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Scott P. Richert

Reader Question: TV/Radio Mass and Our Sunday Duty

By July 9, 2009

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Last week's reader question was perhaps the most frequently asked question regarding the fulfilling of our Sunday Duty. But our question this week is a close second:

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.

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July 10, 2009 at 1:25 pm
(1) Rommel says:

This topic will clear a lot of misconceptions from the Catholic faithful. Another thing, how about those required to work on Sundays esp. the Healthcare providers? How can they fulfill this duty?

July 13, 2009 at 1:39 pm
(2) Kelly says:

One important component of attending or participating in Mass, that was not mentioned is the reception of Holy Communion. Obviously, shut-ins are not unable to receive our Lord, but why would we wonder if our “duty” is fulfilled when we haven’t received Jesus and we are able? It becomes less of a duty and more of a desire when we view our attendance in this way.

May 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm
(3) linda says:

i agree that why have a televised mass on sunday when it does not count.

February 8, 2011 at 10:36 am
(4) Sweetwalter says:

I disagree. Ever watached the crowd attending “mass” at St. Peter’s in Rome. They spill out onto the plaza, unable to see the altar, and listen to mass on the loudspeakers. They are considered in attendance by the church. I’ve been to “spillover” masses where the people are asked to watch the mass in the church basement on t.v. If I have two other people at my home watching mass on t.v., isn’t that communal attendance just as well?? I think so. Reception of the host is NOT a necessary component of mass attendance.

February 8, 2011 at 11:34 am
(5) Scott P. Richert says:

Sweetwalter, you’re absolutely correct that reception of Holy Communion is not required in order to fulfill your Sunday obligation of Mass attendance.

What is required, however, is attendance, and watching Mass on TV does not fulfill that requirement, no matter how many of you are gathered in front of the TV.

Why? Because the requirement concerns communal worship, not “communal attendance.” And Catholic worship (as opposed to, say, our prayers throughout the day) takes place in a structured environment, not (under normal circumstances) in your living room.

That said, as I noted in the post, anyone who cannot physically fulfill the Sunday obligation is dispensed from that obligation. Those who can attend Mass and choose to watch it on TV instead, however, do not fulfill their Sunday duty.

January 1, 2012 at 8:12 pm
(6) Marco says:

People may be “shut-in” for other reasons such as a blizzard or that their car just broke down and they live pretty far away from the church and the neighbors already left. I feel that hearing the Mass and sermon in whatever way one is capable of doing can only help even if it does not satisfy the obligation.

January 25, 2012 at 10:53 pm
(7) Paul says:

I watch EWTN TV often, and it seems that every time I turn to the station there is a Mass being said. I know this is done for different people who cannot attend Mass for the reasons stated, but no where does it say that we can receive any graces by watching and praying along. Only the cold answer that “It does not count.” I know that people will use an excuse and abuse the TV Mass, but I hope there are some graces received via the TV version, but not fulfillment of the obligation of course.
I think you bet my point. Can you elaborate. Thank you and God bless.

July 23, 2012 at 7:26 am
(8) FreedMan says:

The author is clearly pushing an agenda and is inaccurate. Dear sir, tell me where the Bible states that communal worship in the physical presence of the priest is necessary to meet the duty? Our priest has no clue who we are and has never expressed any intent of getting to know his flock fully. To boot, he is uninspiring and lazy when preaching the Good News. If I choose to rely on another outlet, then that is between me and God. How dare you claim to know better than the average educated individual about one’s salvation. Your demeanor is certainly narrowminded, and you will be called to atone at the end of your days.

February 20, 2013 at 9:57 am
(9) Done says:

Freedman, I think what the author is trying to say is simply that: watching TV Mass does not fulfill Sunday obligations. He never stated that he knew better or that he is condemning anyone who believes otherwise. Of course, you could think that his demeanor is doing something else, but I doubt that he was trying to offend anyone.

I am sorry that your priest is uninspiring and lazy. Perhaps you could try different parishes – or maybe you already did and they are no better. But whatever the case, choosing to not go to Mass in a church on purpose certainly doesn’t seem like it would fulfill Sunday obligations. You could think of it as going to class – bad teacher or not, you have to go to school (or switch schools). TV school wouldn’t do. Likewise, TV Mass wouldn’t really do it either (as agreed upon by the majority of sources I’ve consulted).

Ultimately though – of course – the best course of action would be to consult a priest on the matter. He’s sure to give the correct answer (which, I think, will most likely agree with what the author has said). Hope you find the right solution – God bless!

