Do you know just how hard it is to go to Mass once a week and on a handful more days each year? Judging by the questions the apologists at Catholic Answers receive on the subject, you would think that trying to find a Catholic church at which a Catholic can attend Mass is as difficult a venture as manned space flight to Mars.
When I first started answering this question, I assured each questioner that if it is truly impossible to get to a church for Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation, that is just reason to miss Mass. And that answer is correct. But then I started noticing the great frequency of the question and all its various forms: What if I'm camping? What if I'm on a cruise? What if I'm in an unfamiliar city? What if there are non-Catholics in my party who I don't want to inconvenience? What if I'm on a business trip? What if I'm in China, Turkey, or Greece?
Then one day I had two questions on the subject that finally shed light on what the real problem might be.
The first question came in from a young woman who lived in a sparsely Catholic area in Europe. She wanted to attend Mass on an upcoming holy day of obligation, but her only option to get there was to buy a train ticket she could ill afford. She wasn't asking if she could skip Mass; she was asking how to get to Mass when she was facing a real choice between train fare and food.
The second question was from a gentleman who was spending a weekend in my hometown of San Diego, California. He and his wife had family here, so they made regular visits and thus knew the city well. But this time the schedule was crammed. Between a baseball game, golf, and dinner with the in-laws, he just couldn't seem to find a good time to go to Mass. He skipped, and his question was whether or not his obligation to visit family had been sufficient cause to miss Mass.
Juxtaposing these two questions was like switching on a light. It is the difference between the desire to go to Mass while impeded from doing so and the choice to give more weight to lesser obligations than is given to the Mass. The first inquirer really wanted to go to Mass but was facing significant hurdles in getting there; the second inquirer seemed willing to go to Mass if doing so didn't interfere with more desirable activities.
And so the answers to them were different: To the first person, I reassured her that it is not a sin to miss Mass for just cause. Then I said:
Perhaps you cannot go on this coming holy day of obligation because of financial limitations right now, but not going to Mass should not be considered a permanent solution to your problem. I urge you to contact the pastor of the church where you go to Mass when you are able to do so. Explain to him your problem and ask him if he can put you in touch with a parishioner who can give you rides to Mass. Please know that God is never outdone in generosity. If you do everything you can to attend Mass, he will in turn care for your needs.
To the second, who specifically asked if he needed to go to confession for his decision to miss Mass, I said:
You are not unfamiliar with the city and you are very capable of getting to places where you can have fun in addition to your family duties, but you could not find time to go to Mass for one hour. At the very least, you did not plan to observe your Catholic duties with nearly the care that you expended in observing your family duties. At most, you gave higher importance to personal pleasure than you did to our Lord. I cannot decide for you your personal culpability in this. Only you can do that. I can only say that it is possible to visit family in a distant city while still observing your Sunday/holy day obligation.