Question: “I would like to know whether watching Mass on television fulfils one’s obligation. My husband never goes to church, but he does watch Mass on TV every Sunday. I attend Mass regularly, although I have missed church recently because of my health.
Answer: The simple answer to your question is ‘no’. Watching Mass on television does not fulfil one’s Sunday obligation. Assuming that your husband is a Catholic and is in reasonable health, he is required to be at Mass in person. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in section 2180, specifies that the Sunday obligation is satisfied by ‘assistance’ at Mass, and every commentator I have read views that to mean attendance at a Eucharistic celebration.
Such reading would seem logical since Jesus said (Matthew 18:20): ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ The Eucharist has a community dimension which strengthens the faith of participants. It was with deliberate purpose that Jesus directed his memory to be kept alive by his disciples sharing a meal.
Although taking holy Communion at Mass is not required to satisfy the Sunday obligation, it seems clear that those who participate most fully are the ones who receive back from the Lord the sacred food offered in sacrifice. That gift, of course, is not available to television viewers.
The televised Mass has great value for those whose illness or infirmity precludes them from being in church. It would be incorrect to say watching TV fulfills their obligation. Simply put, there is for them no obligation. They are dispensed.
But the housebound can derive real spiritual benefit from following the prayers and readings of the Mass on television. I would suggest that they can multiply that benefit by asking to be placed on their parish’s Communion list so that a Eucharistic minister will visit them regularly.”
– This article by Fr Francis Doyle was published as part of the feature “Questions and Answers” in the Catholic Universe newspaper, issue Friday 14th August, 2015. For subscriptions please visit http://www.thecatholicuniverse.com (external link).