If you watch mass on TV or the Internet, does that count as going to Mass on Sunday?
A simple answer is NO. There is no substitute to the actual physical presence at the Eucharist, and especially the reception of Holy Communion.
To understand this, we need to know what communion means. Communion is not just a question of receiving Jesus. Communion means being a part of the Christian fellowship. As St. Paul says: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” (1 Cor 10:17).
Hence I go for Mass not just to hear the Bible being read, and not just to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. I go there to be one with my brothers and sisters as well.
Further, the Lord’s command is that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. What does “love of neighbour” imply? What is the benefit of watching a mass broadcast from America or the Vatican if I am not interested in the Christian community that meets just 500 metres from my own house? Without this fraternal gathering, I might sink into an individualistic religion that does not include concern for my fellow beings.
Now coming to exceptional circumstances: If a person has a strong desire to go for Mass, and is impeded by some serious problem (e.g. a person is bedridden, or is on a journey), then it is highly recommended that one should try to watch the Mass on TV or the Internet at least. This is NOT a substitute for actual participation in the Mass. But it is an act of love and devotion, which will surely be pleasing to the Lord and will also bring blessings to the one who undertakes it. There is no merit in using the transmitted mass as an escape route to avoid being physically present at a Sunday service. But there is much merit in listening to a beautiful homily, or praying with a congregation which is far from us – as long as we have our priorities right and are fully committed to taking part in the life of our local Eucharistic community.
Rev. Fr. Adrian Mascarenhas has served as the Assistant Parish Priest of St. Patrick’s Church and Ascension Church, and has completed two years of ministry at St. Peter’s Church, Bangalore, India. He received his licentiate in sacred theology from Dharmaram Vidya Kshethram and is currently pursuing a doctorate in Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University, Rome.