Ask a Franciscan

How Much of the Mass Must I Attend?

To fulfill the Sunday obligation to attend Mass, how long or for what parts must you be present? What is the penitential rite? Must you be present for that? When may you leave and still fulfill the obligation? If you left for the homily or while Communion was being distributed, then returned, would you fulfill the obligation?

The present Code of Canon Law reads: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” It doesn’t say part or parts of the Mass. The expectation is that the person will attend a complete Mass. A Catholic Catechism quotes the canon and states, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”

Before Vatican II, moral theologians and canonists would talk about the three principal parts of Mass as the Offertory, Consecration and Communion. If you missed any one of those parts, they wrote, you would not have fulfilled the obligation of hearing Mass.

Today, canonists and liturgists do not use that terminology. They speak of the gathering, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the commissioning as the main divisions of Mass.

And moralists are more likely to speak of substantial observance of the law and what that might mean. They would assert that the law imposes a serious obligation. But some would question whether a person seriously or gravely violates the law if on one occasion he or she does not attend Sunday Mass. And all moralists would acknowledge that to miss a few minutes would not be a serious matter.

If you look at your missalette or recall your experience on Sundays, the penitential rite is part of the Mass. It takes place after the entrance song, right after the priest has entered the sanctuary and greeted the people. It can take different forms. One commonly used is the confession of fault (confiteor) and Lord, have mercy (Kyrie, eleison). So if you come after these prayers, you are late for Mass.

Just as there can be excuses for missing Mass, there could be excuses for coming late or leaving early or missing part of the celebration. A parent might have to take a crying child from the church. A person may feel ill or need to use the restroom. There would be no fault in leaving for such reasons. But to sneak a cigarette or step outside because of boredom would hardly be sufficient causes.

A hospital worker may have to leave early or a mother may have to hurry home to watch children while Dad takes a turn at going to Mass. A traveler may have to make a bus or plane. Surely such reasons would excuse from fault. But to be first out of the parking lot, no!

While an emergency may demand that a person leave before the end of Mass, one who has departed before the consecration and Communion can hardly be said to have attended Mass. But the emergency may excuse that person from further effort to go to Mass.

Ask a Franciscan appears monthly in St. Anthony Messenger. Click here to learn more!

Ask a Franciscan in St. Anthony Messenger

5 thoughts on “How Much of the Mass Must I Attend?”

  1. I am dealing with this situation right now. I am in the process of converting, but am having a difficult time accepting closed communion. As a result, I feel compelled to leave after the homily, since I feel left out having to watch something I can’t take part in. I made the mistake this past weekend of going on a retreat in which I was the only non-Catholic; not being able to take the sacrament during the Mass made the retreat such a disappointing, uncomfortable experience that I briefly considered returning to the Episcopal Church. Parishes need to figure out a way to address this issue, as exclusion can be a major impediment to faith for a lot of people.

    1. You might be able to do a lot of things to keep you blessed and happy until you are baptized/received into the Catholic church, because technically you are not Catholic yet.

      You can go up with everyone else in the communion line and signal to the priest that you want a blessing and not communion by crossing your arms over your chest.

      You can attend your Episcopal church before or after becoming Catholic. There is nothing wrong with worshipping God with your Protestant friends.

      Not sure about this, but you may even be able to have communion in the Episcopal church because you are not Catholic yet. A Catholic baptism forgives all sins before baptism. Ask the priest if you can do this.

  2. Christopher Allen

    At the parish church in the UK that I have begun to attend the priest regularly sings a religiously themed song of his own composition, which he accompanies with an amplified guitar after the distribution of communion. He sometimes announces that this is to assist meditation after our reception of the Host. For various reasons I find this performance unhelpful and even painful, not least because he puts on a fake American accent while singing. The congregation claps when he has finished, and he then proceeds to the postcommunion prayer and the conclusion of Mass in the usual way. I should very much like to leave before he begins his performance. Would it be acceptable to do so?

    1. Christopher,

      Have you gotten any counsel on this? My parish has all sorts of antics during the announcements with happy bday being sung, clapping and lots of other things. I’m wondering if I’m strictly obligated to be here for it either or can I give thanks for Communion in the back or inside the entrance of the parish. I’ll often come back in after this has concluded to pray more. I’m at a loss here as well and it’s difficult.

  3. Hmmm…..Jesus has to remain there suffering through that? Maybe you could, for the 15-20 minutes after you receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, close your eyes in prayer and focus on His presence within you and offer reparation to the Lord for what is going on – not to judge others but rather “forgive them Father, they know not what they do?”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content