March 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm
(10) Susan says:

I am a Catholic and I suffer from Chronic Congestive Heart Failure and a few other heart problems. I can get around some, but when I attend Mass in Church, I sometimes get light headed and feel faint. Since I attend Mass alone, it scares me. So, I now watch the Mass every Sunday at noontime on EWTN. I not only watch, but I also participate in the Mass. I say all the prayers, sing all the Latin and listen to all the readings and sermon. I, personally, feel that I get more out of attending Mass this way, then when I go to the Church to Mass. There is always someone sitting close to me, who is sneezing or coughing and I can’t take the chance of getting sick. Also, there are so many distractions around me, that it’s hard to concentrate. I do NOT have that trouble in my home.

Also, I still financially support my parish church by mailing my check and envelopes in monthly. I do not feel that I am doing anything against God’s will. To be honest, I feel more blessed now, then during my whole lifetime. My faith is extremely strong and I know, that God is with me every single moment of every day.

Personally, I think the Catholic Church loves to put ‘guilt’ feelings on all of us. Well, not just the Catholics, but all religions.

Let me close by saying, that I was baptized a Catholic (many, many years ago), and will die a Catholic.

March 10, 2013 at 1:02 pm
(11) Scott P. Richert says:

Susan, there’s no need to feel “guilty” for missing Mass for health reasons, nor does the Church want you to feel guilty. Those who cannot attend Mass for health reasons are not obligated to attend.

The very reason that the Church broadcasts TV and radio Masses is for people in your situation. But that’s the whole point: Such Masses are for those who do not have an obligation to attend Mass on Sunday; they are not a way of fulfilling that obligation for those who do.

March 31, 2013 at 1:32 am
(12) Michelle says:

Isnt it ironic that some people can spend nunerous hours watching movies and doing some stuff and yet they can’t give AN HOUR to here a mass. We have 168 hours in a week and waking up on those 7 days are simple yet divine blessings that we should be thankful for and AN HOUR of our 168 hours is the least that we can offer to HIM! And for us capable of going to church, we should be more greatful enough and have ADDED effort to go beyond our usual “living-room” masses instead. Brothers and sisters, going to church nor listening to masses arent obligation to be fulfilled,it is surrendering oneself to THE ONE WHO WENT OUT OF HIS WAYS,HUMBLED HIMSELF JUST TO SAVE US. Its as easy as driving to church, or having a bus ride, isnt it lesser than WHAT HE DID TO SAVE EACH AND EVERYONE OF US?

October 6, 2013 at 8:18 am
(13) Vanessa says:

I’ve never been a particularly good Catholic. I’m trying to rectify that and learning all I can, which prompted several questions after coming across this article.

I currently have a cold. While I’m capable of attending Mass, I wonder about the risks of infecting other people with my cold. I also wonder about when my children get sick. My rule of thumb seems to be, if I wouldn’t go to work or send them to school, then we should stay home.

On the other hand, because of family illnesses, I tend to use up my sick time at work rather quickly, and I often find myself working through mild illnesses. My kids are four and seven, which means it’s rare to go a whole month during the school year without someone being sick. Of course, I wipe phones, computers, etc., with Lysol in an attempt not to infect my coworkers.

So I guess my question is… Do mild illnesses relieve you of Sunday Duty? Or should someone with a mild contagious illness go to Mass and just not participate in the more communal activities, like holding or shaking hands and receiving communion?

Another question I have has to do with being somewhere Mass is not offered. I’ll be going on a weeklong cruise this year. I know that Mass will not be offered, but a non-denominational service will be. Would going to the non-denominational service fulfill Sunday Duty? What do you do when you are somewhere Mass is not offered?

November 23, 2013 at 8:29 pm
(14) richard says:

what if you cant get to mass. I am working and the nearest church is a 2 mile walk. the hotel does not provide transportation and I do not have a car. am I wrong in missing mass? also what if I end up masturbating as well.

November 24, 2013 at 1:57 am
(15) Sam says:

It’s going to be my first time watch an online mass in the internet. I’m not incapable but I have to finish many things today for school. If I have spare time,I go to church even if it’s not sunday.

May 12, 2014 at 3:10 pm
(16) Albert Chamberlain says:

We have mass only once per month.. If the community gathers together with parts of the mass on a monitor and parts of the service could be by a lay presider, communion is given by the lay presider etc. the mass is a gathering of a community, there is no mass without people.When people gather in a church, we should be able to use technology to enhance and complete the ( mass).

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