“Ask a Priest: If I live a great distance from a Catholic church, can I be released from attending Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation?”

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Q: If I move to a remote part of Arkansas and am 80 to 100 miles from the closest parish, would I be released from the “holy day of obligation” as far as having to go to Mass? To travel such a distance would practically ruin the aspect of being able to rest on this day. Wouldn’t having a Liturgy of the Word, or prayer and Bible study in the home not fulfill this obligation? My feelings on this are that these are man-made rules and that God would care less as long as we focus on worshipping him and be focused on Christ in the best way possible. My attitude is, if the Church wants to dispense with such things, then we could participate in the best way. But, if they don’t want to be understanding and focused on God, but only on their own rules, perhaps we should do away with participation in the Catholic Church altogether, as the bishops are not very understanding and want to extract millions of dollars from the people and lord it over us. This reminds me of those that tie up huge loads and put them on people’s backs, but will not help with one of their fingers, as we are told in Scripture. -S.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Yours is a complicated question, and I won’t be able to give a simple answer. But it is worth considering a few points.

First, the precept to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is how we are asked to fulfill the First Commandment. This commandment calls us to give proper worship to God. The Mass is not only the highest form of prayer; it is also a source of grace and help for us. God speaks to us through the readings, the homily, the prayers. And Jesus gives us the very gift of himself in the Eucharist.

To dismiss attendance at Sunday Mass as a “man-made rule” doesn’t do justice to the precept. When Jesus designates Peter as the rock on which Our Lord will build his Church, he adds, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Jesus in effect gives Peter (the first Pope) and the Church the authority to make certain rules which are binding on the faithful. In other words, attendance at Sunday Mass reflects God’s will, not just some mere opinion offered by the Church. Jesus drives home this point when says, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16).

Second, I have a question: Why are you moving into that remote area? Is it for health reasons? Or dire financial reasons? Here, you would have to ask yourself if being so remote from Mass would justify your move.

Third, you say that “perhaps we should do away with participation in the Catholic Church altogether, as the bishops are not very understanding and want to extract millions of dollars from the people and lord it over us.” You seem to be angry at people in the Church for some reason. True, the Church has a human, and at times highly imperfect, dimension. Remember the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30).

But the Church is also the mystical body of Christ, the bride for whom he gave up his life. “Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her” (Ephesians 5:25). In that sense the Church is holy and purified because of the blood that Jesus shed on Calvary. At Mass we re-present this perfect sacrifice of Christ, which won our salvation.

You might want to pray about this matter and, if possible, speak to a priest. It is true that, in cases where someone absolutely cannot get to Mass, the person should try to make some extended time for prayer and Scripture reading. Perhaps you could contact the diocese and ask about the availability of Mass or at least Communion services in your area.

But you would want to think long and hard before moving to a remote area. The Mass is there to help you, and it gives you a wonderful chance to say thanks to God for all he does for you. I will remember you at Mass. God bless.

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