances, one no longer has the obligation to attend Mass.
There are a couple of principles in law which help us understand our obligations. First, ultra posse nemo obligatur… no one is obliged to act beyond his powers and nemo ad impossibilia tenetur… no one is held to the impossible.
If you travel some place and there is no Mass, you are not obliged to go to Mass. If you are sick or someone in your care is sick, you are not obliged. If the weather or conditions are really bad, you are not obliged.
It may be that some did brave the storm. That also may have been highly imprudent. They might say, “I got to Mass and back, no problem. Therefore it wasn’t ‘impossible’.” Maybe so. But maybe not, under your circumstances.
Of course I am not talking about seeing a few snow flakes curl down and saying, “WHOA! It’s snowing! I’m staying in.” God cannot be fooled. However, if you know that it’s going to be full blizzard by the end of Mass, that’s another snow-cone altogether.
Even though we are not bound to the impossible, we also remember that being Catholic also means that we have obligations which sometimes require sacrifice.
Also, your proper, territorial pastor has the ability to dispense or commute the obligation (can. 1245). Holy Church 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” (can. 1248, 2).
Pastors, parish priests, can commute the obligation to a recitation of the Rosary or reading Sacred Scriptures, especially the Gospel of the day, and spending time in quiet contemplation.