Is It a Sin to Miss Mass Because of Bad Weather?

Our Sunday Obligation and the Virtue of Prudence

Snowy street with church
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Of all of the precepts of the Church, the one that Catholics are most likely to remember is our Sunday duty (or Sunday obligation): the requirement to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Like all of the precepts of the Church, the duty to attend Mass is binding under pain of mortal sin; as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains (para. 2041), this is meant not to punish but "to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor."

Still, there are circumstances in which we simply cannot attend Mass—for instance, debilitating illness or travel that takes us far away from any Catholic church on a Sunday or a Holy Day. But what about, say, during a blizzard or a tornado warning or some other severe conditions? Do Catholics have to go to Mass in bad weather?

Our Sunday Obligation

It's important to take our Sunday duty seriously. Our Sunday obligation isn't an arbitrary matter; the Church calls us to assemble with our fellow Christians on Sunday because our faith isn't an individual matter. We're working out our salvation together, and one of the most important elements of that is the communal worship of God and the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Our Duty to Ourselves and Our Family

At the same time, we each have a duty to keep ourselves and our family safe. You are automatically dispensed from your Sunday obligation if you legitimately cannot make it to Mass.

But whether you can make it to Mass is up for you to decide. So if, in your judgment, you cannot safely travel back and forth—and your assessment of the likelihood of being able to return home safely is just as important as your assessment of your ability to get to Mass—then you do not have to attend Mass.

If conditions are bad enough, some dioceses will actually announce that the bishop has dispensed the faithful from their Sunday duty. Even more rarely, priests may cancel Mass in order to try to dissuade their parishioners from traveling in treacherous conditions. But if the bishop has not issued a mass dispensation, and your parish priest is still planning to celebrate Mass, that does not change the situation: The final decision is up to you.

The Virtue of Prudence

And that is the way it should be, because you are the best able to judge your own circumstances. In the same weather conditions, your ability to get to Mass may be very different from the ability of your neighbor, or any of your fellow parishioners. If, for instance, you are less steady on your feet and are therefore more likely to fall on ice, or have limits on your eyesight or hearing that may make it harder to drive safely in a thunderstorm or a snow storm, you do not have to—and should not—put yourself at risk.

Taking the external conditions and your own limitations into consideration is an exercise of the cardinal virtue of prudence, which, as Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., writes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, is "Correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of thing that ought to be avoided." It is, for instance, entirely possible that a healthy, able-bodied young man who lives a few blocks away from his parish church can easily make it to Mass in a snowstorm (and thus isn't dispensed from his Sunday obligation) while an elderly woman who lives right next door to the church cannot safely leave her house (and thus is dispensed from the duty to attend Mass).

What to Do if You Can't Make It to Mass

If you cannot make it to Mass, however, you should try to set aside time as a family for some spiritual activity—say, reading the epistle and gospel for the day, or reciting the rosary together. And if you have any doubts about whether you made the right choice to stay home, mention your decision and the weather conditions at your next Confession. Not only will your priest absolve you (if necessary), but he can also offer you advice for the future to help you make a correct prudential judgment.

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Your Citation
Richert, Scott P. "Is It a Sin to Miss Mass Because of Bad Weather?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 11, 2017, Richert, Scott P. (2017, October 11). Is It a Sin to Miss Mass Because of Bad Weather? Retrieved from Richert, Scott P. "Is It a Sin to Miss Mass Because of Bad Weather?" ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2018).