Hey, Father! What if I am physically unable to attend Mass?

Does one complete the Sunday Mass and holiday obligation by attending by watching via TV or computer? I am handicapped. I walk with a cane and have partial use of my right leg and arm due to a stroke. There is always the fear of falling. I cannot drive. The Masses have a spiritual communion prayer, and my wife brings Holy Communion to me on occasion.

– Mike in Troy

The Code of Canon Law states, “On Sundays and other holydays of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass” (canon 1247). The faithful are those who “are incorporated into Christ through baptism” (canon 204 §1). Consequently, baptized Catholics are required to attend Mass on every Sunday and every holyday of obligation.

This obligation to attend Mass “is satisfied by one who assists at Mass” – that is, by one who attends Mass – “wherever it is celebrated in a Catholic rite, either on the holy day itself or on the evening of the previous day” (canon 1248 §1). This is a grave obligation and purposefully failing to honor it is mortally sinful (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2181).

Because humans are a union of body and soul, the Lord Jesus established the sacraments as composed of both words and material things. While watching the Mass on television or via the internet may bring some comfort, it does not technically fulfill the obligation to attend Mass, which must be fulfilled in person.

While it is important to remember the gravity of this obligation, it is also important to keep in mind the fact that the Church does not oblige us to do what is physically or morally impossible, which is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the obligation binds “unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor” (no. 2181).

Consequently, those who legitimately cannot attend the Holy Mass – whether because of a lack of transportation, a serious illness, immobility, etc. – are excused by the Church from the obligation to attend Mass. If there is a question about whether an individual member of the faithful is excused, he or she should speak with his or her pastor who can best judge the particular situation.

Those who cannot attend Mass for a serious reason should make a spiritual communion and even request the Blessed Sacrament be brought to them. Therefore, it is good, Mike, that you are still watching the Mass on television and still receiving the Eucharist, and when you are unable to receive the Eucharist, you are making an act of spiritual communion.

Fr. Daren Zehnle is pastor at St. Augustine in Ashland and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.