Are Catholics required to go to Mass on Sunday?

Holy Mass and The Last Supper - Leonardo Da Vinci

The short answer: Yes. (CCC 2041-2042)

And not only are we required to go, but it is considered a grave matter of sin if we do not go (and otherwise reasonably could have gone).

From the beginning, the Church has always seen this as the primary (and bare minimum) fulfillment of the 3rd commandment: Keep holy the sabbath day (the Christian Sabbath being The Lord’s Day).

Many will read the 3rd commandment out of context and in today’s present culture and interpret for themselves that it simply means to make sure and do holy things on Sunday. Not only does this not make a lot of sense, it is not the way that the apostles interpreted it either.

God commands us to be holy everyday – not just on the sabbath. And it would be a pretty useless commandment if it actually meant to just be extra holy on Sunday.

We are also to refrain from doing unnecessary work on Sunday, but not just so we can relax and play golf, lay by the pool or bake cookies. It is to free us up to fulfill another more important and sacred obligation.

In the full Christian sense, “keeping the sabbath holy” is to actually participate in the most fundamental of Christian celebrations – the mass.

CCC 2181:
“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. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”

(FYI – Every Sunday is a “day of obligation”)

So it’s important. And this is not up for interpretation, as some Catholics might argue. If you are Catholic, you are obliged to go to mass every Sunday – not just Sundays where you wake up early enough, it’s convenient, or you are in town visiting mom and dad.

And there’s a special obligation for parents to take their kids and any other dependents under their care.

There’s no question that a lot of Catholics don’t attend mass as they should. I suppose it is partially because they are unaware that it’s a requirement, but I think the heart of the problem is that most Catholics take for granted what happens at the mass. I know I often do.

But then I think about what happens at each and every mass. And I realize that this is the most deliberately specific thing that Jesus gave Christians to do after he left (“Do this in memory of me”). And I contemplate that we truly, physically receive the body and blood of Christ – of God Himself – at every Mass. And I consider that communion with God is the ultimate goal of my life.

Then I can’t wait to go.  Attending mass is not just an obligation, it’s a privilege!  It’s a gift.

This is not a rule the Church makes for rules’ sake. It makes it for our sake. And it recognizes it as a grave sin because it is just that important to each one of our lives (i.e. really important).

“Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.” – John 6:54

Ultimately, Mass should be one of (if not the) highlight of our week. We should look forward to it. We should want to go. And when we don’t, it’s a reminder that we need to work harder to more fully understand the reality of what happens at Mass. It’s human and natural to forget, get lazy, take it for granted, or become numb to it, but we have to continually work to overcome that trap.  For we are being offered the greatest gift God has to offer – the source and summit of our Faith, Jesus Christ Himself.

What do you think of the Catholic obligation to attend Sunday Mass?

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35 comments Add comment

Michael August 17, 2009 at 10:37 am

You cannot be truly Catholic and only believe what you want to believe (a.k.a, Cafateria Catholic). By doing so, you are being a Protestant (Protest-ant).

As inconvenient as some teachings may be they must be followed completely. Following Christ was never said to be easy.

We want to follow Him, but in our terms. This of course is the reason there are over 30,000 Protestant denominations today.

That said, YES…ABSOLUTELY, I think we should attend Mass every weekend.

Manya August 17, 2009 at 12:24 pm

It amazes me that I know adult Catholics who honestly had no idea that missing mass on days of obligation (including Sunday, of course) was a grave sin (i.e. mortal!).
Thanks for the great post, as usual. You’re really good at this!

Stu August 17, 2009 at 3:24 pm

I love going to mass! I grew up Lutheran and accepted the fullness of faith in 2001. Receiving the eucharist is especially humbling knowing that this gift comes directly from Christ by way of apostolic succession. Each week I am directly connected to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Jeremy August 17, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Great post! I believe its better appologeticly to focus on Mass being an obligation from the perspective of “skipping it” is a sin against the 1st commandment, and not the 3rd. The Sabbath still is the Saturday holy day of our jewish forefathers in the faith, nothing in salvation history changed that. The 3rd commandment is a not a moral law that exists on its own “feet” so to say. It prefigures the Christian celebration and sacrafice of the paschal mystery in the Sunday Mass, but the Sabbath is not one in the same with the Sunday Mass, the Highest form of Prayer for the Christian (in union with Rome).

