|ROME, 21 OCT. 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: We know that the Sunday Mass is very important. We know too that the
Saturday evening Mass is the Sunday Mass. But what are the criteria to
know exactly that it is the Mass of Sunday? It is the hour? It is the
readings? Many Catholics who go to a marriage on a Saturday afternoon
don't go to the Mass on Sunday. They think they have already gone to
Mass. What does the Church say exactly about the Saturday evening Mass?
J.G., Arras, France
A: The norms permitting the celebration of Sunday Mass on a Saturday
evening are not overly detailed and thus different practices and notions
have arisen around the world.
Even though this practice is relatively recent with respect to the
Sunday Mass, the Church had long maintained the custom of beginning the
celebration of important feasts the evening before, with first vespers.
This was inspired by the concept of a day in the ancient world which
divided our 24 hours into four nocturnal vigils and four daylight hours,
the day commencing at first vigil.
For this reason the Gospels mention the haste required to bury Our Lord
on Good Friday before the Sabbath began on what, for us, would still be
While this concept offers a certain justification for the norm
permitting the celebration of Sunday Mass on Saturday, the modern Church
in fact mixes both ancient and modern chronometry and has not simply
adopted tout court the ancient measure of the day.
For this reason, although it is permissible to anticipate Sunday Mass,
contrary to what some might think, there is no obligation to do so; it
is still possible to celebrate the Mass of the day or a ritual Mass on
For example, if a religious community habitually celebrates its daily
Mass at 7 p.m., there is no reason why it would have to celebrate Sunday
Likewise it is theoretically possible for a couple to be wed on a
Saturday evening using the nuptial Mass, provided that they did not
coincide with regular Mass timetables.
I say "theoretically" because pastorally it is usually advisable to
celebrate the nuptial Mass at this hour according to the norms for a
wedding celebrated on a Sunday. As our reader points out, even regular
Mass goers are likely to presume that a Saturday evening Mass is
sufficient to fulfill their Sunday precept and the distinctions between
different Mass formulas are likely to be lost on them.
Therefore, except in those cases when the majority of guests are
well-formed and committed Catholics, it is better to assure as far as
possible that they attend a celebration valid for Sunday, even though
this can mean that on some occasions certain aspects of the regular
nuptial Mass may not be celebrated.
The general law does not specify the precise time after which Sunday
Mass is possible. However, 5 p.m. is the common rule in the Diocese of
Rome and in many other places. Any time much earlier is hard to conceive
as being Saturday evening in any meaningful sense of the term.
Because of this, a Saturday afternoon wedding would be a different case.
Most practicing Catholics would not presume that a noon or 1 p.m.
wedding would be valid for Sunday Mass. Since 3 or 4 p.m. are rather
awkward hours for organizing a wedding and its attendant festive
aftermath, celebrations at this hour are less common, at least in
A 4 p.m. wedding, however, is probably sufficiently on the borderline as
to be celebrated as a Sunday Mass.
If there is real danger of anyone mistaking an earlier Mass as valid for
Sunday, then care should be taken so that guests know in advance that
the Mass will not cover their Sunday obligation.
* * *
Follow-up: Saturday Mass for Sunday [11-4-2008]
numerous e-mails from readers on the topic of Saturday evening
celebrations of Sunday Mass. Although I responded from a pastoral rather
than a canonical stance (see Oct. 21 column), several correspondents
offered valuable canonical pointers that serve to complement and in part
correct some of my assertions.
Several readers pointed out that most canonists, based on Pope Pius
XII's apostolic constitution "Christus Dominus" and the Code of Canon
Law, No. 1248.1, which speaks of Saturday evening ("vespere") Mass, say
that 4 p.m., and not 5 p.m. as I affirmed, is the recognized time after
which Sunday Masses may be celebrated.
This canon also states that Catholics may fulfill their Sunday and
holy-day obligations by assisting at any Catholic Mass after this time.
Therefore, if a Catholic were to attend a wedding at this time, even if
the ceremony lacked the elements proper to a Sunday Mass, he or she
would be fulfilling the Sunday precept.
This would also be the case if a holy day of obligation fell on a
Saturday or Monday. A Catholic who assisted at morning and evening Mass
on either Saturday or Sunday would fulfill both holy-day precepts, even
if the Mass formulas were of the same day. It would always be required
to go to Mass twice though, so there is no "killing two birds with one
stone," as the saying goes.
To be clear, I am merely stating the minimum legal requirements and
am not recommending this as a practice, which I believe would often be
pastorally and spiritually detrimental to the faithful.
Therefore a pastor should do all that he can to assure that a
Saturday evening wedding has all the elements of Sunday Mass as well as
inculcate the faithful to fulfill their calling to glorify God and
celebrate the fullness of the liturgical year.
Finally, due to an oversight of mine, in an earlier follow-up
regarding the celebration of the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on Jan.
3, I failed to offer the simplest and most obvious solution to finding
the texts: that is, the use of the already approved texts from the
votive Mass of the Holy Name. These texts are already found in the
missal and basically correspond to those of the feast day.
On this matter a reader informed me of the existence of a 2004
supplement to the Sacramentary that can be looked up at: