Travel and Catholics' Sunday Obligation to Attend Mass

Can You Take a Vacation From Worshiping God?

Mass at Church of St. John the Baptist, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France
Patrice Cartier/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Do I really have to go to Mass if I'm out of town? What if I don't know where a Catholic church is where I'm on vacation?

This question is quite appropriate as we celebrate Memorial Day and move into the summer travel season. Or perhaps I should say "questions," because​ the two questions illustrate two different ways to look at our Sunday obligation to participate in Mass. First, is that obligation waived if we are away from our home parish?

And second, are there circumstances that can lessen our culpability if we miss Mass?

The Sunday Obligation

The Sunday obligation is one of the Precepts of the Church, duties that the Catholic Church requires of all the faithful. These aren't mere guidelines, but rather a list of things that the Church teaches are necessary for Christians to do in order to advance in the Christian life. For that reason, they are binding under pain of mortal sin, so it's important not to disregard them for anything less than serious reasons.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the first precept is "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor." You'll notice that the statement isn't qualified; it does not say, "When you are at home" or "When you're no more than X miles away from your home parish." Our obligation is binding on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, no matter where we are.

Reasonable Exceptions

That said, we may find ourselves in circumstances in which we are unable to fulfill our Sunday obligation, and the reader has suggested one. Of course, if we find ourselves on Sunday morning in a town with which we're unfamiliar, we should do our best to locate a Catholic church and to attend Mass.

But if, through no fault of our own, we discover that there is no church, or that we're unable to attend Mass at the scheduled time (for a good reason, and not, say, simply because we want to go swimming), then we haven't deliberately violated this precept of the Church.

If you have any doubts, of course, you should discuss the situation with a priest. Since we should not receive Holy Communion if we have committed a mortal sin, you could mention the circumstances to your priest in Confession, and he can advise you on whether you acted appropriately, and give you absolution if necessary.

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Richert, Scott P. "Travel and Catholics' Sunday Obligation to Attend Mass." ThoughtCo, Feb. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/travel-and-obligation-to-attend-mass-3970755. Richert, Scott P. (2017, February 24). Travel and Catholics' Sunday Obligation to Attend Mass. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/travel-and-obligation-to-attend-mass-3970755 Richert, Scott P. "Travel and Catholics' Sunday Obligation to Attend Mass." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/travel-and-obligation-to-attend-mass-3970755 (accessed September 22, 2017).