ASK FATHER: Should there still be “parking lot Masses” even though churches are opening again?

From a reader…


In a not-so-hypothetical situation wherein the faithful are able to attend mass on Sunday inside a church, under nearly normal circumstances (face masks, 6 foot distancing), would it be permissible, or even advisable, to opt instead for a drive-in parking lot mass?

My diocese has resumed the public celebration of mass, albeit with social distancing enforced. However there is still a parking lot mass being offered out of town wherein people are obliged to remain in their cars and listen to the mass via radio livestream. People close to me have opted to continue attending that mass.

Would attending mass in such a way be prudent, or even permissible, when there are more “normal” options available?

I’m getting tired of all the melodrama, aren’ t you?   Do you have a sense that we are all being lied to?

In any event, this is one of those situations in which we must not pit the perfect against the good.  It is better to be able to be in church for Mass.  However, even in the case of the parent who has to take little Stupor Mundi out of the church and into the narthex or even outside, because little SM is having a core meltdown, it is still good to be there.  You are still morally present to Mass in the church proper.  Is it better to be inside a calm and peaceful church for Mass?  Of course.  But exigencies cause some people to be out and some to be in and that’s just life.

It it a good thing to have parking lot Masses.  Is it better to be in church?  Yes.  It would have been better for the sailor off the coast of Iwo Jima to have been in a church when their chaplain said Mass.

Should the servers have been in cassock and surplice?  Sure.  But there they were making the best of it.

Frankly, that priest looks a lot like Bp. Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

We work with what we have, friends, and we should strive to do the best whatsoever the circumstances. Need an outdoor altar and have lots of time and help? Make it elaborate and wonderful? Don’t have a lot of time or help? Do your best. Need a sound solution for outside, parking lot Masses and have a budget and a guy with know how? Great! Give them great audio. Don’t have those? Raise your voice!

Do let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Now the question comes in: if there is a better option should one still go to parking lot Masses.

I say, if all other things are equal – ceteris paribus – No!   But not all things are equal.  You might be a young person with a robust immune system and your neighbor might be in her 70’s with various risks.   In her case, parking lot could be better, for the sake of prudence.

I apply this also to the appallingly abused practice of Saturday vigil Masses.  There are people who are perfectly healthy and will no other conflicts on Sunday who haven’t darkened the door of a church on Sunday for years.  They take the minimalist route to fulfill their obligations (though now in most places there is no obligation) not because they are compelled by circumstances, but because they want to have their Sunday entirely free to do… whatever.   Do they fulfill their obligation?  Yes.   But they do it in a stingy way, insofar as their time and lives are concerned.   That is a terrible abuse of the Church’s provision for the fulfillment of the Sunday obligation.

If a person goes to a parking lot Mass because they want perhaps to look at their phones as they tune out now and again, or they perhaps want to be able to drive away quickly – even better than leaving church immediately after Communion – then … well… that’s bad.

We should avoid minimalism when it comes to worship of God.

At the same time, we have to be flexible enough to know when to apply the accelerator, when to shift gears, and when to apply the brakes.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The thing that I don’t like about parking lot Masses or drive-through confessions, is that most of them, as far as I’ve seen in my area, only allow cars and deny attendance to pedestrians or cyclists. Oh, you don’t have money for a car? Too bad, no Jesus. I don’t understand why I, as a pedestrian/bus rider, couldn’t show up with a camp chair, sit 6′ or more from the nearest car, and still attend. :-/

  2. APX says:

    though now in most places there is no obligation

    Interestingly, Bishop Lopes of the Ordinariate of St. Peter commuted the Sunday obligation to read through the readings and Gospel for the Sunday and pray the Rosary. In hindsight, I wish our bishop had done this. I can get pretty lazy living alone.

  3. SanSan says:

    California is not “Open” for Masses. In fact, San Francisco has just given the Archbishop an edict that only 12 people can be in the church and only 12 people outside in the parking lot. This is unreasonable to say the least. Check on Catholic Daily for info.

    We will have a Rosary walk Sunday at 2:30 PM from the Cathedral to City Hall. We are also asking everyone to call the City Hall desk to complain about this overreach. 415-554-5977 SF City Desk for complaints. Be nice. Let the city know that only 12 people allowed at outdoor Mass with social distancing and masks on is unreasonable. Please take back this unfair edict.

  4. Philmont237 says:

    I knew a devout man who went to Mass every day EXCEPT Sunday because he went to the Saturday night vigil. He always chuckled when he told people that.

  5. rdb says:

    Bishop Cozzens is not in Sioux Falls. He is still the auxiliary of St Paul Minneapolis. And, yes, that does look like Bishop Cozzens. You should try to find pictures of a young Fr. Joseph Ratzinger and compare them to a young Fr. Cozzens.

  6. Ellen says:

    Father, I’ve been going to Saturday Vigil Mass for years. Saturday is when we have an organist and traditional hymns with Latin. The Mass is in English, but celebrated with reverence and the music is glorious. Sunday Mass…….tacky piano and the worst of Gather.

    [It was inevitable that someone would chime in with the exception, rather than the rule.]

  7. Fr AJ says:

    I started an outdoor Mass when our Bishop allowed us to resume public Masses. It’s my highest attended Mass, over double the indoor Masses. People have told me they wouldn’t have returned except to attend outdoors. People bring their own chairs and sit in the lawn.

  8. Charivari Rob says:

    In many places where indoor Mass has resumed, caps on the number of people permitted at indoor gatherings and requirements to clean/sanitize the space between uses might mean it is simply not practical for the parish to have enough indoor Masses between Saturday night and Sunday to accommodate the same number of people as “old normal” or even “new normal”.
    …and as others have indicated, there are many for whom attending an indoor gathering (even “distanced”) might not be a good idea yet but ‘gathering’ in cars would be fine

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