Skipping Sunday Mass? Is it Really a Mortal Sin to Skip Mass?

“But Father, I Only Skip a Sunday Mass Occasionally.”

By Fr. Ryan Erlenbush, The New Theological Movement:

Skipping Sunday Mass

Is it really a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass?

Pope Innocent XI has condemned the following proposition: “The precept of keeping Holy Days is not obligatory under pain of mortal sin, aside from scandal, if contempt is absent.” (4 March 1679)

Thus, it is the teaching of the Catholic Church, that it is always a mortal sin intentionally to skip Mass on Sunday or on a Holy Day without a serious reason. Catholics are obligated to attend Mass either on Sunday itself, or on the Saturday evening before.

Let us consider the proof of this precept, and show the falsity of the contrary opinion that it is enough usually to go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and that skipping only one Sunday here or there is merely a venial sin.

The Authority of St Alphonsus on Skipping Sunday Mass

The doctor of moral theology and patron of confessors, St Alphonsus Liguori, states simply (quoting Pope Innocent XI) that the precept of attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days (as well as abstaining from unnecessary servile work) binds under pain of mortal sin.

The reader can find his treatment of this in Theologia Moralis, Tomus Primus, 263ff.

According to the current law of the Church, this obligation is fulfilled by attending Mass any time from the preceding evening until midnight of the day – thus, a Saturday evening Mass (whether for the Sunday or for the Saturday, or a wedding Mass, etc) will fulfill the Sunday obligation.

This is, however, a positive precept, rather than a negative one. This is significant since there can be no exceptions to negative precepts – there is never a case when a man is permitted to commit adultery or to lie, for example. However, a man may be excused from positive precepts for a serious cause.

Therefore, there are certainly circumstances which would excuse a man from attending Sunday Mass – as the obligation is grave, only a grave cause could excuse. However, certain grave circumstances do exist.

In this article, however, we will not consider the various exceptions to the law, but rather the basic obligation of the law.

We only point out that we have  used the phrase “skip” Sunday Mass, rather than “miss” – thereby we indicate the difference between missing Mass for a grave reason (e.g. being in the ER at the hospital) and skipping Mass for no good reason (e.g. simply sleeping in).


Skipping Mass, What is the Difference between “Grave Matter” to be a “Mortal Sin”?

A sin is mortal if it is grave matter, and committed freely and knowingly.

Clearly, skipping Sunday Mass is grave matter. However, we will not here discuss when a person may or may not have sufficient knowledge or freedom for the sin to be mortal – that is better done in the confessional with a devout and traditional priest.

It is good here to recall that the Catechism teaches that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion.” (CCC 1385)


Why is it a Mortal Sin to Skip Mass on Sunday?

The great St John Paul II states, “The Code of Canon Law of 1917 for the first time gathered this tradition into a universal law. The present Code reiterates this, saying that ‘on Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to attend Mass’. This legislation has normally been understood as entailing a grave obligation: this is the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and it is easy to understand why if we keep in mind how vital Sunday is for the Christian life.” (Dies Domini, 47)

Here, the Saintly Pontiff indicates why it is that the Church obliges the faithful to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days under pain of mortal sin: Mass attendance is truly necessary for the Christian life. Participating in Sunday worship is of such great value and necessity to the soul, that the Church holds the faithful bound to this participation by a grave obligation.

We must admit that the following of this precept is of the greatest advantage to the Christian soul which will quickly perish without the helps of common worship, orthodox preaching, and the grace derived from the Sacrament of the Altar.

Furthermore, we must stress that it is the primary duty of the creature to honor his Creator. If God had commanded that every day should be given wholly to him, he would have been within his rights – for the whole man, together with all his time and energies, belongs entirely to God. However, God is most generous in demanding (through his Church) only Sundays and a very few other days which must be given to divine worship. It is such a small demand in his part, and those who fail to do even this little amount are guilty of an extreme boldness.


The Error in those who say Skipping Sunday Mass is Not a Grave Sin

Note that those who advocate for the opposite opinion (namely, that it is only a venial sin to skip Sunday Mass on occasion) fail to quote a single Church document or even the opinion of any saint to support their impious claim. We can see here the bad will of such persons, who promote their own opinion and the vanity of the world in the place of the true doctrine presented by our Holy Mother the Church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies that attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is a precept of the Church (cf CCC 2180) which precepts are given to maintain the bare minimum of moral rectitude (cf CCC 2041, “the very necessary minimum”).

Again, “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. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit grave sin.” (CCC 2181)

Again, the Baltimore Catechism: “Holydays of obligation are special feasts of the Church on which we are bound, under pain of mortal sin, to hear Mass and to keep from servile or bodily labors when it can be done without great loss or inconvenience. Whoever, on account of their circumstances, cannot give up work on holydays of obligation should make every effort to hear Mass and should also explain in confession the necessity of working on holydays.” (No 3, q.1244)

Therefore, whosoever should rashly and with such great hubris dare to assert and even to teach others that occasionally skipping Sunday Mass or Holy Days for no grave reason is not a mortal sin, is rightly to be held in contempt by all and should know himself to be guilty of spiritual murder as leading others into sin, himself having certainly committed grave sin by his impious utterance.

