|ROME, 8 JULY 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Should a school classroom be used for the celebration of Mass when
the parish church is close enough for children to get to easily, and the
church (or a smaller chapel within it) is available?
S.H., Lancashire, England
A: The overarching principles in question are quite clear as
indicated by the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 108:
"The celebration of the Eucharist is to be carried out in a sacred
place, unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise. In this
case the celebration must be in a decent place. The diocesan Bishop
shall be the judge for his diocese concerning this necessity, on a
This would indicate a clear preference toward using the chapel as
often as possible.
The first sentence of this instruction is a direct quote of Canon
932.1 of the Code of Canon Law.
The second sentence, referring to the diocesan bishop's judgment on a
case-by-case basis, for all practical purposes harks back to the
situation found in the equivalent canon of the 1917 Code which always
required the bishop's permission to celebrate outside of a sacred place.
Most comments on the reformed code had considered that the decision
now rests with the individual priest but this, apparently, was not the
mind of the legislator.
However, I believe that the bishop's case-by-case judgment does not
necessarily mean that he has to grant permission for each individual
celebration. The bishop could grant a habitual permission covering
certain frequently occurring circumstances in the diocese and allow
pastors and chaplains to decide when these circumstances are met.
Such would be the case for Masses celebrated in places such as
hospitals and retirement homes that have no specific chapel.
In the case of classroom Masses the bishop could discuss along with
pastors the relative advantages and disadvantages of celebrating Mass
outside of a sacred space for the sake of the children.
While proximity to the church is clearly a factor to be weighed, it
is not the only factor. Teachers should be consulted as to whether
moving the children to the chapel might cause disciplinary problems.
Another factor would be if the children are more likely to be distracted
in unfamiliar surroundings such as the chapel or more concentrated on
the Mass itself in their habitual classroom.
The answer might vary even within different age levels of a single
school. It might be more profitable for some grades to go to the church
and for others to remain in the classroom.
Another question to be taken into account is the frequency of the
Masses. If the Mass is a sporadic or annual event, then I believe that
classroom Masses cause no special problem.
If, however, the children attend Mass at school on a regular basis,
then it is better to habituate them to go to a sacred space specifically
reserved for that purpose. I would even say that if the parish church is
unavailable, then, as far as possible, a room should be set aside as an
oratory. Or at least the Masses should be held in an especially worthy
space, rather than a regular classroom.
Therefore it is not just a question of liturgical law but also a
pastoral question regarding the best means of introducing children to
the Mass as well as to other practices of genuine Christian piety.
* * *
Follow-up: Using Classrooms for Mass [7-21-2008]
A question related to our July 8 column on classroom Masses was on
file from a Filipino correspondent. He asked: "Here in the Philippines,
some of the shopping malls have a practice of having the Eucharist
celebrated in them, most especially during Sundays. Coming to Mass in
malls has been a practice of some of the families who frequent them,
especially during Sundays. Some of these Masses are even televised.
Could you comment on this? Is it really allowed?"
As with all habitual Masses outside of sacred spaces, such
celebrations would have to be authorized by the bishop.
There are several things to be taken into account. There is no
particular difficulty in having a chapel within a mall, just as they are
found in other places with large conglomerations of people, such as
airports, where people may take a spiritual break before the Blessed
Sacrament and employees with irregular work shifts can attend Mass.
There is at least one religious congregation that specializes in
setting up chapels in busy city areas so that Mass, confession, and
adoration are available close to where people spend most of their time.
If this is the case with a mall Mass, then it is something
But herein lies the difficulty. Making Mass available at a mall on a
Sunday could easily be seen as cooperating with a prevailing cultural
trend that empties the Lord's Day of its sacredness and converts it into
just another shopping day.
One could argue that it is best to offer the Mass where people are to
be found, but the question remains if this is best for the common good.
Sunday has a social as well as a religious function in predominantly
Christian societies: It permits as many families as possible to be
together for prayer and social interaction.
Although it will always be necessary for some people to work on
Sundays, the commercialization of those days ties down an ever-growing
number of families and thus weakens already fragile social bonds.
Another difficulty is the venue. If Mass is held in some public part
of the mall, as seems to be implied by our correspondent, then the
necessary separation from the profane cannot be achieved. It is hard to
imagine serenely attending or celebrating Mass while people carry on
business as usual all around you. This would hardly be a situation
worthy of the Lord.
Things might be seen under a different light if commercial activities
are suspended during the Mass. But the problem of respecting the
integrity of Sunday as the Lord's Day still remains.