Church: Watching the Papal Mass on TV Doesn’t Count as Sunday Obligation

A parish in Northeast Philadelphia reminded its parishioners it doesn't count as your Sunday obligation if you just watch Pope Francis say mass on TV.

Catholics are obligated to attend mass every Sunday. Indeed, it is a grave sin to skip the once-weekly mass — a mortal sin, one requiring another sacrament (confessing to a priest) to cleanse the soul of.

Which brings us to St. Matthew’s parish in Mayfair, which reminded its parishioners this week that watching the papal mass on TV does not count for your Sunday obligation: 

Papal Mass Bulletin - St. Matthew's

Sunday’s church bulletin from St. Matthew’s parish in Northeast Philadelphia

That’s right, the papal mass only counts for your Sunday obligation if you watch it from the Parkway.

Archdiocese spokesperson Ken Gavin confirmed the bulletin’s accuracy. There’s no special dispensation for the city’s Catholics. If you watch it on TV at home, it doesn’t count. If you watch it on a Jumbotron at Broad and Spruce, it doesn’t count. If you watch it from your Benjamin Franklin Parkway apartment building … sure, that probably counts. There are a million possible scenarios, all of which you’d have to discuss with your parish priest.

Of course, weekly mass attendance isn’t supposed to be a burden for Catholics. “[N]o one should simply think of attending Mass as fulfilling an obligation,” Fr. William Saunders writes in the Arlington Catholic Herald. “To attend Mass is a privilege, and any faithful Catholic should want to attend Mass.”

Despite the reputation Catholicism has for strict, clear guidelines for adherence to the faith, the mass obligation does have some elasticity. Those skipping church because of a family emergency, surprise work shift or similar serious obligation have not committed a sin. Even sickness and weather can relieve a person from the obligation to attend Sunday mass.

“When such serious circumstances arise which prevent a person from attending Mass, he should definitely take time to pray, read the prayers and readings of the Mass in the Missal, or watch the Mass on television and at least participate in spirit,” Fr. Saunders writes. “Keep in mind when such serious circumstances arise, a person does not commit mortal sin for missing Mass.”

If you’re not one of the lucky 250,000 who are expected to crowd into the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to see the papal mass, there is another option: Devout Catholics who plan to watch the pope’s mass on TV can simply attend a morning mass at their parish.

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