ASK FATHER: I was going in for surgery, but I have staph. How can I fulfill my Christmas and Sunday obligation?

From a reader…


I am having surgery Tuesday 12/28. I went to reconciliation Wednesday and was absolved. In my medical appointment to get the ok for surgery I was tested for staph infection and it came back positive. My question is can I Fulfill my Christmas obligation and Sunday obligation by viewing mass on live stream as I’m not sure with having a staph infection and the possibility of contacting Covid right before surgery would be in my best interest and also possibly giving someone else staph? Please let me know your thoughts on this as I want to remain in a state of grace in case I don’t make it in surgery.

I am so glad that you made it to confession.  Good choice!  Now persevere in resisting any occasions of sin and overcome.

It is a good thing to view Mass online and there are good options, especially for the TLM, well-done in lovely churches (and even daily in small private chapels).  However, watching Mass over the internet or some other means does not fulfill Mass obligation on days of precept.

In a situation such as yours, with the risk of spreading a staph infection or getting COVID, etc., you don’t have an obligation for Christmas and Sunday.

People are not bound to do what they can’t do.   For example, an old lady who is afraid of falling doesn’t have the obligation to attempt her ice-covered sidewalks and then try to get into church.   For example, you have a high fever and feel very weak, and you may be contagious.  For example, you are on the road all day, since before dawn, and have no idea where to go for Mass (though internet helps now) and it is now late in the day.   For example, a guy is getting ready to go to Mass and discovers that his garage is on fire.   For example, the local parishes have liturgical worship that is so offensively riddled with abuses and the preaching is so bad that a father of children doesn’t want to expose his family to it, alternatives being too far away.

That said, you might [NB: MIGHT… MIGHT!!!] contact your local pastor and ask him to dispense you from the Sunday obligation.  According to the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church in canon 1245, pastors of parishes have the ability to dispense your obligation in individual instances or commute your obligation to some other pious work (e.g., saying the Rosary, reading Scripture for a while – both of which can bring indulgences).

You can’t just assume that you have the dispensation or commutation. You have to receive it.  [NOT in the sense that you are obliged to seek a dispensation every time your garage burns or you get the collywobbles.  It’s just that we cannot assume we have been dispensed.   Getting sick isn’t a dispensation!  Your garage burning or it snowing 5 feet are not dispensations!  Those are attenuating circumstances that make your obligation nil, because “no one is bound to the impossible.  There IS NO OBLIGATION in those circumstances.  That said, a dispensation can remove all doubt about your circumstances and obligations.]  But such a dispensation should not be too hard to obtain.

You didn’t say what sort of surgery this is, or how serious your condition is, but I am confident that those reading this will stop as soon as this sentence has been scanned and will say a prayer for you:

Almighty God, protect your servant in this hour of anxiety and need.
Holy Mary, comfort of the afflicted, pray for us.
St. Joseph,  hope of the sick, pray for us.
St. Luke, pray for us.
Sts. Cosmas and Damian, pray for us.
St. Rene Groupil, pray for us.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla, pray for us.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Pingback: ASK FATHER: I was going in for surgery, but I have staph. How can I fulfill my Christmas and Sunday obligation? – Via Nova Media

  2. Tantum Ergo says:

    Father, you went through different examples of people who “don’t have an obligation” to attend Sunday Mass because, for example, with the risk of spreading a staph infection or getting COVID, etc. or their garage is on fire. :)
    But toward the end of your post, you said that one could have his obligation commuted by the pastor, and “You can’t just assume that you have the dispensation or commutation. You have to receive it.”
    I just don’t understand: If there is a serious risk of spreading or catching a disease, or if one wakes up feeling ill, or the kids are sick, is seeking a dispensation from the pastor still necessary? I’m an old codger, and I’ve always been taught that if you feel sick, don’t go to Mass and risk giving it to others.

    [Don’t make something easy into something hard. There are various reasons why one might ask for a commutation or dispensation that don’t involve being sick or spontaneous human combustion. In many cases they don’t have to be obtain by hook or … by Krook.]

  3. surritter says:

    I have the same question as Tantum…
    “You can’t just assume that you have the dispensation or commutation. You have to receive it.”
    If I am terribly sick when I awake on a Sunday morning, I don’t think I have to get a dispensation; I’m automatically dispensed by being ill.
    Perhaps you were referring to borderline cases, where someone might not be sure about the weight of his situation?

    [You might read the post again.]

  4. Michael says:

    To Tantum Ergo and surritter:

    There may be any sort of rare but valid reasons for which one might ask their pastor for a dispensation or commutation of the obligation to attend Mass. The reasons would be myriad and unique for each individual.

    In my case, I asked my pastor and he granted me a dispensation for the two year period that I walked across America twice on a mission for the Lord. Though I attended Mass whenever and wherever I could, in many places I was not near a Catholic church on obligatory days, and the reason I asked for a dispensation was so I wouldn’t fall into brief periods of scrupulosity wondering if I should have walked two hours, three hours, eight hours away from my path and then back in order to attend Mass.

  5. Pingback: CHRISTMAS EVE EDITION – Big Pulpit

  6. Lurker 59 says:

    Does the priest who dispenses your obligation or commutes your obligation have to be the priest in which your domicile is located, or can it be any priest (parish or otherwise)?

  7. justanothermom says:

    Father, please have mercy on the simple minded and perhaps scrupulous among us who have taken your advice to re-read your post and still have the same question as Tantum Ergo and Surritter.

    You say there is no obligation when you cannot fulfill it but that you must receive a dispensation, not assume it. Is there no obligation to dispense with in the case of impossibility (or being contagious, etc), so no need to seek one?

    Still Confused

  8. bookworm says:

    Quick question…. My husband says he feels like he might be coming down with a cold. My daughter and I were planning on going to Mass tonight but now I’m worried that he might have COVID and maybe daughter and I should stay home so as not to spread it. FWIW, I am vaccinated, husband and daughter are not. Am I being paranoid or iz this a legitimate concern?

  9. Tantum Ergo says:

    Father, Like justanothermom said, some of us may be a bit dull and a bit scrupulous, but your post WAS confusing. Please re-read it carefully, and look for the lack of clarity that others see. If you then see it, please post a correction.
    Thank you, and Merry Christmas.

    [No. It is not that we must always try to get a dispensation. No. No and no. However, dispensations, by their nature, cannot be assumed. They must be given by someone who can give them. Bishops and priests can give dispensations without being ask (as when people were dispensed from Masses during COVID-1984 Theatre. However, people can ask for dispensations as well. I did NOT write that for you not to have an obligation you must ask for a dispensation. That is sort of the opposite of the point of the post!]

  10. Tantum Ergo says:

    Thank you, Father. It was generous of you to clear that up. You could have said, like a certain Cardinal, “I HAVE THE POWER!” and, “I AM THE LAW NOW”, but you fought the temptation, and answered in a Christian way. (You didn’t call me a “dog-faced pony soldier.”)
    I think that since the Vatican (according to “reports”) is gearing up for conclave mode, I’ll start circulating your name, throwing your biretta in the ring. First, I need to book a flight to St. Gallen. :)

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