I understand that the intent of Sunday Mass is to worship in a community. When one cannot attend Sunday Mass due to work, transportation, illness, etc., does going to Mass and actively participating via the TV or radio count? The theory being something is better than nothing . . . If not, then why have them?
When I was young, the Mass broadcast every Sunday was referred to by our diocese as "the Mass for shut-ins." That description is a good place to start in answering the reader's question.
By definition, "shut-ins" (people who, because of poor health, cannot leave home) are relieved of their duty to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Therefore, a televised "Mass for shut-ins" is not another way of fulfilling their duty, which is presumably what the reader means by asking whether watching such a Mass "counts."
The current Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of our obligation to "attend Mass." Watching a Mass on TV or listening to it on the radio is not the same as attendance. The reader is on the right track when he says that "the intent of Sunday Mass is to worship in a community." Worship is not exclusively a private matter; indeed, for Christians, communal worship is the norm.
Passive watching of a televised Mass, or even active participation (reciting the responses, for instance), is not the same as communal worship, because we aren't gathered with our fellow Christians. We aren't taking part in the Mass as a community.
So just as we saw last week, there are really two questions under consideration here: the first is the question of our Sunday Duty; the second is the question of the purpose of broadcasting a Mass.
If you are capable of fulfilling your Sunday Duty, watching a televised Mass or listening to one on the radio does not fulfill your obligation. If you are incapable of fulfilling your Sunday Duty, then you are dispensed from your Sunday Duty. It's as simple as that.
So broadcast Masses never "count," in the sense of fulfilling our Sunday Duty. Yet dioceses offer them because they provide some solace to those who cannot attend Mass. Hearing the readings, even making the responses—these things can help shut-ins and others who are legitimately dispensed from their Sunday Duty to gain some spiritual benefits. In that sense, as the reader puts it, "something is better than nothing"—but this particular "something" is not a legitimate means of fulfilling our Sunday Duty.
If you have a question, please send me an e-mail. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.