Sunday after Sunday, many of us arrive late for Mass. Some of us justify: “It is our day of relaxation; and well, at least we still attend Mass.” An hour of the 168 hours a week is too precious to waste on a boring and repetitious Sunday obligation. And we ask: At what point can we get away and not be considered really late for Mass?
There is no official teaching of the Church on this issue. But before Vatican Council II, some moral theology manuals placed arrival before the Offertory as the dividing line on whether we fulfill the Sunday Mass* obligation. But if we consider the importance of the Liturgy of the Word and the unity of the Mass, the cut-off point should be at the beginning of the readings. Yet, it is difficult to give a precise cut-off moment as it gives a wrong message that some parts of the Mass are not that important.
Mass begins with the entrance procession and ends after the final dismissal. We should be there from beginning to end (and until the priest leaves, as a sign of respect for the priesthood). Each part of the Mass relates and complements the others in a single act of worship even though some parts are essential while the others are merely important. Ideally, it is good to arrive some time before the Mass begins in order to recollect our selves and to prepare for it in silent prayer.
During Sunday, to miss a small part of the Mass (for example, coming in at the readings or leaving at the last blessing) is a venial sin. To miss the principal parts of the Mass (Offertory, Consecration, or Communion**) is a mortal sin, if our failure to be present is deliberate. It is because it is almost equivalent to missing the entire Mass. Thus, if we are late for Sunday Mass, it is better to attend another Mass so that we are present for the entire Mass.
If we arrive late for Mass, we have to honestly ask ourselves, Why? If it is because of some justified reason or an unforeseen event, such as blocked traffic due to an accident, we have acted in good conscience and are not strictly obliged to attend another Mass (but may do so, if it is possible).
If we arrive late due to culpable negligence, and especially if we do so habitually, we have to examine ourselves, change our ways, and go to confession.
St. Josemaría wrote: “You say the Mass is long and, I add, because your love is short.” Let us seriously think about it.
*It also applies to Holyday of Obligation Mass and anticipated Mass.
**We are not obliged to receive Communion at Mass; more so if we have mortal sin in our souls.
(Reference: “My Catholic Faith” by Rev. Louis LaRavoire Morrow; “The Faith Explained” by Leo Trese; “Question Time 2” by Fr. John Flader; “Liturgy: Communion for Late Arrivals at Mass?” by Fr. Edward McNamara; “If Mass Is Boring” By Jesus Colina)