Q  — I am in my late 70s with an undergraduate degree from a Catholic university and graduate degree from a state university. I have been involved in catechetics much of my adult life, and my question is this: Is it a mortal sin to miss Mass on a Sunday?

A — The best way to approach this sensitive question, obviously from a lifelong committed Catholic, is not in the first place by looking at the Sunday Eucharist from the point of view of sin. It certainly is true that in order to underscore the importance of participation in the Sunday Eucharist the church has warned about the gravity of “missing Mass.” But that’s a negative way of coming at this important issue. There is so much more to the weekly celebration of the Eucharist than a grave obligation.

First, let’s make a few comments about mortal sin. That is church language for highlighting the importance of avoiding moral issues that are sheerly destructive of our life in Christ. There are three criteria that must be present: first, the issue at stake must be a serious issue in itself; second, I must have an awareness of its seriousness beyond reasonable doubt; third, I must really consent to perform that action. These three criteria are important. They help us to recognize that while there are many areas of serious wrongdoing in human life, not all of them may be considered as “mortal sin.” In order for that to be the case, I must wish to sever my living relationship with Christ — that’s what the three criteria stand for.

Now let’s move on to the to the Sunday Eucharist. Through baptism, confirmation and Eucharist we are embodied in Christ. We become Christ’s living body on earth, the church. In order to provide the living witness of the church into which we have been situated, we need to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, by the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is the sacrament without which we cannot live as Christ’s holy body. It is our life,  our nourishment. Therefore, participation in the Sunday Eucharist becomes a necessity of living as Christ’s holy body. We want to be there. We need to be there.

If it should happen for a good reason — ill health, no transportation, or other compelling circumstances of our lives — that we are unable to be present, that is regrettable not just for us but for the entire Christian community which misses our active presence. But it is not a sin. We just need to get back on track, on our eucharistic track.