Technically, Christians are not obligated to keep the 3rd commandment, just as they are not obligated to circumcize or have a cosher diet. All of these “laws” are superseded but the “new commandment”. The other nine commandments are all moral commandments and we are obligated to observe them because of the moral conscequences if we fail to observe them.

I’m not an authority on the matter, just a regular Joe in the pew, I might have it wrong, but I don’t think so. Reseach it yourself. . . the journey will benefit us all either way.

Matthew Warner August 17, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Good thoughts, Jeremy! You are right…it did benefit me cuz I had to go look it up to be sure! I think we are both right here actually.

The Church sees ALL 10 commandments as fundamentally immutable. That is, the fundamental meaning behind the 3rd commandment is still binding – and that’s basically to meet on “a” sabbath once a week to worship, etc. The ceremonial aspect of that did change though…from occurring on Saturday to occurring on Sunday in the new covenant. So the specific Jewish practice of it went the way of circumcision, but the underlying commandment was renewed with a NEW sabbath…the Lord’s Day, Sunday.

These links helped me out: and

You make a good point though about what makes missing mass a “sin”…and actually what makes it a grave matter of sin. And that’s that by skipping mass and putting something else up as more important than Sunday Eucharist, it is one of the most direct, clear, and simple ways a person turns their back on God, hence separating themselves (sin).

I’m a bit surprised at the people that voted that they “don’t have to follow it as a Catholic.” I would be interested in why they think so and what they base that on? If any of them feel like sharing at all?

Thanks everyone!

Darlene April 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm


Why, you ask. Because some people do not believe in all the rules of the catholic church. Does God love you more then me for not attending every Sunday? Am I a less christian then you are? God is everywhere so I can praise an worship him at any time,any place. If I am to sick to attend does that mean I have sinned? or what if I worked all night on Saturday night,then did not attend but rather went home to rest. Did I sin? As a catholic christian it is not your obligation to judge me in any form or matter,even for missing a day of mass in the catholic church. The dear lord will judge me on my judgement day,not you. I believe in God,I believe in the catholic church, I believe that Jesus died for my sins,but won’t I don’t believe in is that some catholics look down on me for the very reason of not attending mass every Sunday. If being a catholic christian means being a hypocrite,then I don’t want any part of it.

enness July 15, 2011 at 11:10 am

“Do this in memory of me.” “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I.” “If you love me, keep my commands.”

One would think that loving God and loving Christ would translate directly into paying closer attention to what is written in His Bible. In that respect, I think your suffering for lack of the Mass is already evident; often it takes hearing it repeatedly. I’m not saying I don’t fail myself at times (in fact I need to get my butt to confession as it has been too long and stuff has accrued). The next step is getting beyond rationalization to the point of recognizing them as failings. The step after that is to quit allowing it. I am at the point where if I miss I will try to “make one up” elsewhere, which unfortunately I know is not good enough. I am being quite honest when I say that it needs work and I make too many excuses. I understand that there seem to be so many reasons not to. Maybe we can improve our overall commitment in tandem somehow. Two heads are better than one, right?

Patricia November 5, 2009 at 10:04 pm

“And there’s a special obligation for parents to take their kids and any other dependents under their care.”

Sigh. i wish more people in the pews understood and supported this. I have two young children, one with extreme hyperactivity, and it would be nice to see smiles celebrating that I am making the effort to bring Him to Mass instead of comments like, “we have a cry room.” Even the priests we have had stare at noisy kids form the pulpit. if we were all following our faith fully, the church would be jammed with kids and my kids noise wouldn’t stick out at all. To anyone who reads this, please just smile at us hasseled parents and let us know you appreciate our children. My 5 yeear old hyperactive son is adamant that he is going to be a priest. Everyone at Mass should be encouraging and fostering kids being present. =)

Dave December 14, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Amen, Patricia! The problem with a cry room is that the kids don’t learn to behave. Too many parishes think of our kids a secondary, neglecting their place in the mass as well as their catechesis. It is easy to see why we lose so many kids to Protestant churches whose services are like a rock concert with a motivational speaker.

