Q. I noticed that some dioceses on the east coast dispensed Catholics from attending Sunday Mass during last week’s blizzard. Can a person really be dispensed from missing Sunday Mass?
A. A number of dioceses hit hardest by “Snowzilla,” Winter Storm Jonas, announced that Catholics would be dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass during the blizzard. This dispensation impacted those Catholics who lived in the areas most affected by the storm.
Of course, honoring the Sabbath is a commandment from God, the third commandment given to Moses by God atop Mt. Sinai. The Church declares, as a binding ecclesiastical law, the honoring the Sabbath includes attendance at Sunday Mass. Of course, in certain circumstances, reality itself makes it impossible to honor that commandment—when a person is very ill, or in a place where Mass is not available, or unable to travel to Mass.
A person in those circumstances should do his best to attend Mass, but recognize that no one can be held to the impossible.
In other circumstances, where attending Mass may constitute some serious danger, the bishop, and only the bishop, may dispense a Catholic from attending Sunday Mass—such was the case in some dioceses on the east coast last week. Such a dispensation is granted in only the most grave circumstances.
However, whether a person is unable to attend Mass for legitimate reasons, or dispensed from attending Mass, the Lord still commands us to honor the Sabbath. When we can not attend Mass on Sunday, we should take time to read Scripture, to pray the rosary or some other devotion, and to make a spiritual communion. Christ was raised from the dead on Sunday, and the Lord calls each one of us, no matter our circumstances, to praise, honor, and glorify him on that day.
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