ASK FATHER: Can you fulfill your Sunday Mass obligation during “lockdown” by watching online?

From a reader…


While on lockdown, can watching (within a sunday) a replayed online mass fulfill the sunday mass obligation? Or must one have to watch the online sunday mass in real time to fulfill this obligation?

First of all, it is likely that in your diocese the local bishop has lifted the Sunday obligation.  That is to say, the bishop has, by his authority, removed – for the time being – the obligation to participate at Mass on Sundays and other days of obligation.

Check with your local chancery if you don’t know that for sure.  I’ll bet they have.

Second, NO, you do not fulfill your obligation by watching either a Mass streamed live online or a recorded Mass.   You do NOT fulfill your obligation when you have one.

However, if there is no obligation to fulfill, go ahead and watch or not watch as you wish.  It could be meritorious and helpful for you.

Even when you do not have a strict obligation, it is important that you keep the Lord’s Day holy.   Watching a Mass can help you will that.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Canon Law, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Diana says:

    thank you so much for answering this. :)

  2. ex seaxe says:

    I recall going to Mass at the neighbouring parish (my Baptismal parish) where the church was much too small for the congregation. In the 1950s as a male no longer sub-teen I stood outside with my father, our theory was that if you could see someone who could see the altar through the open doors, you had fulfilled your obligation. ‘Present’, but not able to watch or hear, with well over a hundred others.

  3. iamlucky13 says:

    An additional thought I have on the question:

    The bishop has the authority to dispense from the canonical obligation to attend Mass. This obligation is part of the law of the Church, under the authority granted to it through Peter.

    The bishop does not have authority to dispense from the 3rd Commandment. We are still required by God’s law keep the Sabbath holy. I think continuing to participate in the Mass, even though indirectly, through watching its broadcast, is a good way to do this, in addition to the normal obligation to refrain from unnecessary work.

    I can’t imagine I would fulfill my obligation to keep the day holy without at least spending more than my normal amount of time in prayer and/or reading from the Bible.

    Personally, I prefer to watch Mass live, rather than recorded. While there is no inherent benefit to doing so, I feel a little more closely connected to the sacrifice when doing so, and there is additional effort required to order my day around holy activities, rather than order the holy activities around my day. I have watched recorded Masses a couple times, though.

  4. Nathanael says:

    Since this is an interesting topic, and you seem interested in the technicalities, have you considered that, properly, the Sabbath is Saturday, or that the Decalogue, per se, is not binding on Christians (though what underlies it does of course remain binding as a reflection of natural, rather than ceremonial law)?

  5. Pingback: SATVRDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  6. Rob83 says:

    Bishops and liturgical directors seem somewhat confused over what they can dispense and what they cannot. The local powers that be are trying the trick of appealing to Canon 223 as justification to forbid reception on the tongue, a rather too-clever-by-half interpretation.

    The obligation remains dispensed for now locally. Public Mass is available a reasonable drive away in a different diocese that is being more liturgically sensible, but due to capacity restrictions still in force there, I won’t do that without checking with the place in advance, as it would be rather uncharitable to displace the local faithful.

  7. Imrahil says:

    Dear Nathanael,

    while I was not asked, to my knowledge it is pretty straightforward Church teaching that while the rest of the Decalogue is natural law, the Third Commandment is special in two ways: First, it is obviously not natural law at all to have a specific holiday (while it is natural law that one has to revere God in general), so it must be Divine positive law; second, fixing the weekly holiday onto Saturday was part of the ceremonial and thus superseded law, as evidenced by the unanimous decision of 1st and 2nd century Christianity of moving it to Sunday. The fact that the old Sabbath is sometimes treated with some particular features, always less than those of Sunday, even by us (such as not being fasted at by Eastern Christians or having special Marian feasts and the whole, as it were, “Great Sabbath” celebration for Easter by us Westerners) actually underlines this. (The only thing theoretically in dispute is whether the Church now would, theoretically, have the right to substitute some other day. According to the handbooks, the rather surprising majority opinion seems to be: Yes, she could; theoretically.)

    To the topic,
    the situation around here is that the dispensation technically is still in place (and some wonder whether it will ever be officially lifted, implying the bishop saying, “so, my dear faithful, you’ll have to come back to Church again”). However, apart from the official decree, one can already hear that the sense of the dispensation, with public Masses (thank God) restarted, is that people at special risk and with special fear don’t have to go. Seeing I don’t consider myself to belong to either category, I’m already wondering whether I then can make use of this for a family home weekend (which is, thank God, allowed again), but I guess if I can’t attend that latest Sunday Mass (which I’ll reach anyway) because the maximum number of attenders has been reached, I’ll just pray that rosary and be fine.

    The Mass livestreams have been of great help, of course, when there was no Mass at all. Somehow, but this is merely personal, I thought I’d only wanted to watch them live, not recorded.
    (Interesting fact: If people, like the ICKHP, celebrate the Easter ceremonies according to 1940s schedule, the result is something like veritas horarum at German time.)

  8. Nathanael says:

    Dear Imrahil,
    Thank you for your commentary; I think you put it quite well.
    It may be straightforward teaching (the Tridentine catechism is excellent on the subject, but the CCE covers it fairly well), but sadly in my experience it is not as common as you might think, even among more the traditionally catechized. I have seen some fairly embarrassing apologetic/debate attempts with sabbatarians over these issues. For what it’s worth, I’ve also never seen non-sabbatarian protestants handle the topic well either.
    You raise an interesting point about the possibility of future changes; I cannot conceive of an appropriate reason to do so, but the theoretical possibility is intriguing.
    I also agree wholeheartedly with your final paragraph. I wish my regular TLM or even the local NO were doing as much as our gracious host to provide us with as much as possible, when so much has been taken away.
    Fr. Z, your streamed Mass has been of immense comfort. Thank you; you remain in my prayers.

  9. gio says:

    Dear Dr. Z, what about online concelebration? [No. Of course not. Impossible.] I have seen a picture of a priest here in the Philippines wearing a shirt and stole sitting in front of a computer screen trying to concelebrate the Easter mass being live streamed. [For dumb! He needs to go back to a school for some remedial training.]

  10. gio says:

    Thanks Fr. Z for the reply. I also believe the answer is a big NO. But I can’t find any supporting document online. Can you please lead us to such documents? Thanks again!

  11. MargaretC says:

    Thank you, Father, for answering this question. My own diocese has resumed public masses under very controlled conditions, but our Archbishop has continued the dispensation from the Sunday obligation for those who are considered at high risk for serious consequences if they catch the virus. Unfortunately, my age and recent medical history make me high risk, so I continue to avail myself of the dispensation. I watch the livestream of our Sunday mass (Novus Ordo), with my missal ready, and I make the responses when called for. It’s not quite the same as being there, but it’s better than no mass at all.

    As to when I will go back, I’m still debating this. Do you have any advice?

Comments are closed.