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.

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