Since the first few centuries of Christianity, there has existed a Sunday obligation for Catholics to attend Mass. Initially there was no need for a law, since Christians gladly and joyfully embraced God’s command.
St. John Paul II explains this in his apostolic exhortation Dies Domini.
Even if in the earliest times it was not judged necessary to be prescriptive, the Church has not ceased to confirm this obligation of conscience, which rises from the inner need felt so strongly by the Christians of the first centuries. It was only later, faced with the half-heartedness or negligence of some, that the Church had to make explicit the duty to attend Sunday Mass. (47)
The current Code of Canon Law confirms this obligation and states, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.”
This means that any Catholic who is able to attend Mass must make every reasonable effort to be there.
Dispensation for Serious Reasons
At the same time, the obligation to attend Mass can be dispensed for a grave reason, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains.
The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.CCC 2181
Other serious reasons should be discussed with an individuals’ local pastor, who can give guidance or confirm the dispensation.
Invitation to love
Above all, the obligation should not be seen as an “imposition,” but an “invitation” to enter into the love of God, as John Paul II reiterated.
Sunday is a day which is at the very heart of the Christian life … I would strongly urge everyone to rediscover Sunday: Do not be afraid to give your time to Christ! Yes, let us open our time to Christ, that he may cast light upon it and give it direction. He is the One who knows the secret of time and the secret of eternity, and he gives us “his day” as an ever new gift of his love … Time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human.
The Sunday obligation is a great gift to humanity, and Catholics are called to fulfill it with a joyful heart.