Indult for 3 Daily Masses?

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Indult for 3 Daily Masses?

ROME, 20 OCT. 2009 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. 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 on.

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 each day — 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 concrete diocese.

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.

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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.

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