Watching Sunday Mass does not fulfill the Sunday obligation

Joe Green

And Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).

During this time of lockdown at COVID levels 3 and 4 public liturgies, including Masses are prohibited.

At level 3 an exception is made for weddings and civil union ceremonies, funerals and tangihanga, with up to 10 people able to be present.

Some bishops and priests offer the opportunity to go online and watch them offer Mass – complying with lockdown requirements by doing so from their own home, chapel, either alone with others in their “bubble”.

At COVID level 2 gatherings of up to 100 people, with physical distancing between “bubbles” of 2 metres are allowed.

For a range of reasons, dioceses in New Zealand apply the Level 2 guidelines differently and, for example, for those from a diocese that limits communion to one kind, it can be disturbing to see communion offered under both kinds when at Mass in another Diocese.

Generally, at COVID alerts levels 1-4 an exemption from the “Sunday obligation” (going to Mass) is in place

Yes, even at level 1, because “level 1 is not level none” – as one of the current clusters linked to a church service has demonstrated.

Many feel unsafe at level 1.

Some feel that a “Sunday obligation”, in a legal sense still applies, and that watching a Mass online in some way fulfils this.

It doesn’t.

We are called to full and active participation in the liturgy.

We should no more “watch” the liturgy of the Eucharist online than we should “watch” it in the church.

Having said that, for housebound Catholics who cannot, in any case, participate in the Mass, the Mass online has been a Godsend, allowing them to connect with their memory of Mass.

The liturgy of the Word primarily involves active listening, something that we can do, albeit inadequately, online.

As St Irenaeus said, ‘The presence of the Lord in his Word is just as real as his presence in the Eucharist.’

We recall our failings, listen to the Word and reflect on it, and offer prayers of intercession. We pray the Our Father together, then, for those who wish to, break for a chat.

So, it also provides an opportunity to connect with our community.

Seeing your face, even over zoom, may just make someone’s day!

In short: if it brings comfort by all means watch the Mass, but don’t mistake it for going to Mass. T

his highlights for us that “going to Mass” involves the whole community “doing this in memory of me”, and not because of some legal requirement.

To quote a New Zealand Jesuit priest, ‘Jesus said take and eat, not sit and watch!’

  • Joe Green is the a Pastoral Leader at Catholic Parish of Wellington South
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