Thursday, January 10, 2013


In 1994 there was a book prepared by the Committee on the liturgy of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved for use in the Dioceses of the USA by the NCCB. It is entitled, "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest."

It is a liturgical book that gives options for parishes when no priest is available on a Sunday. The expectation in the norms of the "General Instruction or Introduction" of this liturgical book is that the bishop be very much involved in the decision making process of the necessity of such a celebration in particular parishes in the absence of a priest on Sunday and that preference be given first to deacons to conduct such celebrations or in their complete absence to qualified and well trained laity.

The preference is that Morning or Evening Prayer be the means by which Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest take place. The allowance of Holy Communion from the tabernacle is included in this form.

The second choice is a Liturgy of the Word celebration with Holy Communion. There is also a liturgy for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament by a deacon of course without the distribution of Holy Communion.

The thrust of this liturgical book is that these kinds of celebrations should be very much regulated and a last resort, especially if other priests can be sent to the parish or the parishioners themselves can go to nearby churches that have a priest.

I suspect this is for more rural areas where there in no other close by Catholic Church for people to conveniently attend when they have no priest in their parish on a Sunday.

There is no Liturgical Book and thus no norms for the distribution of Holy Communion in the absence of a priest during the week when no priest is available for daily Mass, although it is quite common in my parish and in one other parish in the city to have them. In my parish it is only for the most rare of circumstances, in the other parish it is a regular occurrence on the pastor's day off which is Friday.

Thus, and I only render an opinion here, and I hope canonists could chime in, since there is no obligation for the laity to attend Mass during the week that there is no need for celebrations in the absence of a priest where Holy Communion is distributed.

However, in lieu of that, in my most humble opinion, there could be Morning or Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours celebrated by a deacon or qualified lay person or even Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament by a deacon in place of a daily Mass.

In other words, there is no consideration given by the bishops of the United States of America that Holy Communion be distributed at Communion Services during the week when a priest is not available for Mass. This consideration is only given to Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest.

Am I wrong and do I need to adjust my most humble opinion in this regard?


Damian said...

I believe this is practiced most frequently in the military since our priest are stretched thin and we have many small groups deploy without access to a priest.

Marc said...

The idea here, of course, is that the laity cannot possibly figure out how to pray together without some overbearing instruction from the all-knowing clerics. The proposal even goes so far as to suggest the laity use te clerics prayer book (the Breviary).

Yet, the clerics are intent on the sacrilege of having laity handle the Holy Eucharist even in their absence.

Can the people not gather in the Church and say a Rosary? I believe people have been doing that for a very long time when they had no priest to say Mass for them.

Benediction without a priest, Communion without a priest... Sacrilege.

Henry Edwards said...

From Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) regarding these communion services:

[165.] It is necessary to avoid any sort of confusion between this type of gathering and the celebration of theEucharist. The diocesan Bishops, therefore, should prudently discern whether Holy Communion ought to be distributed in these gatherings. The matter would appropriately be determined in view of a more ample co-ordination in the Bishops' Conference, to be put into effect after the recognitio of the acts by the Apostolic See through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It will be preferable, moreover, when both a Priest and a Deacon are absent, that the various parts be distributed among several faithful rather than having a single lay member of the faithful direct the whole celebration alone. Nor is it ever appropriate to refer to any member of the lay faithful as "presiding" over the celebration.

[166.] Likewise, especially if Holy Communion is distributed during such celebrations, the diocesan Bishop, to whose exclusive competence this matter pertains, must not easily grant permission for such celebrations to be held on weekdays, especially in places where it was possible or would be possible to have the celebration of Mass on the preceding or the following Sunday. Priests are therefore earnestly requested to celebrate Mass daily for the people in one of the churches entrusted to their care.

My interpretation: This is Vaticanese for saying that under ordinary circumstances where Mass is celebrated on Sundays there or nearby, there really not be these weekday communion services. In none of the circumstances you referred to, would there appear to be any such justification.

Unknown said...

I don't know if you are wrong, but I think that that wording is very vague in the instruction, which is par for the course in 90% of post-conciliar liturgical documentation.

What exactly is meant by "qualified lay person?" How is one "qualified" to do the work of an ordained minister? I understand that there is a HUGE infatuation with the term extraordinary in this post-conciliar age, but this becomes the hot button question in your post.

There is no disputing that the Church has assumed an archaeological view that remoteness has entered back into the picture, with regard to the celebration of Holy Mass. The assumption is that if one is in a remote place, where a priest cannot be found then a "Communion service" (I assume modeled like the clandestine communion services in the catacombs) would take place, whereby a Mass would not happen.