Shannan November 21, 2010 at 5:26 am

Have you ever attended a protestant Sunday service? It is a very Holy and reverent service, the music may be a bit more upbeat, But it is certainly NOT a rock concert. It is filled with the Word of God , the Word is God, NOT a motivational speaker. I love the Mass But I also believe that the Protestant services, and there are many different styles, are full of the Holy Spirit and If that is true then God being 3 persons in One is truly present there too. It is a heart issue. Furthermore is a contemporary Mass not valid? or attending Saturday evening? I really hate it when I hear Catholics insult the Protestant churches. I know that it must be equally insulting when a protestant is rude about Catholics. We should all stop trying to prove who is right and focus on the LORD instead, because you won’t draw anyone to the faith with condemnation.” They will know we are Christians by our LOVE>

Darlene April 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Very well said Shannon. I love attending the Baptist church I attend when visiting my family from out of state who converted from the catholic faith to the baptist faith. Every thing about the church is more uplifting to me.


MaryAnn April 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm

What ticks me off is that parents bring treats for their kids in church and toys too. Jesus, we have even made the church a playroom. I’m so glad your son wants to be a priest. Encourage him. Thanks. November 4, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I take fruit to church for my 2 year olddaugther who finds our long mass hard to sit all the way through. I do not need to be judged by you or anyone else for this!!! as the first post said it is hard to follow the word and teach our children about jesus, god and the church when the rest of the people in the pews are tutting because god forbid a child make a noise. i really does make me laugh, if it were the good lord himself taking the mass i am sure it would be all the children sat at his feet not the adults! My priest is wonderfull and invites the children to sit up on the alter with him, i have been to many a church were they have seperate masses for children and were they look at you like a criminal for your children breathing to loudly and i would challenge anyone with that opion now!!!
“Assuredly,i say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

genie taganile March 5, 2010 at 1:57 am

I love attending holy mass everyday not Sunday only.

gnee March 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Mass is called an obligation (connected to the 3rd Commandment), but we should do it because we love God; from the Mass, we receive graces directly from Jesus in Holy Communion

Jesus went to a temple; we go to a church
Jesus refrained from unnecessary work; we are to do the same (day of rest)
Jesus praised, worshiped and read Scripture, we do the same at Mass, but we also receive Jesus into us in Holy Communion to be nourished spiritually.

ann May 24, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I fell in love with my faith when I was 4 years old. I have not wavered from it ,even during the19 60’s revolution against the all establishments. I have taught my 4 children the importance of mass and their faith. They are all grown up now. They have children of their own. They now share their faith with their kids. Teaching a people to have strong faith does begin at home like mine did

Aguinaldo Rodriguez June 9, 2010 at 11:13 pm

I am trying to find : When was the obligation to attend mass on Sunday under the penalty of mortal sin instituted?

Ignatzz October 5, 2010 at 8:24 am

I think obligation can warp the meaning of things. When I was Episcopalian, I once complimented a Catholic priest I knew about how many more people the Catholics got attending on Ascension Thursday. He somewhat sarcastically said, “Yes, telling people they’re going to hell if they don’t show up does increase attendance.”

And if always bothers that there’s no exceptions – family obligations, emergencies, sick children, nothing prevents not attending from being a mortal sin. That’s strikes me as instinctively wrong, and absolutely Un-Benedictine. St. Benedict – and St. Paul – understood that the spirit of rule was more important than the letter.

Matthew Warner October 5, 2010 at 8:56 am

Ignatzz – please read the post, particularly the quote from the catechism on this Church teaching. It explicitly states that there are exceptions for serious reasons such as the ones you mention.

RH October 6, 2010 at 1:00 am

I’m with Aguinaldo on this…

When, exactly, did the Church define missing Sunday Mass as a mortal sin? Not to cause a ruckus or anything, but I do seem to recall reading somewhere that this rule was not defined and enforced, or even heard of in the Church, prior to making it as such in order to always get tithing/money from the laity. Back when there was some serious hierarchical corruption going on. Not saying this is true by any means, it’s just something I read long ago.

Also, I fully understand what the Mass is and LOVE Mass, of course when celebrated reverently most of all, but it just does not seem like something our God-who-is-Love-and-Mercy would do to say to someone who missed Mass once, or even a lot, without any direct antagonism toward going, “Sorry, hell for you.” I mean, WHAT?!

It just does not connect for me.