This especially holds for priests.

There can be no doubt that those who fail in this most basic duty of man have failed to fulfill even the bare minimum of what is required of any decent human being – therefore, it is good and right that the Church should hold the faithful bound to the observance of Sundays and Holy Days under pain of mortal sin.

Slight editing.

For the love of God, please don’t skip Sunday Mass.


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6 comments to Skipping Sunday Mass? Is it Really a Mortal Sin to Skip Mass?

  • Mary Ann Nowlin

    So if catholics miss mass on Sunday and Holy days we will commit a mortal sin and go to hell.
    But other religions are not under the pain of mortal sin, so to me that says that they are all going to hell if they miss their church services. I have in-laws that do not go to church every Sunday, so are you telling me that those who have passed on are in hell although they led a good life and were very faithful to Christ in their lifetime? I just do not understand this reasoning.
    I am a devoted Catholic and 74 years old and I know so many of our kids today do not have a problem with skipping mass on occasion and feel that it is not a mortal sin. My daughter and son-in-law for starters and I sent her to 12 years of Catholic schooling and my son-in-law is a graduate from Notre Dame.
    And also there are a lot of Cathlolics that do not go to confession after skipping mass and still go to Communion. Priests need to get up on the pulpit and start teaching our faith along with explaning the gospels.
    Most Catholics do not even know what the precepts of the church are.

  • Matthew Gokingco

    God Himself asks so very little of our week considering all the blessings that He gives to us Monday to Sunday: life itself, the gift of each other, the food we eat, the air we breathe, the nature of the sun, moon, and the stars, many more. He only asks a very small portion to give back what is truly His: time to give Him reverent thanks. Yet, many of us ignore Him. I pray for the conversion of those who are misled or have been misled that the Mass is ok to miss from time to time.
    As for me and my family, we even make every effort to go to Mass when we are out of town on vacation. It is just the right thing to do! I can attest to the fact that going to Mass and making every positive effort (even if sometimes I myself don’t feel like it) to give thanks to God for my very existence, I get much out of Mass in proportion to what I give to go to it…the more I give, the more blessings I take away with me. I WILL FOREVER GIVE PRAISE AND THANKS TO GOD FOR ALL HIS BLESSINGS!

  • Neil Kalina

    Magna est Veritas Et Prevalebit (“TRUTH IS MIGHTY, AND IT SHALL PREVAIL”).

    Let us all attain to the unity of the faith and of the deep knowledge of the Son of God . . . that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine devised in the wickedness of men, in craftiness, according to the wiles of error. Rather we are to practice the truth in love, and grow up in all things in him who is the head, Christ. Eph. 4.13-16.

    All the ways of a man maybe right in his own eyes, but it is the Lord who weighs the heart.Proverbs 21:2
    How numerous the means He places within our reach of acquiring virtue, and insuring our salvation.
    Every time we hear Mass in the state of grace with devout attention and in a spirit of recollection,
    Our Lord of His loving kindness makes us to participate in no less than 77 graces and fruits.
    It is however true as I shall proceed to show an enumeration of these graces
    that may assist us to believe in and recognize this all so true reality…

