Is it a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday or Holy Days of obligation?
Yes, it is, if the conditions for mortal sin are met. We commit mortal sin when (1) the action is grave or serious, (2) we know that it is against God’s law, (3) and we do it anyway, knowing that it is wrong in God’s eyes. It is a serious sin to miss Mass deliberately. Not only did God say in the Ten Commandments, “You shall keep holy the Lord’s Day,” but Jesus also asked us at His Last Supper to “do this as a remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The Mass is the memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If we say we love Him, how can we stay away? Even though He was innocent, He willingly gave up His life on the cross so that we might have life. If He had not done that, there would have been no way for us to reach heaven.
This question, however, also implies a lack of understanding of the communal nature of our faith. Mortal sin breaks our communion not only with God but it also wounds our communion with the community of believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus established a Church because He knew that we would need each other on our journey towards the Father. In the Mass, we receive the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity. By partaking of the one bread, we become one body in Christ. We are not alone and what a more wonderful way to realize this than by worshipping our Lord together.
In addition, sometimes, it seems we forget that we, as human persons, we are a unity of body and soul. We must, therefore, take care of the body and also the spiritual part of us. If someone were to tell us that from this day forward, we would only be allowed to eat one meal a week, most of us would probably panic thinking that we might starve without food. And yet, that is exactly what we sometimes do to ourselves, because the Eucharist is the “food” that we need in order to live the Christian life and attain our eternal salvation. When we miss this “meal,” we are depriving ourselves of what we so desperately need.
If there is a good reason to miss Mass (like illness, taking care of someone, or not being able to get to church for some reason) it can be made up for by going on another day of the week or saying prayers and meditating on the Scriptures for a period of time on that Sunday. Thus, missing Mass when we have a good reason is not considered mortal sin. However, we should always remember that we are the Body of Christ, which means that we not only have communion with Christ (the Head of the Body) but with the members – our brothers and sisters in Christ – as well. When we miss Mass, we miss in the sharing of that beautiful communion.
Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit her online at www.DearGrace.com.