A theologian has proposed the Church overhaul the idea of a Sunday Mass “obligation” incumbent on Catholics.

– “Tragicomical” that bishops dispensed faithful from Sunday duty during COVID-19

The Church’s principal teaching document, the Catechism, sets out that “the Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful 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. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (2181).

But German theologian Dominik Blum, a professor at the Catholic Academy in Stapelfeld, wondered in an opinion piece on katholisch.de May 26 whether that language of “obligation”, “fail” and “grave sin” is still appropriate, especially in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

Blum wrote that it seemed “tragicomical” to him that when COVID-19 broke out, bishops dispensed the faithful from their Sunday duty by administrative fiat, when “on average, 90% of Catholic Christians in Germany rarely or never fulfill their Sunday duty” even at the best of times.

The minority of Catholics who do attend Sunday Mass might have had their consciences assuaged by the bishops’ decision to lift the obligation to attend a weekend Eucharist, the theologian observed, but he wondered: what about all the others?

– “Obligation” hardly fits into faith as personal “friendship” with Jesus

Blum continued on in his piece by saying that even if nine out of every ten Catholics in Germany don’t attend Mass regularly, that doesn’t mean their faith is any less authentic.

“Christianity is friendship with Jesus Christ”, Blum recalled, and, as friendship, there is no one-size-fits-all model for belief that would dictate which and whose faith convictions are more genuine than others.

If faith is such a personal matter, then, “does it make sense to insist to such an extent on the Sunday Eucharist as the criterion of following and being friends with Jesus Christ?”, the theologian asked.

That would be like family members or friends obliging one to visit them in their living room every week to prove one’s good relationship with them, Blum observed. “More bizarre than attractive, isn’t it?”, the theologian asked.

“Instead of the Sunday obligation, we Christians should speak of Sunday faithfulness”, Blum wrote, explaining that that faithfulness “comes from the one who pronounces the Sunday invitation himself, Jesus Christ. Take and eat, drink, I am alive for you”.

“It is the responsibility of the Church to respond with fidelity to this faithful offer of friendship – and to invite every Christian to stay faithful to it, on weekdays, Sundays, even in the celebration of the liturgy. Such a proclamation is attractive and missionary. A faithful church can do without the requirement of Sunday duty”, the theologian concluded.

– Argentine archbishop suggested Sunday duty “could fall” as result of pandemic

Blum is not the only Church figure who, particularly in the context of the coronavirus, has proposed that bishops and priests look again at the idea of the Sunday “obligation”.

Archbishop of La Plata in Argentina and a close confidant of Pope Francis, Víctor Manuel Fernández, recently suggested that the duty of Sunday Mass isn’t “indispensable” and “could fall” as a result of the pandemic.

In the Church, “there are things that we sometimes think are unchangeable but in reality they are not”, Fernández continued, also pointing to the current shape of the sacrament of reconciliation as “only one of the possible [forms]” of that rite.

Next on Novena:

Papal advisor suggests Sunday obligation, confession could be abolished after coronavirus

Italian missionary says empty churches during coronavirus a “prophetic” sign of need for reform

Czech priest academic: coronavirus “calls for a new theology of history and a new understanding of the Church”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.