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January 22, 2016

Archdiocese: Philly-area Catholics can decide not to attend Mass because of snow

With the effects of a blizzard sure to be felt on Sunday, area Catholics are being reminded that it is the Lord's Day even when they can't get to Mass.

The Office for Divine Worship in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is advising its faithful to use extreme caution when making a decision about attending Mass.

Forecasters, who predict 12 to 16 inches of snow in the Philadelphia region, are cautioning that area roads may be impassable due to the snow and strong winds. In any event, driving is expected to be hazardous in many areas.

Noting that the majority of Catholics take their Sunday obligation seriously, the Office said in a statement:

"No one can dispense from the divine law, and in this case, the Third Commandment to keep holy the Lord’s Day. However, individuals because of a variety of legitimate circumstances, for example, sickness and poor health, can and do excuse themselves from the obligations of this same Commandment, without offending God and incurring any serious sin. In the face of the impending storm, Catholics – of all ages but especially the elderly – are advised to use extreme caution when making the decision about attending Mass. An individual is free to make a prudent decision to remain at home and not venture outside this Sunday, especially for their safety and the safety of others. Pastors throughout the Archdiocese will maintain as much as possible the regular Sunday Mass schedule for those who are able to attend Mass.

"Sunday remains the Lord’s Day even when an individual cannot attend Mass. These individuals are encouraged to view the Mass on television, if possible. Also, reading the Word of God, especially the biblical readings for Sunday, easily found on the Internet, praying the Holy Rosary, and/or making use of other devotional prayers could take place in the home to keep in a fitting way the Lord’s Day."

Across the Delaware River in the Diocese of Camden, church leaders released a statement citing similar church law, but with a more stern tone and accompanied by an ominous tweet.

"Regardless of situation, the Third Commandment to keep Holy the Lord’s Day remains intact," an official posted on the diocesan blog this afternoon. "However, in cases of legitimate circumstances, such as illness, Catholics may excuse themselves from the Sunday obligation without fear of sin before God."

The Diocese of Camden acknowledged the blizzard will bring substantial snow and wind and treacherous driving conditions for those who would be traveling to Sunday Mass.

"If a Catholic believes that venturing outside to go to Mass is unsafe for themselves or their family," the blog post reads, "they are free to make the carefully considered decision to stay home."

If a Catholic believes that venturing outside to go to Mass is unsafe for themselves or their family, they are free to make the carefully considered decision to stay home.

Catholics in two dioceses south of Philadelphia, where the storm is expected to have even more of an impact, have been told it is OK to miss Mass on Sunday.

The Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, has given its flock approval to stay home because the region is expected to be buried in snow.

The Rev. Paul Loverde, the bishop of Arlington, said in a statement released Thursday that Catholics in the diocese aren't obligated to attend Mass as usual because of serious concerns about travel conditions.

In the nearby Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi said church leaders will remind its members on Friday that dangerous travel conditions are a legitimate excuse from fulfilling their Sunday Mass obligations. That archdiocese covers the nation's capital and five southern Maryland counties.

The National Weather Service estimates a blizzard could bring 2 feet of snow to Washington.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.