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Going to Mass in pain

Q. In a few weeks I will turn 65 years old. I have arthritis in most of my joints; in the early spring, when it's rainy and damp, the arthritic pain can be unbearable. Is it a sin to miss Sunday Mass, given the extreme pain? When is it acceptable to stop going to church and watch Mass on television? Also, since my total knee replacement, I can no longer kneel down; so how does one go to confession without kneeling? (Brookville, Ind.)

A. First, about the posture for confession — because that part is easy. I have heard the confessions of people lying in a hospital bed, sitting in a quiet corner of a restaurant, even standing on a beach. Clearly there is no requirement that the penitent be kneeling.

In the parish where I served as pastor for 24 years, we had a confessional "room," which is typical in Catholic churches today. There, the penitent could opt for anonymity by sitting or kneeling behind a screen or — if he or she preferred — could come around and sit and talk face to face with the priest.

As for the part about how sick you have to be to skip Mass, the answer is "use your head." The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "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)" (No. 2181). The nature and degree of the sickness is not defined, so we have to figure it out for ourselves.

The God we serve and believe in is a person of reason. How could a loving God want you to suffer excruciating pain as the price for going to Mass? And how could you even pray effectively when you're feeling that bad? A handy rule of thumb might be this: Would I go to work if I felt this way?

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019