Also, I read that it is not a mortal sin if you miss it but wish you could have gone had your circumstances been different – health, emergencies, availability, whatever. This is somehow different from deliberately missing Mass because you think you have “something better to do.”

I understand why it is a basic “obligation” for Catholics – after all, we are Christian in community, but to say it is damnable to miss even once just seems so out of place, I guess.

I would just like to know the full, accurate, true story of how and when and where it became a mortal sin when deliberately missed with no legitimate reason. That’s all. :P And I have no idea where to start looking for that. xD

gurnygob October 8, 2010 at 8:06 pm

“I do seem to recall reading somewhere that this rule was not defined and enforced, or even heard of in the Church, prior to making it as such in order to always get tithing/money from the laity. Back when there was some serious hierarchical corruption going on.”

It doesn’t matter if there was serious hierarchical corruption going on. It was made binding and if you don’t go and don’t repent then, well you know the rest.

Atheist November 13, 2010 at 8:40 am

I think that if grown adults want to go to mass, fine. But children should not be indoctrinated in the religions, and they should be given the human RIGHT to choose. Sure, you can show them and encourage your religion, but not obligate. Maybe your kid turns out, idk, Buddhist? Its not like you are going to love them any less. Idc about religion and all its atrocities in it, but please, do not be extremists.

Thank you my kind friends.

bethanne November 18, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Should children also be given the human RIGHT to choose what time to go to bed, what foods to have for dinner, whether or not to run with scissors, etc? Maybe so. I’ll give it some thought.

Thank you. November 4, 2012 at 2:32 pm

If i could like your comment i would have done! I could not agree more, i am a roman catholic with an italian father and an irish mother, so i am sure you can imagine my upbringing in terms of the church! I now have two daughters and i would be happy for them to follow any religion as an adult as long as they followed it with the same dedication as i follow my own. If you do not teach the the importance of religion how will they ever find it?

There is only one god, however we all call him a differant name and paint him in a differant image, i bieleve that he created us in his image and we have returned the favour!

GFvonB November 18, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I think it doesn’t matter what I think about it, it’s the law of the Church. “whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven.” If you know of the obligation, and you reject it, you’re going to hell. Period.

LJ November 19, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I think that is for God to decide, not you!

bethanne November 20, 2010 at 8:56 am

God did decide.

Maureen November 18, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I love mass! I go because I want to. I think when you skip mass it is more about breaking the first commandment. I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. Therefore if I skip because I’m tired or want to to watch a football game or just need some “me time” (hate that phrase!) I am putting myself or football above God. Unfortunately when it becomes an “obligation” if becomes an unpleasant task that makes us want to rebel against it.

Jill December 12, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Sooo, what if you’re not Catholic, but you’re aware of the rule that Catholics have to go to mass every week? Does that mean that I’m now required to go to mass every week?

How much does one have to know *about* Catholicism and its rules/teachings for that person to go to hell because of it (because of their not-immediately-becoming-Catholic despite knowing a lot about it)?

Chris January 9, 2011 at 10:51 am

i think it’s easier to be protestant. you have more lee way and still go to heaven. i can’t understand people who want to be catholic. it’s so easy to fall into Hell through them.

MaryAnn April 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I don’t think so. Religion is not convenience. Why don’t we do whatever we want. Have leeway with traffic laws, kill some more people. You don’t like a religion with boundaries. Go try living without boundarie. That’s why we have such a messed up world. November 4, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Ha this was so funny, i do bieleve the man that created your religion ( i use this term loosley) was of the same opionion. Anything for an easy life! He stamped his feet like a child as my pope would not let him get another divorce and as a result he created his own religion, were you can do whatever you like! The church of England!

ONTHEFENCE July 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I think you should be going to church because you love GOD and all that he stands for. NOT because it’s the law of the church and you’re going to Hell if you don’t.

SoyLatteQT July 20, 2011 at 7:50 am

Makes perfect sense, if that is why you go to Church in the first place. If you want to keep the Sabbath holy and participate in the Mass and all that it is, however, you will go even if you don’t “feel like it”. And if you don’t feel like it, remember what the Mass is and really reflect on that and you’ll get back to the point where you are rushing to Mass as often as possible. Then you won’t feel like you “have to go”, anyway.

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