Question on Sunday obligation

While Pete gets to have the day off down in Florida, I’m hoping we can put him to work a little bit with a canonical question.
A notice on my local parish‘s bulletin board announces a day of recollection to be held at a shrine in a nearby diocese on a certain Saturday. The notice says that the 4 p.m. Mass that ends the day’s program will be a Saturday Mass and will not fulfill the Sunday obligation.
My question is: is that right? Plenty of parishes will offer Sunday vigil Masses at 4 p.m., and those will fulfill the obligation; does observing the Saturday liturgy make a difference? If I remember right, a wedding Mass on Sunday afternoon fulfills the obligation, and of course that is not the regular Sunday liturgy either.


  1. This is just my opinion, of course, but it would seem to me that Sunday Vigil Masses are an exception to the rule. In other words, there is some sort of dispensation or something that make them fulfill the obligation of going to Mass on Sunday, which is the Lord’s Day. I would think that a Mass which did not celebrate the Sunday’s liturgy would not have that dispensation (although of course I don’t know if dispensation is the right term, that is what it seems like).

  2. A caveat: I am a devout, cradle Catholic, but am no canon lawyer or theologian. Just a thinker and keen observer.
    It seems to me that if the 4:00 Mass in question is not following that which is set out for that particular Sunday in the liturgical calendar, then it wouldn’t meet the obligation. You wouldn’t be celebrating what the rest of the Roman Catholic world would be that weekend.
    I guess a wedding Mass on a Sunday fulfills the obligation, as long as the core liturgy is still in line with the other Masses offered that weekend. In this case though, I wouldn’t really consider it a real “wedding Mass”, but “a Mass with a wedding embedded within it”. I’ve inadvertantly attended a couple of these before when going to my usual weekend Mass. I will be very interested to hear what someone with a canonical background will have have to say about this.
    I’ve also heard that 4:00 p.m. is the earliest a vigil Mass can be scheduled. This may hearken to the Jewish tradition that the Sabbath is observed from sundown to sundown. If that is indeed true, what is the latest time on Sunday that a Mass meeting the obligation can be celebrated?

  3. The time limits for vigil Masses are set by each bishop, so it might be 3 pm in one place and 5 pm in another.
    Sunday evening Masses can be quite late; there have been student chaplaincies at Boston University and Boston College that offered Mass at 10 pm and 11 pm respectively!

  4. Greetings,
    This is kindof related…
    What happens if you can´t make a Sunday mass, but attend a Saturday evening one instead.
    Specifically, my family is staying with my parents who live in the country and are Protestants. They´ve volunteered to take my family to Saturday Mass in town, and have asked that on Sunday they can take the family to their Methodist country church…basically to show off the family (this is the first time my parents have seen one of their grandchildren, and only the second for another, and the fourth time for the other). My own feelings were that I need to honor my parents, and there´s no question of converting, since my parents are actually comfortable and very happy with my conversion to the RCC, and that of my family…
    Any thoughts?

  5. One’s Sunday Obligation is fulfilled at a Mass celebrated at any time on Sunday. Additionally, if I understand correctly, I think the local Bishop sets the time for the vigil Mass, but he may not do so before 4 PM unless, like the bishop of our diocese, he obtains a dispensation from the Holy See. (We have a lot of elderly in our diocese who cannot travel safely after dark.)

  6. Gee wiz… I just realized that I didn’t answer Rich’s initial question. My understanding, but I could be mistaken, (however, I’m going by a similar situation that happened when I was initiated into the KofC 4th Degree) is that it would not fulfill the Sunday obligation since it takes place on Saturday and has been expressed denied by the diocesan bishop. But again, this is just my private opinion. Other canonists might disagree.

  7. So I’m supposing this has to come down to some decision by the bishop: maybe he’s set up a general rule applicable to ministry at this shrine. It doesn’t seem plausible to me that the priest’s intention or his choice of liturgy texts (Saturday vs. Sunday) would be the decisive factor.

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