This to me seems absurd, considering a number of factors, most importantly...there is no place in the USA (I assume this to be our geographic discussion point) where the situation is so dire in a diocese that a priest cannot be made available to say Mass. (This of course, does not include the sedevacantist and sedeprivationist view that there are too few priests to cover the country) With travel technology and the loosening of the restraint on what time a Mass can be celebrated, a priest should be able to make it to all of his cluster parishes on any given weekend without too much effort.

I do know that this line of reasoning will draw the ire of priests who feel that they are pulled too thin, but for me, this is a non-starter. A priest's life is not his own. His life is to be given to the service of his bishop and if his bishop makes him pastor of several parishes, then he should pastor those parishes. This means regular celebration of the sacraments at each parish. With the ability of a priest to utilize "pastoral ministers" (apparently, qualified) in the day to day non-sacramental operations of a satellite parish; he should not be drawn so thin that he cannot reach each place once a week to celebrate Holy Mass and hear Confessions.

As it is, there is a sense of entitlement which exists not only in those who use "Communion services" in lieu of Mass, but also in the priests who feel that they are being drawn too thin. If a priest's life is about service to his bishop, then he should gladly accept what is given to him in a spirit of humility and obedience.

I feel little empathy for a priest who says that he is drawn too thin. His life is not about his own comfort, but rather it is about service to the Church. The solution is simple....priests need to encourage vocations. They need to lobby their Ordinary to ordain more men and swell the priestly ranks. And finally, they need to explain to the faithful that the two main factors to the priest shortage we have today are these:

1. Ineffective chanceries who do not properly promote the priesthood

2. Families who are limiting the birth of children. If there are fewer children in the world, there are going to be fewer religious.

It is a simple numbers game. Contraception and abortion are the main reasons why, along with an ineffective chancery why the priesthood has dwindled. Bottom line.

I apologize if this sounds harsh, but we don't live in genteel times. We live in a time where frank discussions need to happen.


John Nolan said...

The fat woman in the picture is proferring a chalice of something (note the purificator) to two other people in the absence of anyone else. Since the Precious Blood may not be reserved, this cannot even be one of the awful 'Communion services' to which you refer. As a Catholic I am grateful to be spared this nonsense.

Gabby said...

Redemptionis Sacramentum says that the bishop should think long and hard before allowing such celebrations, especially if they include Communion, in a parish where Mass was either celebrated on the preceding Sunday or will be on the following Sunday. How much less does Rome envision these celebrations when daily Mass was celebrated yesterday and will be again tomorrow!

I live in a diocese of Canada where these celebrations are the norm on Sundays for many parishes - some of which see a priest only at Easter and Christmas and maybe once or twice more during the year. Even my parish, which has a Pastor, will see these celebrations 3 or 4 times a year -- NEVER on a weekday.

Sadly, for some people these celebrations are just as good as Mass as long as they can get Communion. If they could have consecrated hosts shipped in(and one parish I'm aware of has had that done on occasion)they wouldn't see a difference. In fact, some of our parishioners have voiced the opinion that the celebrations, as done according to the Canadian ritual book, are better than Mass because they involve more people.

Hammer of Fascists said...

If the Church would only ordain women priests, we wouldn't have this problem at all. ;-) At least, this is the argument a groovy priest I once knew constantly made to his congregation and in RCIA classes--that the Church values sexism more that it values access to Mass and the Eucharist.

Digression aside, while I'm no canonist, I will observe that a lot of the evil liturgical practices of the past half-century began with exceptions or extraordinary circumstances, and then the modernist revolutionaries made sure that the exceptions swallowed the rules. The vernacular, EMEs, standing to receeive communion, communion in the hand, no Friday abstinence, and priestless liturgy. The only way to fight back is to have someone in authority put a stop to it (and explain very clearly why it's being stopped, thus making it a teachable/catechetical moment).

