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DEAR FATHER | Exceptions to Sunday obligations must be approached with Jesus’ compassion

My child has a developmental disorder and frequently struggles to peacefully attend Mass. What is my responsibilty regarding the weekly Mass obligation?

When it comes to any obligation within the Church, the Gospel demands that we approach it with the compassion of Jesus. In the situation you describe, it seems that attending Mass — at least for the time being — is a genuinely traumatic experience for your child. Only the parent of a child with a developmental disorder can truly understand what that means, and only you can discern what he is capable of experiencing on any given day.

Attending Mass on Sundays and designated holy days is one of our most serious obligations as Catholics, but there are exceptions. If the pandemic has taught us anything regarding communal worship, it is that staying home when one is sick is a virtuous act and not the failure of an obligation. One person’s mild cold might prove disastrous for an elderly person or one who is immunocompromised; therefore, when one is sick or infectious the obligation to attend Mass ceases. The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms this: “The faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness or the care of infants)” (CCC 2181).

Please understand, I’m not equating your child’s condition with illness. But the above example provides insight into other valid reasons for not attending Mass for a specific period of time. If attending Mass escalates anxiety or sensory challenges, then the obligation is not there for you and your child on that particular Sunday. Watching a livestreamed Mass might help him to make the adjustment to attending in person. There may also be parishes that could better accommodate the needs of your family at this stage. The Archdiocesan Office of Worship would be a good place to start in finding out what is available.

It is important to remember that even if you are not able to attend Mass in person for the present time, you and your child are still part of the communal celebration. The Mass is offered for all the faithful, not just the ones who physically attend, and Christ connects us to one another in a profound way.

Father Jones is pastor of Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish in St. Louis.

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