Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: A 2004 article in a Catholic newspaper spoke about a special indult
granted to the United States. A footnote to the article said: "1. It is
not licit for a priest to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day
except for certain instances when the law permits such celebration or
concelebration more than once. 2. If priests are lacking, the local
ordinary may permit priests, for a just cause, to celebrate twice a day
and even, if pastoral need requires it, three times on Sundays and holy
days of obligations. (Canon 905) The church in the United States was
granted an indult so that priests can celebrate three Masses on any day
if needed." Can you tell me what the title and date of the indult is?
I've searched high and low for any indult given to the United States,
allowing priests to say three Masses daily. —
P.E., Cincinnati, Ohio
A: I have also failed to turn up anything like a blanket indulgence
permitting priests in the United States to celebrate three daily Masses.
If any reader has more precise information, I will be glad to pass it
There is some indirect evidence that such an indult does not exist. For
example, a report in the Newsletter of the Canon Law Society of America
for June 2008 mentions a visit made by the officers of the society to
the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome. In their discussion, an
official of the dicastery "restated that the canonical norms restricting
the number of Masses which may be celebrated by an individual priest
i.e., bination on weekdays and trination on Sundays and holy days
are serious obligations which bind bishops and priests."
Although this was an informal discussion with no legal status, it is
unlikely that an official of the congregation would need to bring up the
topic of these restrictions if his own Vatican dicastery had issued an
indult dispensing from the canonical limitations.
It is possible that some specific dioceses in the United States do
possess such an indult, or that a historical indult has been inherited
by several smaller dioceses dismembered from a larger territory. In such
a case the document granting such an indult would be found in diocesan
historical archives and not readily available for public examination.
An indult shared by several dioceses could easily lead someone to
mistakenly believe that it had been granted to the whole country, when
in fact it was granted to respond to the particular pastoral need of a
With respect to the indult in question, the only aspect that would
actually require an indult from the Holy See would be the permission to
celebrate a third Mass on weekdays. The bishop already has the faculties
to permit his priests to celebrate two daily and three Sunday Masses.
For the sake of precision, the daily Mass is that celebrated within the
usual 24-hour period and not that of the liturgical day. For example, a
priest celebrating the Sunday liturgy on a Saturday afternoon is
canonically counted as a Saturday and not as a Sunday Mass. The same is
true for a vigil Mass celebrated before a holy day of obligation.
For the same reason the bishop's permission to celebrate two daily and
three Sunday Masses does not include the Saturday celebration. Thus if a
priest were not to celebrate on Saturday morning, then he could
technically celebrate the Sunday liturgy twice on a Saturday evening and
three times on Sunday without falling afoul of canon law.
These restrictions are not made to limit a priest' s pastoral zeal but
to ensure that each and every Eucharist is celebrated with the dignity
and decorum demanded by such an ineffable gift.
* * *
Follow-up: Indult for 3 Daily Masses? [11-3-2009]
Related to the question regarding the celebration of more than two
daily Masses (see Oct. 20), a Connecticut reader had asked: "I would
like to know whether a pastor who celebrates one regularly scheduled
daily Mass for his parish each weekday is allowed to also celebrate
a second Mass privately each weekday morning. By 'privately' I mean
that he celebrates a second Mass by himself, or with only one or two
attendees who happen to know about it only by word of mouth. If he
is allowed to offer a second, private Mass, is that simply up to him
or would he need explicit permission from the bishop?"
As stated in our earlier reply, the priest may celebrate only one
Mass a day. The bishop may give priests permission to celebrate
twice a day or thrice on Sundays if priests are scarce.
Many bishops grant pastors and other priests habitual permission to
use these faculties in order to respond to the needs of the
faithful. It is quite common, for example, that a priest has to
celebrate a scheduled Mass and a funeral on the same day. There are
many other possible examples, and most canonists consider that such
faculties may be used for any reasonable cause.
It is clear, however, that this possibility is allowed only for the
good of the faithful and is never a question of a priest's personal
devotion. Thus a priest is not justified in celebrating a Mass alone
or with the accidental presence of only one or two people if he is
scheduled to celebrate another Mass later on or has already
celebrated such a Mass.
Here the question revolves around the "private" character of the
celebration and not the number of attendees. It is possible to
envision a case when a priest could legitimately celebrate a second
Mass for a reduced number of people in special circumstances such as
at the bedside of a dying person.
Nor is it a question of the priest celebrating alone, as this
situation, while never ideal, can also be justified in certain
circumstances such as while traveling.
The danger involved in this double celebration, besides the
violation of canon law, is of converting the Mass into a
quasi-private devotion and obscuring its essentially public
dimension as an act of the whole Church. The priest is the
administrator, not the owner of Christ's treasures and must
distribute them according to the mind of the Church.