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I was checking out the website of a rural parish in Ireland and I noticed that the main parish has many small churches in the surrounding villages. The small churches don't necessarily have a priest and the priest from the main village has to come down to the smaller ones. On the parish website it indicates that you can listen to the Mass on the radio and on the TV.

If you were in the little villages with no priest can you fulfill your obligation by watching the Mass on TV or by listening to the radio? The main village is a 20 minute bus ride from the smaller ones so it's not like it would be impossible to attend.

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The short answer is that yes, physical presence is necessary in order to fulfill the Sunday obligation. Watching Mass on T.V. or listening to it on the radio does not fulfill obligation.

Canon 1248 of the Code of Canon Law states the following:

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.

“Assistance” here means physical presence—hence not T.V. or radio.

However, those who are unable to make to Mass are, of course, excused from the obligation.

One reason that justifies being “unable” to make it is that the nearest Mass is far away.

Exactly how far away the Mass needs to be is difficult to determine. Of course, it is not really in the spirit of things to be looking for excuses not to go to Mass, so I would tend to err on the side of caution. Clearly, if attending Mass requires a two-hour commute in both directions, then the faithful are excused, especially the old and infirm.

However, I would say that 20 minutes is well within range, for just about anyone, except those with the usual “grave” causes (illness, obligation to care for the sick, etc.).

  • I have understood "assists at a Mass" to mean active participation in the service. Especially for the those who are sick and watch the service on Telelivision and recieve the Eucharist through Ministers, their Participation in the service is still what matters, even if they are not actually at the service, do they not join the angels in heaven singing Holy Holy Holy? I see the direction of your answer and agree with you, but doesn't assist mean so much more that attendance? Passive attendence in the presence of the Lord I can only imagine as being less than active participation via Cable. – Marc Oct 4 '16 at 12:07
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    @Marc No, "assist" (Latin: assisto; classical Latin adsisto, to be present), in the CIC entails physical presence. It is similar to the French “assister." It probably would be better translated in this context as “attend” (like when we attend class) than “assist.” – AthanasiusOfAlex Oct 4 '16 at 13:16
  • @Marc Of course, I am not denying that you can participate spiritually in a Mass at which you are not assisting. But it is not an act of public, liturgical worship of God—which, as I am sure you know, is a strict duty of all human beings. – AthanasiusOfAlex Oct 4 '16 at 14:34
  • I understand and appreciate your answers. My thoughts are to a shrinking Church, and wether modern methods such as Television Mass, where alms giving can be done electronically and so forth, might be a future solution to our shrinking Clergy, especially in the USA. The introduction of Radio and especially TV, may have an impact on how many worship in the future as Catholic culture is decreasing in some areas and also, earlier declarations and Cannon Law may not consider that the Mass can be brought into the homes of so many. +1 as always for a great answer. – Marc Oct 4 '16 at 14:57
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    @MattGutting Maybe, though a Canon Law dictionary would be more useful here. (It is a legal definition we are looking for here.) – AthanasiusOfAlex Oct 11 '16 at 12:49
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Yes, one must be physically present to fulfill Sunday obligation.

Those who cannot attend Mass (e.g., because there is none within reasonable distance, because of sickness, or because of other valid obligations) should, as Canon 1248 §2 says,

devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.

However, there is a spiritual benefit from watching TV or internet broadcasts of Masses (Father Connell Answers Moral Questions [Washington: CUA 1959] 75–6):

One may participate in the benefits of the Mass without being actually present — namely, by directing one’s intention and devotion to the sacred rite. By hearing Mass over the radio one can certainly foster his devotion, and thus profit considerably from the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. Indeed, it could happen that one who participates in the Holy Sacrifice in this manner will gain much more benefit than many of those who are actually present.

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