Interrupting the Mass

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Interrupting the Mass

ROME, 30 OCT. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. 

Q: My parish is conducting a parish mission which includes nightly home visits and culminates in a group Mass where the missioners (all the priests) break off with the participants after the homily for discussions and return 45 minutes later to continue with the Mass. As not all who attended the Mass — that is, the choir, the wardens, the altar boys, the lectors, etc. — are participants, during the 45-minute break, the choir started practicing, the wardens wandered around socializing, the altar boys played, the lectors sent text messages. I have checked with various priests and was told that, though the break is not liturgically correct, the pastor has the final say. Is this correct? — W.T., Singapore 

A: There are two questions involved. First: Is this practice correct? Second: Can the pastor have the final say on such matters? 

To the first question I think that the 2004 instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, gives a very clear answer: 

"60. In the celebration of Mass, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are intimately connected to one another, and form one single act of worship. For this reason it is not licit to separate one of these parts from the other and celebrate them at different times or places. Nor is it licit to carry out the individual parts of Holy Mass at different times of the same day." 
In the case presented by our reader the unity of the Mass as a single act of worship is interrupted by leaving for discussions and therefore goes against the norms. 

This is not the same as the legitimate possibility of separating young children from the assembly at the moment of the homily so as to preach to them in a way tailored to their special needs. The children return to the assembly for the offertory. 

Regarding the question as to whether a pastor may make such changes: Once again, Redemptoris Sacramentum can help us on this point when speaking of the regulation of the sacred liturgy: 

"14. 'The regulation of the Sacred Liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, which rests specifically with the Apostolic See and, according to the norms of law, with the Bishop.' 

"21. It pertains to the diocesan Bishop, then, 'within the limits of his competence, to set forth liturgical norms in his Diocese, by which all are bound.' Still, the Bishop must take care not to allow the removal of that liberty foreseen by the norms of the liturgical books so that the celebration may be adapted in an intelligent manner to the Church building, or to the group of the faithful who are present, or to particular pastoral circumstances in such a way that the universal sacred rite is truly accommodated to human understanding. 

"22. The Bishop governs the particular Church entrusted to him, and it is his task to regulate, to direct, to encourage, and sometimes also to reprove; this is a sacred task that he has received through episcopal Ordination, which he fulfills in order to build up his flock in truth and holiness. He should elucidate the inherent meaning of the rites and the liturgical texts, and nourish the spirit of the Liturgy in the Priests, Deacons and lay faithful so that they are all led to the active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist, and in like manner he should take care to ensure that the whole body of the Church is able to grow in the same understanding, in the unity of charity, in the diocese, in the nation and in the world. 

"24. It is the right of the Christian people themselves that their diocesan Bishop should take care to prevent the occurrence of abuses in ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regards the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and devotion to the Saints.

"32. 'Let the Parish Priest strive so that the Most Holy Eucharist will be the center of the parish congregation of the faithful; let him work to ensure that Christ's faithful are nourished through the devout celebration of the Sacraments, and in particular, that they frequently approach the Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance; let him strive, furthermore, to ensure that the faithful are encouraged to offer prayers in their families as well, and to participate consciously and actively in the Sacred Liturgy, which the Parish Priest, under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, is bound to regulate and supervise in his parish lest abuses occur.' Although it is appropriate that he should be assisted in the effective preparation of the liturgical celebrations by various members of Christ's faithful, he nevertheless must not cede to them in any way those things that are proper to his own office." 

To this we may add the injunction from the conciliar document Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 22:

"Therefore, absolutely no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority."

Therefore I think it is fairly clear that the Church does not grant such sweeping powers to pastors — certainly not to have the "final say" on a practice that has been specifically and definitively reprobated by the Holy See.

* * *

Follow-up: Interrupting the Mass [11-13-2012]

In the wake of our comments on not interrupting the Mass (Oct. 30), a Bulgarian reader asked: "I was told by a catechist that, before Vatican II, in some churches in Europe, the priests used to interrupt the Mass every 15 minutes in order to give Communion to the faithful. Is this true, and could it be licit?"

It is hard to gauge what customs prevailed around Europe as practice varied widely. On a visit to a Baltic country about 15 years ago I was asked by a priest regarding the legitimacy of his practice of distributing Communion to the faithful before Mass so as to have time to get to a second Mass in another venue.

I explained that this practice was not in accordance with the mind of the Church and that if the faithful were already present for Communion, he could just as easily move up the Mass schedule.
Such practices might have existed since in many places it was common that a minority of the faithful would receive Communion every Sunday whereas there would be great demand on major feasts.

Although the practice described by our reader might have happened, I do not think it was legitimate.

More common, however, was the practice of having another priest at a side altar distribute Communion throughout the entire Mass. The faithful assisting at Mass would leave the main nave, receive Communion, and then return to their places. This was often permitted as a practical solution to a real difficulty.

Today, the reception of Communion at Mass is seen as intimately connected with participation in the full celebration. Likewise the authorization, when needed, of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, allows for all those who wish to receive to be able to do so at the proper time.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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