That being said, to take St. Joseph as an example, the daily Mass attendees there are by and large a very orthodox group, and very habitual about daily attendance. Eliminating diaconal/lay celebrations, which are rare anyway, would disturb a long-established practice and be upsetting to their habits. Perhaps a middle ground would be to continue to offer something that didn't involve the distribution of Communion? This might help bring home the distintion between laity and clergy and identify clergy more with Eucharistic celebrations.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Marc, your rehtoric would be a bit over the top as deacons certainly may offer Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the Ordinary Form (although the ceremony is just about the same as the EF's version).
The laity are certainly encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours either alone or in community and certainly it can be formal or informal. There is no reason why a lay person or a religious cannot lead the Liturgy of the Hours. The Holy Rosary is a devotion and while laudable is second class to the Liturgy of the Hours which it is meant to symbolize (the rosary is a faint take on it).
Communion in the Absence of a priest is permitted on Sundays if no other priest can be secured. Those who celebrate is should be trained to do so. It should be allowed but rare. Pray for more vocations.
The same is true of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. At this point in my priestly career, I would like to see the actual ministry of acolyte expanded and that there be a "seminary" type of training for this, not as intensive as what permanent deacons go through, and that the pastoral part be a part of this comprehensive development. Installed acolytes are "Ordinary Ministers" of Holy Communion in the case of need.

Unknown said...

"The same is true of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. At this point in my priestly career, I would like to see the actual ministry of acolyte expanded and that there be a "seminary" type of training for this, not as intensive as what permanent deacons go through, and that the pastoral part be a part of this comprehensive development. Installed acolytes are "Ordinary Ministers" of Holy Communion in the case of need."

Men only, I assume...otherwise you're opening another big can of worms...but then again, this opens another big can of worms....why men only?

I am 100% in favor of having installed acolytes. I think they are necessary and I think that it would be a "jump-start" to vocations.

However, I would also say this to all priests, if you have installed lectors and acolytes in your parishes, USE THEM. They have that ministry for a reason. Put them in cassock and surplice and let them exercise their ministry.

Pater Ignotus said...

Good Father - There is no communion service on the pastor's day off at either St. Peter Claver or Holy Spirit in Macon.

Is there some other Catholic parish in town where this is a "regular occurrence on the pastor's day off which is Friday"?

Pater Ignotus said...

In the USA there are seven dioceses in which half of the parishes have no resident priest. Many of these may be served as a "mission" parish, with regular ministry from the "mother" parish. Many are visited less than weekly by a priest.

In the USA 70 dioceses report having priestless parishes. One of my classmates spent 10 years in his hometown in New England merging four parishes, including his home parish, into one. He did such a good job that his bishop moved him to the state capital to oversee the merging of three "downtown" parishes. God bless him - this is very tough work.

In that same NE diocese, another seminary classmate is working as the ONLY priest in a city where, 30years ago, there were nine priests. He, too, is merging three parishes.

At least 49 diocese report having regular Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest.

The statement that "there is no place in the USA where the situation is so dire in a diocese that a priest cannot be made available to say Mass" can be made only if one is utterly ignorant of the facts.

Marc said...

Communion Services is simply another example of rupture with tradition, along with EMHCs and laity offering Benediction.

The very idea that some think these things are good ideas baffles me. It is sacrilege and profanation plain and simple.

Unknown said...


You quote Redemptionis Sacramentum #166: Priests are therefore earnestly requested to celebrate Mass daily for the people in one of the churches entrusted to their care.

This is not an unreasonable request, in the United States. I am in agreement with you when you state that, "This is Vaticanese for saying that under ordinary circumstances where Mass is celebrated on Sundays there or nearby, there really not be these weekday communion services. In none of the circumstances you referred to, would there appear to be any such justification."

Very astute.

Shelly said...

Mission parish here. We now have a regular priest, but he lives on another island where the parish office is located. Depending on the ferry schedule, he often must plan a full day just to come over for Sunday Mass. Same thing when we need a "substitute" priest, who must often drive 1.5 - 2 hrs, wait an hour or so for the ferry, 80 minute ferry trip, wait a couple of hours for regularly scheduled Mass, then wait another 1.5 hrs. for next boat...then reverse everything to get home. So, yes, there are places where it is quite conceivable a priest would not be available. We were in this pickle several years ago, and the Communion Service became the rule rather than the exception. One big problem I saw was that some people thought we did just fine without a priest, so while I see that these services can be somewhat necessary on occasion, they can contribute to an incorrect view of the role and duty of the priest vs. the laity.

Rood Screen said...

To be honest, it has never even occurred to me to provide for the distribution of Holy Communion at the church on weekdays when I am away on vacation. It has also never occurred to me skip Mass on a "day off". While I may have gotten nothing else right as a priest, I can say that (apart from Good Friday, obviously) I have never once neglected to offer Mass on any day of the week. That has meant a lot of private Masses.
What is a priest who skips Mass? (That's not the start of a joke.) If I ever understand a "day off" to be an excuse not to offer Mass, then I will know it is time for me to take a closer look at the nature of the priesthood.
That said, the Divine Office sounds ideal for priestless times and places.

