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Tough Questions: Can I attend Mass Online?

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Is in-person attendance at Mass obligatory?

In our latest installment of "Tough Questions," I address the topic of online Mass. 

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Is it okay to attend Mass online?

Is it okay to attend Mass online?


By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
3/24/2022 (1 year ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Mass, online, attendance, obligation

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Many churches, including Catholic parishes, stream Mass online to their parishioners. Streaming Mass predates COVID. It caught on during the pandemic. With parishioners unable to attend Mass in person, it provided us a way to stay connected to our faith. To help, bishops granted a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass in person. This went on for months. 

Now, COVID is receding, and lockdowns are a thing of the past. The bishops ended the dispensation from in person attendance. But not everyone has come back. Adding to the confusion is that some parishes are still streaming their Masses.  

Many of our students and readers are asking if it's still okay to attend Mass online.   For the purposes of this answer, we assume the parishioner is watching with reverence, and will make an act of Spiritual Communion. 

So, what's the answer? 

The short answer is "no."  The Church requires us to attend Mass, in person, on all Holy Days of Obligation and Sundays. (There is a popular misconception that Sundays are not obligatory. They are, along with Holy Days of Obligation.) Why?  There are many reasons. 
One is that our parish is a community, a cell of the Church. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.  Active, in-person participation reinforces this. It is difficult to reinforce community through online viewing. The community is less personable. It's harder to get to know one another and be there for each other. 
More importantly, the Holy Mass is a participation in the eternal liturgy of heaven and an actual participation in the timeless sacrifice of Calvary. There, at the Altar, the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. And, as we come forward, we receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. That does not happen in a streamed service. We are a sacramental, incarnational church. Individually viewing the Mass will never substitute for this encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.   

Next, our full attendance and participation is a form of testimony and witness to the world of the Church, which is the loving plan of God for all men and women. Finally, this common worship strengthens us as a Body of Believers.  

Attendance at Mass is also commanded by the Third Commandment. This is commanded by Jesus in two distinct places. First, was when He commanded us to love God with all our heart, and our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt 22:37-39) And when He commanded that we celebrate the Eucharist is His memory. (1 Cor 11:24) If you don't attend, you cannot obey these commands. 
For these reasons, if a Catholic can attend Mass, they must do so, in person.  So why are some parishes livestreaming their Masses?  Here's where it gets a little complicated.  Livestreaming and posting the Mass helps proclaim the Gospel to a wider audience. This includes the sick, the shut-in, the imprisoned. As well as those who face insurmountable obstacles to attendance It also reaches out to the "unchurched" and the "fallen away", bringing them the Gospel message and helping them to come home to the Lord and His Church.

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The rule for in-person attendance applies to healthy people capable of getting there. Generally, if you are not sick, or have a major health concern, you should attend Mass in person. A suggested rule: if a person can go to work or engage in social activities, they are likely able to attend Mass.  For those who cannot attend Mass because of health or duty, the best they may be able to do is attend online. By duty, we refer to persons such as first responders who may work 24 hour shifts. 
For those with sincere intentions unable to attend Mass, livestreaming provides a lifeline. For the rest of us, we must attend every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. 

Further reading: CCC 2168-2188

If you want to see more "Tough Questions," from Professor Marshall Connolly, consider supporting Catholic Online School, a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation

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