Fulfilling the Sunday Obligation on Saturday

by Jimmy Akin

in Sunday Obligation

A correspondent writes:

My mother just called me with a question (I’m the family theologian, I guess!). Her pastor insisted that the Easter Vigil Mass does not count as the Easter Sunday Mass "obligation." My wife and I usually go to the Easter Vigil Mass and Easter morning Mass, so it has never been a question in our minds, but I was always under the assumption that the vigil Mass would work the same way as a Mass of anticipation. As I thought about it, though, I realized that the readings are different, and that the special rites of the Vigil Mass may make a difference. Can you help to clarify this issue for us?

Your mother’s pastor probably had the same thought that you did–that the readings, etc., for Easter Vigil are different than those of Easter Sunday and that, as a consequence, Easter Vigil might not (or, in his opinion, does not) fulfill the Sunday obligation.

The idea that the readings of a Mass must be the same as those of the Sunday or holy day following in order to fulfill the obligation is a common idea, but it is in error. There is no doubt about this in the law.

Here is what the law says:

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 [CIC Can. 1248 ยง1].

Note that there is nothing in the law about there needing to be any particular readings or set of ceremonies needed to fulfill the obligation. Any Mass in any rite on the evening of the preceding day satisfied the obligation.

The fact that no readings or ceremonies are required in the law is itself proof of the fact that they are not required, but the matter is doubly proven by the fact that the law provides that a Mass "anywhere in a Catholic rite" is sufficient. The reason is that the different rites have different readings and ceremonies in their Masses. If I were to go across the street to the local Maronite parish, or a few miles one way to the local Chaldean parish, or a few miles the other direction to the local Ruthenian parish, I would hear completely different readings and observe different ceremonies. Yet their Masses would fulfill my Sunday obligation, as the above canon indicates.

So despite the popular misconception, no particular rites or ceremonies are needed, and any Mass on Saturday evening–Easter Vigil Mass included–will satisfy the obligation for Sunday.

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{ 5 comments }

John October 10, 2005 at 10:21 am

That officious priest, instead of tormenting decent people with pinpricks like that, should worry about the priest pedophiles.

Harry Jameson April 8, 2007 at 8:27 am

Perhaps, John, although he is mistaken in this case, he is worried about the people you think that he is trying to torment. Perhaps he sees every year a crowd of 1,000 come to the Easter Vigil when on every other Sunday it hovers around 400. Perhaps he would like to assume charitable things about those people but perhaps he also fears that on the other Sundays of the year they are skipping Mass. And so, although is wrong in this one instance, he informs the people of their obligation on Sunday as a way of reminding them of their obligation on _every_ Sunday. And if he cares this much about people coming to God every Sunday in the Mass, I imagine that he also prays for those pedophile priests. And we should too.

Brian May 4, 2008 at 12:23 am

I am probably being a bit nit picky but I assume that it does not matter that the Eastern Churches do not call their services masses, but Divine Liturgy. But since what we are celebrating and participating in is the same reality, I am confident that the name difference does not change anything, and that the canon law that says we must participate in a “mass” includes an Eastern liturgy even if it is not called a mass.

Sherri Irvin August 10, 2008 at 9:29 pm

Easter Vigil is wonderful. I was confirmed this year at Easter Vigil and also watched 18 adults be baptized. The Mass was the greatest think I have ever witnessed. I wanted to go again on Easter Sunday morning but you can bet I was totally wiped out by the Easter Vigil experience.
By the way I also was one of the chosen 12 who had their feet washed on Holy Thursday.
That was a week to remember, for sure!

John September 3, 2008 at 8:33 am

With respect to Harry’s comment:
For a priest to state that a person is not fulfilling his Sunday obligation is a serious matter. Before a priest makes such a statement, he should be sure of himself. In this case, he is flat out wrong, and there is no excuse for such conduct. At best, he comes across looking very foolish. At worst, some might think he is trying to increase the Offertory collection by having people attend twice.
When a more serious moral issue arises, he will have no credibility.
“I imagine that he also prays for those pedophile priests”? He might trying praying for, and taking other action to protect, the VICTIMS of the pedophiles.
Brian’s comment:
The Eastern rites are in communion with the Apostolic See at Rome, and adhere to the authority of the Pope in matters of faith and morals. Relatively little falls into that category, however, and the Eastern churches are free to establish their own liturgical practices. The fact they use a “divine liturgy” instead of a “mass” is of no significance at all.
The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom dates from about 300. The Tridentine Mass is a relatively recent innovation, having been promulgated in 1570. The Eastern rites are big on tradition and resist modern innovations.
The term “mass” developed from the phrase “ite missa est,” or “go, you are dismissed.” At one time, it was spoken at the end of the Nicene Creed, as a signal to the catechumens that they were to depart before the “Mass of the Faithful” began. The use of Latin is confined to the Roman Rite, so it is not surprising that the term “Mass” is used to describe the Roman liturgy and not the others.

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