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Ask the Register: late to Mass?

Q. If we are late to Mass or leave Mass early do we fulfill our Sunday obligation?

A. Hmm... That is a question with many nuances and one that I believe that a lot of priests would like to know the answer to, and one that many people need to consider.

I am answering this question as a pastor and not as a canon lawyer or a liturgist. I point this out because I know there will be a good number of people – lay and clergy – who might contest my answer.

In the past, people who kept track of things like this would tell us how late we could come and still have it “count” for one’s Sunday obligation. First, I hope no one sees their participation at Mass solely as an obligation but a loving engagement with Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

The Mass begins and ends with the Sign of the Cross. Ordinarily I encourage my parishioners to try and come to church at least 10 to 15 minutes before Mass begins. That allows them the opportunity to take some time for quiet, to pray and to prepare for Mass.

All things being equal, I think this is a good approach to Sunday liturgy. I do know that sometimes the best intentions do not always work out as planned, especially if children are involved. Trying to get children up, fed, cleaned up,  dressed up and in the car to church can be a challenge. A child might have get sick or throw a fit on the way to Mass. The same is true with adults. Sometimes we lose our keys, run into road construction, have a flat tire, or run into any number of unexpected obstacles or contingencies. We don’t plan these things, but make the best of our time when they happen. If we are a little late because of these unexpected delays – I do not think that is a big deal.

However, I know there are people who are chronically late and/or leave Mass early. That’s another story. I know of a parish where at least one-fourth to one-third of the congregation leave Church right after Communion. As soon as they receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus, out the door they go!

I have serious problems with that because that is something people can control. They choose – en masse – to leave early. I cannot think of anything that is more important than the Eucharist, or to believe there is something that cannot wait a few more minutes.

If any of readers of this column fit this bill I ask them to reconsider the reason why they attend Mass. Mass is the act of worship for Catholics.

The bigger question for people who are habitually late and/or leave early is not “does it count?” but “what does the Mass mean to me?” The thought process should begin there, deep within their heart. If we accept that, we should make every effort to be on time, be dressed accordingly, be properly disposed through prayer and without serious sin, and with the intention that we are there to give Jesus everything we have – then Sunday Eucharist is going to be an exceptional encounter. Try your best to be on time and don’t leave Mass early. Nothing is more important than our Lord.

This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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