ASK FATHER: Can I get a dispensation from my Sunday Mass obligation from an SSPX priest?

From a reader….


I generally fulfill my Sunday obligation by assisting at a Mass said at a nearby SSPX chapel.  We have an opportunity to attend a family reunion in a few months.  Given how far away we live and how scattered the family has become, and how old certain members have become, we are not confident that we will have another opportunity to see all of them again.  Here is the catch: it is over a Sunday, and the nearest Mass (TLM or NO) is over four hours away.

SSPX priests have chapels, and not parishes because they lack the canonical jurisdiction to establish parishes within dioceses.  Is a dispensation to miss Mass required under these circumstances?  Can the pastor of my SSPX chapel grant it, or must I go to the nearest diocesan parish to ask permission not to go to Mass from a place I never go to Mass?

Firstly, we have to clarify a couple of things.

You are correct on the point that the SSPX isn’t a parish and the priest in charge at that chapel, whom I’m sure is a fine, diligent priest, is not a pastor (parochus… “the parish priest… pastor”).  Hence, the SSPX priest there doesn’t have the ability to dispense.  The ability to dispense requires jurisdiction.  Sadly, the SSPX priests do not have jurisdiction… yet.  We can pray, hope and work towards that day, but for now they don’t.

The dispensation would have to come from your territorial pastor (or if you are a true member of a personal parish, from that pastor).   REMEMBER: Being REGISTERED at a some parish that is not your territorial pastor does NOT make you a member of that parish!   Registration provides little more than names and addresses for them to send you envelopes or perhaps to provide some services for you.   This is part of the reality of having wildly differing priests and parishes in a highly mobile society.

Contact your local, territorial parish priest, the pastor.  If he gives you any grief, contact your diocesan vicar general and ask for the dispensation.  Not all of them are jerks, and you will probably obtain what you need.

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  1. Gaby Carmel says:

    I understood that when one is travelling, there is an automatic dispensation for those who find themselves too far to attend church. Am I right? Because if this is the case, this person doesn’t need a dispensation at all…

  2. APX says:

    How does stuff like this work when your parish doesn’t have a pastor but rather a “parish administrator”?

  3. achmafooma says:

    Given the four hour distance to any Mass, might this be an instance where no dispensation is required? That’s potentially eight hours of travel time there and back.

    Quoting from the 2017 guest post from Fr. Tim Ferguson (URL below), “If you are traveling in a place where there is not a Mass available, you are thereby not bound to attend the Holy Mass.” How far away does the nearest Mass have to be before it can be reasonably considered unavailable?

    Of course a dispensation would remove all doubt and might be preferable in any case!

  4. JamesM says:

    This raises another question. Is a dispensation actually required in this case? Holy Mother Church doesn’t demand the impossible of us. It doesn’t even really ever demand the unreasonable.

    In this situation, expecting someone to make an 8hr round trip to assist at Mass seems unreasonable.

    Father, do you think a dispensation is required here?

  5. Dominicanes says:

    If the nearest Mass is over FOUR hours away is a dispensation really necessary?

  6. TonyO says:

    Seconding what all above said. In general, we all know of situations where people traveled, for good reason, and were nowhere within range of a mass. Old explorers went weeks or months without being within 1000 miles of a priest. People on merchant ships.

    Still more, we know of situations where people have LIVED in places too remote to get to a church or priest. Some where they got a mass only once every month or two by a pastor who had an itinerant schedule around a huge area. People in the military have problems at some posts of duty. Scientists in the great Outback, jungle, or desert island studying remote nature. And then there were the Japanese Catholics who were stranded without any priests for a couple hundred years.

    There is, certainly, a kind of sorities difficulty of deciding how many hours travel is honestly “too far” to be reasonably within range of a mass, but…I think 4 hours is past that, and not as a particularly close call, either. Now, if I LIVED that far away, I would still try to make mass sometimes, maybe at least once a month. But I would still want to clear that with the priest.

  7. Flabellum says:

    What does an unreconstructed ossified manualist think about the relationship between obligation and travelling time?

  8. Ohmie says:

    If being registered at a personal parish does not make you a member of that parish, what does? FSSP-attendees want to know…

  9. eamonob says:


    What about a “parish administrator”? That has become fairly common in my diocese lately, where the priest is not canonically a pastor. Can they still grant dispensation, or would you have to find the closest “official” pastor? My assumption is the bishop probably grants jurisdiction for purposes of dispensations like those.

  10. Gerard Plourde says:

    It would seem to me that a four hour distance to the nearest Catholic Church would qualify for an automatic release from obligation. It calls to mind both the early years of St. John Neumann’s priesthood when he was posted to Western New York State and had to ride circuit to reach his flock and the present-day missionaries who face similar challenges that preclude weekly Mass availability.

  11. The question about a dispensation, who can dispense, and not about the obligation. You cannot dispense when there is no obligation. If you determine that 4 hour is too far so that it is unreasonable to require the drive for time and, especially now, for expense, then there is no obligation that requires a dispensation.

  12. restoration says:

    For many years, I have used what is known as the “Traveler’s dispensation” whenever I am not within a reasonable distance of a TLM. It is a long-acknowledged part of church law.

    [FYI… there is no such thing in Canon Law as a “traveler’s dispensation”. Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and other days of obligation (can. 1247). However, no one is bound to do what is impossible. If it is physically or morally impossible to participate at Mass (e.g., no priest, there’s a war, you are on a boat in the ocean, bad weather, home or family emergency, infirmity, etc.) there is no obligation (can 1248 §2) Travel on the day of obligation CAN be a reason to surmise that it is morally or physically impossible (e.g., taxis, airports, more taxis, always on the move, etc.). Also, just because you travelled to a place, once you are there that doesn’t automatically mean you are still “travelling”. If you are in a place for, say, a couple of days, at that point reasonable effort is required. And these days, unless you are in some place like the Mongolian wilderness, it is unlikely that a quick search or inquiry won’t find you a church that is near enough to reach with reasonable effort. And, no, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all distance or time. It depends. In any event, a pastor can grant a dispensation from the obligation for a just cause or can commute the obligation to some other pious work (can. 1245). The legendary “traveler’s dispensation” has been used to justify all sorts of things.]

  13. redneckpride4ever says:

    Here’s a question: if all that’s nearby is an Eastern Catholic parish, does the obligation still stand for the Latin?

  14. Imrahil says:

    Dear redneckpride4ever,

    yes, of course.

    I think, though, that the Westerner (who is still CIC-ruled) would have to go to Mass (i. e., Divine Liturgy), whereas the (CCEO-ruled) Easterner I believe alternatively could go to Orthros (that is, Lauds with a great many of the elements that belong to Matins in the West). I may be wrong on those details.

    Also, even if there is a Latin parish right next door, a Westerner can fulfil his Sunday obligation with Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy (though not, again, with Orthros).

  15. Flabellum says:

    “Can. 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.”
    An Eastern Catholic parish certainly celebrates a Catholic rite.

  16. redneckpride4ever says:

    I’m fully aware of the Canon for fulfilling, just wasn’t sure if the obligation itself remained if one needs to cross rites.

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