Communion Services Before Daily Mass

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Communion Services Before Daily Mass

ROME, 9 NOV. 2004 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: A Church in our diocese holds a weekday Communion service about 15 minutes before daily Mass. The celebrant is an extraordinary minister (EM). Is this in conflict with canon law? Also, is there a rule regarding EMs not receiving Communion from the celebrant before administering Communion to the faithful? — B.C., La Quinta, California

A: There are two documents which should throw light on your first question: the introduction to the ritual for Communion outside of Mass "Eucharistiae Sacramentum" (1973) and the recent instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum."

We must distinguish between the rite of Communion outside of Mass and the fact that this rite is guided by an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.

We must also specify that we are not dealing with Communion for the sick or shut-ins, but with reception of daily Communion in a church or oratory for those who desire to receive daily.

Regarding the distribution of Communion outside of Mass, "Eucharistiae Sacramentum," Nos. 13-17, while recommending that as far as possible the faithful be encouraged to receive within Mass, allows for priests to administer Communion to the faithful who ask for it for a just cause.

Communion may be distributed on almost any day and at any time of day, but preferably at prefixed times so as to allow for a community celebration.

The minister of this Communion is ordinarily a priest or deacon or, if these are impeded by age, illness or ministerial obligations, the instituted acolyte.

The bishop may give permission to an extraordinary minister of holy Communion to distribute Communion outside of Mass when none of the above ministers are available.

With respect to granting this faculty to extraordinary ministers of holy Communion on a daily basis, "Redemptionis Sacramentum" is rather circumspect.

No. 166 of this document states:

"Likewise, especially if Holy Communion is distributed during such celebrations (i.e. guided by lay extraordinary ministers of holy Communion), 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."

In fact, "Redemptionis Sacramentum" sees a Communion service guided by extraordinary ministers mostly as an exceptional solution to the lack of clergy on a Sunday:

Thus No. 164 states: "'If participation at the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible on account of the absence of a sacred minister or for some other grave cause,' then it is the Christian people's right that the diocesan Bishop should provide as far as he is able for some celebration to be held on Sundays for that community under his authority and according to the Church's norms. Sunday celebrations of this specific kind, however, are to be considered altogether extraordinary. All Deacons or lay members of Christ's faithful who are assigned a part in such celebrations by the diocesan Bishop should strive 'to keep alive in the community a genuine "hunger" for the Eucharist, so that no opportunity for the celebration of Mass will ever be missed, also taking advantage of the occasional presence of a Priest who is not impeded by Church law from celebrating Mass.'"

Therefore, in order to hold a daily Communion service guided by lay ministers, express permission is required from the bishop, who is encouraged not to grant it with ease.

Since priests are recommended to celebrate Mass daily for the faithful and the situation you present is of a church where daily Mass is celebrated shortly after the Communion service led by a lay extraordinary minister of holy Communion, than it is difficult to see how such a daily Communion service may be justified.

While I don't know the concrete pastoral motivation that may have spurred this initiative, it does not appear to be in conformity with the spirit of present Church legislation.

It may be that there had once been a Mass at that time which it is no longer possible to celebrate. But that is a difficulty that can be partially overcome by moving the Mass schedule up a few minutes, even though it requires everybody making a small sacrifice.

Regarding the second question, the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion should always receive the sacred vessels from the priest. And so the natural order of things would be that they also normally receive Communion from him before receiving the vessels.

Even if, for some just cause, they do not receive Communion directly from the priest, they must always receive through some minister and may never communicate themselves.

If for some moral reason an extraordinary minister of holy Communion was unable to receive Communion, he or she should also refrain from serving until the obstacle has been removed.

There may, however, be other reasons for not receiving Communion. If, as sometimes happens, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion serves in several Masses, then he or she may receive Communion no more than twice and would not receive in the other Masses. ZE04110922

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Follow-up: Communion Services Before Daily Mass [from 11-23-2004]

Several readers asked for clarifications on our Nov. 9 column regarding holding a Communion service before Mass.

First, the column addressed the specific situation of holding a Communion service guided by a layperson in a parish situation where Mass was readily available.

Thus what I had to say in no way affected other legitimate situations where a layperson acts as an extraordinary minister of Communion, such as bringing Communion to the sick, the elderly and to those in prison.

Related to this, some readers tied this question to a previous answer in which I stated that an extraordinary minister of holy Communion should not self-communicate.

Once more, this reply was related to serving at Mass. Both the deacon and the lay extraordinary minister of Communion may communicate themselves if called upon to distribute Communion outside of Mass and if they have no other opportunity to receive Communion at Mass during the day.

This is because of the norm that Communion may be received a second time only within Mass.

A reader from the state of New York asked if it were correct that a deacon sit in the pew while his wife directed a service and distributed Communion.

This is incorrect. The deacon has the obligation to preside, for he truly presides in virtue of his order and does not simply lead in substitution of an ordained minister as does the extraordinary minister of Communion.

Unless justly impeded, the deacon fails in his duty by remaining in the pew and deprives the community of a celebration of the Word with distribution of Communion that is more liturgically correct and a fuller, albeit still incomplete, participation in the prayer of the Church.

The same reader asks if anyone may bring Communion to the sick, such as a relative or friend.

Under normal circumstances the person who brings Communion to the sick should be a priest, deacon or a properly designated extraordinary minister of Communion.

In some special cases a relative may be designated, providing he or she fulfills the necessary moral and spiritual conditions to be able to act as an extraordinary minister.

Such cases could be, for example, the relative of a sick daily Mass attendant who ardently yearns to continue receiving quotidian Communion but whose desire cannot be acquitted by the priest or the habitual extraordinary ministers.

Other situations may involve locations with difficult access, or people who, having gained immunity by recovering from a contagious illness, are attending those still afflicted with the ailment.

Finally, a reader from Kansas writes about a particular pastoral situation:

"At my parish we have a regularly scheduled daily Mass. On days when there is a funeral Mass, the priest cancels the daily Mass. He says the bishop and the Pope have stated they can only say one Mass a day and that it is to encourage everyone to attend the funeral Mass (whether you know the person or not). However, on days when there is a wedding with a Mass, the daily Mass is not canceled. What is the Church's stand on this? Many of us work our work schedule around being able to attend daily Mass, so we cannot attend the funeral Masses, so we are then without Mass on those days. We live in a small community and nearest Mass is 30 miles away."

The priest is probably referring to Canon 905 of the Code of Canon Law. It states:

"Canon 905 §1. A priest is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day except in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day.

"§2. If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation."

Therefore the bishop may authorize the priest to habitually celebrate two daily Masses. This is quite common in some places where there are few priests.

Even more common, indeed practically universal, is the habitual authorization for the priest to celebrate a second Mass when occasional needs arise, such as a funeral or a wedding.

I would say that unless the local bishop has given express and explicit indications to the contrary, the priest may usually presume that he may celebrate the second Mass in such situations.

In order to give a correct interpretation to the second part of canon 905, it is necessary to understand that "shortage of priests" is usually not interpreted strictly in this case but can mean that there are no other priests available at the moment that the second Mass is required.

Likewise the canon describes the need for a "just cause" that is not a grave or serious cause, and the celebration of a funeral or wedding is well within the range of a just cause.

I therefore consider that your priest is giving an excessively rigid interpretation of the norm and that he should be willing to celebrate both the scheduled Mass and the funeral. ZE04112322

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