Is it a mortal sin to miss Mass while on a cruise?

| Father Kenneth Doyle | June 19, 2014 | 4 Comments

Q. Every summer, my husband and I go on a cruise. Only one cruise line (Holland America) continues to have a priest on board to say Mass. On other cruise lines, we have missed Sunday Mass because there was no priest on board. Is missing Mass in such circumstances a mortal sin?

A. Most moral theologians, I am certain, would say that you have incurred no sin. If no priest was available, you simply had no opportunity to participate in a Sunday Mass and so the obligation does not apply.

I am aware that there might be rigorists who would say that you were not compelled to go on the trip in the first place, or that you were bound to choose the one cruise line that did have Mass aboard, or that you could have selected a shorter cruise that did not conflict with a day of obligation.

But those people, I believe, are being stricter than God. Recreation and relaxation are legitimate physical and mental needs, as well as gifts from God. God is reasonable, and I don’t think one cruise annually without Mass is an abuse of a privilege.

But here is what I would suggest as the safest solution, and it’s one that is envisioned by the Church’s official teaching documents. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in No. 2181 says that Catholics “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.” And the Code of Canon Law in No. 1245 allows a pastor, in individual cases, to dispense from the Mass obligation “for a just cause.” (Note that the code says “for a just cause” rather than for a “grave” or “serious” cause.)

As a pastor, I would consider a once-a-year cruise to be a “just cause.” The same provision of the code allows a pastor, when granting a dispensation, to assign some other “pious work.” It could be, for example, reflecting on the Scriptural readings for that day’s Mass, reciting the rosary or, after you have returned home, attending a Mass on a day when you are not obliged.

So my recommendation is to consult your pastor next time for such a dispensation. That way, you will be fulfilling the letter of the law as well as its spirit.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Ask Father Mike

  • Lee

    One of the great benefits of being Catholic, is that you can go anywhere in the world and regardless of language – understand and partake in the mass. I’ve been on transatlantic cruises and there has always been a retired or active priest who invites Catholics to mass on Sunday – it is a true Body of Christ to celebrate the mass with 100 strangers who are all on the same page spiritually. Praise God for priests.

  • tschraad

    Father Doyle – “I am aware that there might be rigorists” and I do not put myself in this class although your opinion may differ.

    I disagree with you that the Code of Cannon Law, canon 1245 gives the pastor the authority to dispense the obligation of attending Sunday worship. Canon 1245 says that the priest can dispense only a feast day or a day of penance. Sunday Mass supersedes a feast day.

    Secondly, you are on a slippery slope. If you can do it for one day, how about two
    days, three days oh heck how about just taking the summer off.

    I do like your suggestion for those with a “just cause” as spending an hour in spiritual
    reading of the scriptures or the liturgy of the hours and a rosary if homebound
    or stuck in a snow storm, etc.

    I will always remember an astonish look on a parishioner when he came into the sacristy and ask the priest (I was serving mass that day) for dispensation on not attending mass on a Sunday as he was taking a group of boys fishing and they would be camping. The Priest told him that he had no power to change the obligation.

    Yet, my sister who lives in California stated that her Priest told her that attending mass on Sundays when on vacation was not necessary. So, six Sundays a year, only a few more than your one which you would approve.

  • MarkJ

    I am what Fr. Doyle calls a “rigorist”. When a truth is difficult for me, I thank Jesus for just one more opportunity to show Him I love Him enough to pick up my cross and follow Him–even if I REALLY, REALLY don’t want to. Tell me, how else do we “die to self” in this life? Isn’t it these kinds of things–everyday choices–that either sanctify us or turn us away from God? If you constantly look for “the way out” of the true teachings of the church that you don’t like, how will you ever become more holy?

    Missing Mass is a grave sin. If the other two conditions are met (full knowledge and deliberate consent) then you have committed a mortal sin. (CCC 1857). If you are unaware of the grave nature of a sin then it is venial. So, Fr. Doyle, I disagree with you. There IS sin–either way.

    What I would recommend to the person posting this question is to confess this sin at your next regular confession (you ARE going to regular confession, aren’t you?). From your question, it does not sound like you were aware of the gravity of this sin so you are only guilty of venial sin. If the Lord takes your life today, your soul will need to be cleansed in purgatory before spending eternity with God–just like almost every other saint walking the Earth.

    If, on the other hand, you actually knew the gravity of the sin and are simply asking the question to ease your nagging conscience then you have committed a mortal sin. THIS IS EXTREMELY SERIOUS! “Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin” (CCC 1859).

    If this is the case, at the risk of losing your eternal soul you should go to confession AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. If you die with mortal sin you have NO CHANCE of heaven (CCC 1035). God is merciful but He is also just!!!

    The next time you plan a cruise, make sure AHEAD OF TIME that there is a Mass available. If there isn’t then CHANGE YOUR PLANS! If something happens and you are unable to attend a Mass that you fully intended to go to–something TRULY beyond your control–then your sin is reduced to venial and you should confess it as such at your next confession.


  • Geneva Ayte

    I cannot believe my eyes. Did a Catholic priest write the above? We were taught as follows as children: If there’s no Mass available, you don’t go there. Period. In the 1960s, long before the Internet, my mother wrote to whatever diocese we would be vacationing in, long before the trip began. And found out where the churches were and the various Mass schedules. By snail mail. Unbelievable? No. Just going by the book, so to speak. And I do not consider this “rigorist”. A cruise without a priest is NOT JUST CAUSE. It’s just lazy.