Unknown said...

Hi Shelly,

I certainly understand you situation, however, as one who regularly drives 2 hours for Mass on Sunday, I don't have much sympathy.

While I do understand that there are groups of Catholics who live in remote places, I also understand that if the group is large enough, there should be a priest who attends to their needs. Is it always the case? No. I am not so naive as to think that there are not places like where you live, however, that is the extreme exception and not the rule.

I will pray that your area finds a resident priest and soon.

John Nolan said...

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is not a liturgical act and in fifty-odd years I have never seen it given other than by a priest.

The Liturgia Horarum is as its name suggests, liturgical prayer. It does not require the presence of a cleric - nuns can sing the entire Office in choir and only require a priest for Mass.

Unknown said...


I have seen deacons provide both, while in seminary and in the parish. Also, I have done simple exposition and reposition as I am an installed acolyte. This means no benedtiction, but it is an alternative...and a reason why I agree with Fr. McD that acolytes should be fostered, even with the logistical problems it will create, politically.

Unknown said...

As an aside...

I taught Compline last night to my CCD class. We will be praying the last hour each week after class.

It will be chanted and the ordinaries will be in Latin, the propers in English, which is how I pray it daily.

Pater Ignotus said...

Good Father - Did you find the Macon parish where a communion service is a "regular occurrence on the pastor's day off which is Friday" yet?

Or is this another example of your "inventive" mind?

Shelly said...

Hi Andy
Two hours sounds great! Right now if I were to go off-island (which I do as often as I can) to participate in the Mass at the next closest parish, it would entail nearly 9 hrs out of my Saturday (Sunday not being workable at all with ferry scheduling). My point being, which you seemed to understand, that there are very remote becomes a catch-22 where we don't have a resident priest for our 40 or so "families", but without a resident priest it is difficult to bring back the many, many former Catholics and bring in the potential "new" Catholics, which would then give us numbers to warrant our own resident priest. But then add on to that the group who thinks this is Their Church and "we don't need no stinkin' priest" just makes all efforts to evangelize that much more difficult.

So to get back to this thread, whereas I do think there is a time and place for the occasional Communion Service, my personal opinion is that it can do more harm than good if the group becomes accustomed to doing things their way, they then can become resistant to idea of a priest (except as an Eucharistic Pez dispenser). It becomes a vicious circle, and the priest who does come over not feeling welcome and not making efforts toward what is essentially a re-evangelization of the area.

I'm kind of frustrated. I apologize for the rant. I do ask everyone to pray for more vocations, more good and holy priests, and Yes, Andy, thank you for your prayers, which are very much appreciated.

Rood Screen said...

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is, indeed, a liturgical act. Blessings and exorcisms are sacramentals listed as "Other Liturgical Celebrations" in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See 1667-1673. (As for the confusion of the term "sacramental" with "popular piety", see the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 351 & 353.) In exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, "the norms prescribed in the LITURGICAL books are to be observed" (Code of Canon Law 941).

Unknown said...

Fr. Shelton,

Obviously, you're correct about Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament being a liturgical act. It brings up an issue which is very frustrating for those of us who are traditionally minded liturgists...that is the idea that we "do" liturgy. It is a misnomer and it is wrong headed to think that way. It is so on a couple of levels.

First, it assumes that the laity participate in a way which is not proper to their state in life. It overemphasizes the idea of "priesthood of the laity" (the second issue). As some here promote rightly, the participation of the laity should be internal first. It should never be the goal of the faithful to "do" anything in the liturgy other than to worship. IF they do anything, it is an extraordinary action, starting first with ushering, secondly serving at the altar, thirdly reading, and lastly, distributing Holy Communion as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

Secondly, there is this wrongheaded view that there is a "priesthood of the laity." And that said priesthood entitles the laity to "do" liturgy. Not so. There is a royal priesthood, separate and distinct from the ministerial priesthood that the faithful participate in, by virtue of the Incarnation of Christ, the High Priest. But this is not an entitlement; this is a gift.

I understand that the nuance is subtle and I understand that the concept is difficult for the average person, but it is something I firmly believe that should be addressed until it is grasped by the faithful.

We are not priests in the way that you are priests. We are not priests at all, but rather we share in the priesthood of Christ, by virtue of our baptism.

Just Checking said...