    For our salvation God the Father sends His beloved Son down from Heaven
    For our salvation the Holy Spirit changes bread and wine into the True Body and Blood of Christ
    For our sake the Son of God comes down from Heaven and conceals Himself under the form of the sacred Host that we in consuming Him….may be consumed by Him
    He even abases Himself to such an extent as to be present in the minutest particle of the sacred Host for us
    For our salvation He renews the saving mystery of the Incarnation in our presence
    For our salvation He is born anew into the word in a mystic manner whenever Holy Mass is celebrated
    For our salvation He performs upon the altar the same acts of worship that He performs when on earth
    For our salvation He renews His bitter Passion in order that we may participate in it
    For our salvation He mystically renews His death….. and sacrifices for us His precious life
    For our salvation He shed His blood in a mystic manner and offers it up for you to the Divine Majesty
    With His Precious Blood He sprinkles our soul and purifies it from every stain
    For you Christ offers Himself as a true burnt offering and renders to the Godhead the supreme honor which is its due
    By offering this act of worship to God we make reparation for the glory which we have failed to give Him in our daily life
    For you Christ offers Hiself to God as a sacrifice of praise thus atoning for all our omissions in praising His Holy Name
    By offering to God this oblation which Christ give Him greater praise than do the Holy Angels
    For us Christ offers Himself as a perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving making compensation for all failures on our part to render thanks
    By offering to God Christ’s act of thanksgiving we make ample acknowledgment of all the benefits He has bestowed upon us
    For you Christ offers Himself as the All powerful Victim reconciling you to God whom you have so often and consistently offended
    He pardons you all your venial sins provided you are firmly resolved to forsake them
    He also makes reparation for many of your sins of omission when you leave undone the good you could have accomplished
    He removes many of your imperfections attaching to your good deeds
    He forgives you the sins unknown or forgotten which you have never mentioned in Confession
    He offers Himself as a victim to make satisfaction for a part at least of your debts and transgressions
    Each time you hear Mass you can do more to pay the penalty due to your sins than by the severest work of penance
    Christ places to your credit a portion of His merits which you may offer to God the Father in expiation of your offenses
    For you Christ offer Himself as the most efficacious peace offering interceding for you as earnestly as He interceded for His enemies on the Cross
    His Precious Blood pleads for you in words as countless as the drops which issued from His sacred veins
    Each of the adorable wounds His Sacred Body bore is a voice calling aloud “Mercy” for you
    For the sake of this propitiatory Victim the petitions offered during the Holy Mass
    will be granted far sooner than those that are offered at other times
    Never can you pray so well as while present at Mass. This is so because Christ unites His prayers to yours and offers them to the Heavenly Father
    He acquaints the Father with your needs and the dangers to which you are exposed and makes your eternal salvation His particular concern
    The Angels also who are present plead for and present your poor prayers before the throne of God.
    On your behalf the priest says Mass by virtue of which the evil enemy will not be suffered to approach you
    For you and your everlasting salvation the priest says Mass and offers the Holy Sacrifice to God Almighty
    When you hear Mass you yourselves are empowered by Christ to offer the Mass both for yourselves and for others
    By offering this Holy Sacrifice you present to the Blessed Trinity the most acceptable of all oblations
    You offer an oblation precious indeed of greater value than all things in Heaven and earth
    Your precious oblation is none other than God Himself.
    By this Sacrifice you honor God as He alone is worthy to be honored
    By this Sacrifice you give infinite satisfaction to the Most Holy Trinity
    You may present this glorious oblation as your own gift….. for Christ Himself gave it to you
    When you hear Mass correctly you perform an act of the highest worship
    By hearing Mass you pay the most profound reverence, the most loyal homage to the sacred humanity of Our Lord.
    It is the best means you have on earth to venerate the Passion of Christ and obtain a share in its fruits
    It is also the best means of venerating the Blessed Mother of God and increasing her joy.
    By hearing Mass you can give greater honor to the Angels and Saints than by reciting many prayers
    By hearing Mass devoutly you can also enrich your soul more than by anything else in the world
    For in this act you perform a good work of the highest value
    It is a signal exercise of pure faith which will receive a great reward
    When you bow down or genuflect before the Sacred Host and the Sacred chalice you perform a supreme act of adoration
    For each time that you gaze reverently upon the Sacred Host you will receive a recompense in Heaven
    Each time you strike your breast with compunction some of your sins are remitted to you
    If you hear Mass in the state of mortal sin God offers you the grace of conversion
    If you hear Mass in the state of grace God gives you an augmentation of grace
    In Holy Mass you spiritually eat the flesh of Christ and drink His Blood
    You are privileged to behold with your eyes Christ’s humanity hidden under the sacramental veil and to be beheld by Him
    You receive the priest’s benediction which is confirmed by Christ in Heaven
    Through your diligence in hearing Mass you will also obtain corporal (physical) and temporal blessings
    Furthermore you will be preserved from many misfortunes that would otherwise befall you
    You will also be strengthened against temptations which would otherwise have vanquished you
    Holy Mass will also be to you a means of obtaining grace of a holy death
    The love you have shown for Holy Mass will secure for you the special succor of Angels and Saints in your last moments
    The remembrance of the Masses heard in your lifetime will be a sweet solace to you in the hour of your death and inspire you with confidence in the Divine Mercy of God
    The Masses heard in your lifetime will not be forgotten when you stand before the Judge and will incline Him to show you favor
    You need not fear a long and terrible Purgatory if you already to a great extent atones for your sins by frequently assisting at Holy Mass
    One Mass devoutly heard will do more to mitigate the pains of Purgatory than any act of penance however difficult of performance
    One Mass in your lifetime will be of greater service to you than many said for you after death
    You will attain a high place in Heaven which will be yours for all eternity
    Your felicity in Heaven will moreover be increased by every Mass you hear on earth
    No prayers offered for your friends will be as efficacious as a single Mass heard and offered on their behalf
    You can amply recompense all your benefactors by hearing Mass for their intention
    Their best help, the greatest consolation you can afford the afflicted, the sick, the dying is to hear Mass for them
    By the same means you can even obtain for sinners the grace of conversion
    You can also earn for all faithful Christians saving and salutary graces
    For the Suffering Souls in Purgatory you can procure abundant refreshment
    And if it is not within your power to have Mass said for your departed friends
    You can by devout assistance at the Holy Sacrifice release them from the tormenting flames.

  • Florise Thatcher

    I did not realise it was a mortal sin.

    • Louisa Hawes

      I fought for the last few years with the fear of missing ( not skipping) Sunday Mass because I have painful legs associated with disease. I am 79. It has been so difficult to reconcile my illness with missing Mass weeks on end. I went to Confession and the experienced priest did not care and said that’s ok.

      • Hello Louisa,

        What a brave warrior you are! Yes, missing mass is a grave reason without a valid excuse. Your illness can be a valid reason. Sorry it seems the priest didn’t care, but it sounds like he gave you the correct advice.

        God bless,
        John Quinn

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