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Posted January 18, 2007

Attending Sunday Mass at Other Parishes

And a Last Word on Christmastide

ROME, JAN. 16, 2007 .- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: What is the position now on people not going to Sunday Mass in their own parishes? I know hundreds of people in this situation, yet always advise that, despite the horrors that they sometimes witness in their parishes, they should go. -- J.F., Manchester, England

A: This theme is dealt with in Canons 1247-1248 of the Code of Canon Law:

"Can. 1247 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass ....

"Can. 1248 1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass."

Thus, unlike the former code, the faithful are no longer obliged by law to attend Mass at their parishes on Sundays and holy days of obligations.

But this does not mean that they may be indifferent to the life of their local parishes. While speaking about the rights and duties of the faithful, canon law says:

"Can. 209 1. The Christian faithful, even in their own manner of acting, are always obliged to maintain communion with the Church.

"2. With great diligence they are to fulfill the duties which they owe to the universal Church and the particular church to which they belong according to the prescripts of the law.

"Can. 210 All the Christian faithful must direct their efforts to lead a holy life and to promote the growth of the Church and its continual sanctification, according to their own condition."

While a detailed commentary on these canons is beyond the scope of this column, they do imply that Catholics should, as far as possible, strive to be in full communion with their local parishes and support their pastors.

Some Catholics do not belong to territorial parishes but to so-called personal parishes whose jurisdiction is not so much tied to where they live but to other factors such as language, nationality, occupation, or particular rite. In these cases they should support this parish.

On the other hand, the faithful have a corresponding right to receive from their pastors authentic Catholic liturgy and doctrine and to develop their own spiritual life. To this the code says:

"Can. 213 The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments.

"Can. 214 The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescripts of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life so long as it is consonant with the doctrine of the Church."

Therefore, Catholics should habitually support and participate at Mass at their own parish. This is the best way to form an authentic Christian community as charity toward others is a fruit of the Eucharist and of prayer.

Our reader also suggested that Catholics should attend their parishes in spite of defective practice and doctrine.

Certainly, one can do little to remedy possible limitations by remaining outside and complaining. Many times these errors continue more out of force of habit than out of bad faith, and change might be brought about by gentle persuasion.

Once more, canon law declares that the faithful have the right, and often the duty, to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on what pertains to the good of the Church (cf. Canon 212.3).

If nothing changes in spite of charitable efforts, then the following of this advice to remain would depend above all on the objective gravity of these defects.

If the objective defects constitute a danger to the Christian's faith, or to that of his or her children, or cause serious spiritual turbulence, then the person would be more than justified in worshipping somewhere else.

Subjective elements such as personal taste and religious sensibility are less weighty and might sometimes need to be sacrificed for the good of the community. However, some people might need a different religious atmosphere from that found in their parish in order to be able to worship.

If, however, they decide to attend Mass elsewhere for good practical or spiritual reasons, then they should still attempt to participate in the life of the parish as much as possible by sharing in other activities organized by the community.