I am have attended communion services at Holy Spirit in the past lead by one of the sisters. In fact some members of the congregation said they liked the sister's mass better. Maybe this was with the past pastor I am not sure. But I know what I attended. I may return there if it is true. But I must say the sisters there seemed then to like the power.

Anonymous said...

In Canada, in the absence of a priest, many parishes follow the rubrics in "Sunday Celebration of the Word and Hours" which is a book approved by the CCCB (in 1995). It standardizes the rubrics for both a morning or evening liturgy of the hours, and for the liturgy of the word with/without distribution of the Eucharist. While the rubrics of the LOTW highlight that this is not a Mass, in my personal experience some people do not see the difference between them when the LOTW service is celebrated frequently. For example, my own rural parish is fortunate to have a priest every second Sunday (some years it has only been once per month). So, for the past 15 years up to 50% of our Sundays have been LOTW with Eucharist. Our diocese initiated this primarily for rural parishes like mine as priest shortages became a bigger problem. I have suggested in my parish that we should not have the Eucharist on these Sundays, or that we try using the LOTH morning service instead, but this was declined by by parish leaders. Please pray for more vocations. Pax.

Pater Ignotus said...

Just Checking - I don't think the sister who leads communion services at Holy Spirit - and not every Friday as a "regular occurrence on the pastor's day off which is Friday" which Good Father McDonald has wrongly stated - understands this as an act of power, but an opportunity for service.

The sister who leads communion services - not every Friday, Fr. McDonald - has served the Church as a teacher, school administrator, principal, and many other ways for more years than Fr. McDonald or I have been alive. Hers is a life dedicated to service, for which we should all be grateful.

And when she is not available, a lay person leads the service.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

PI I stand corrected and however you offer these services and how frequently in your business, but evidently these are offered in your parish as in mine, but in mine with a deacon unless no deacon is present. So how many times a month does it occur in your parish. We have it only when both priests are away, such as clergy conference, retreat and any day when we are both gone.

Pater Ignotus said...

Good Father - You know perfectly well that this parish has no deacon, so your "...but mine with a deacon..." is not the trumnp card you think it may be.

Also, this parish has but one, simple priest assigned to it, so it stands to reason that there will be more times when the priest is away, doesn't it?

Unknown said...

My question remains, "What exactly is meant by "qualified lay person?" How is one "qualified" to do the work of an ordained minister?"

How is that determined, objectively? Are lay religious considered "qualified?" Are laymen who have been admitted to minor orders (read: installed as lectors/acolytes) "qualified?"

I don't understand how the laity are qualified to do something which requires an indellible change to the soul. Color me confused.

Gene said...

"Simple" is no idle modifier when applied to this Priest. LOL!

Templar said...

No Priest available, No Mass offered. Period. Simple. Easy. Somehow civilizations have been built without every corner of the realm having a Mass available to the population on every day of the year (save Good Friday). Surely Macon could survive. Given that we have 3 Parishes located with a 7 mile radius of each other, I would think the Pastor's would coordinate their day's off so that a Mass was available at one of the Parishes on every day of the week (if this is considered the priority) and the Bulletins updated to inform the laity that if you want Mass on Monday you go to Parish A, and if you want Mass on Friday you go to Parish B etc. Surely in a Diocese where if you want a Latin Mass you get told it's not unreasonable to drive 2 hours away, it wouldn't be unreasonable to drive 7 miles, and eliminate the need for laity, or non-clerical religious to do these "less than" ideal things in the first place.

Henry Edwards said...

I sometimes think about why Mass seems less of a "peak experience" for many or most people now, than it was decades ago.

There are many reasons, and probably no single paramount one. But I wonder whether the ubiquity of Mass--which in itself seems altogether a good thing--has an unintended result.

The fact that, whenever or wherever 2 or 3 Catholics gather together, someone celebrates Mass--or (re topic of this thread) pretends to, whether ordained or not--surely diminishes its impact for many.

How can every Mass excite "tremendum et fascinans" when it's not only an everyday occurrence, but a frequently casual and almost every hour of every day (and night) occurrence--as though sometimes almost a liturgical throwaway, if not often just a preliminary--to something serious, like the Friday night fish fry (or its equivalent in the post-penitential Church)?

Wouldn't it be so much more wholesome--and highlight the Mass for them--for Catholics instead to, say an hour of the divine office on such occasions? Maybe even, at least occasionally, for the daily morning parish social hour for the old folks? (As a habitual but serious daily Mass attender most of my recent years as one of those "old folks").