Starting Mass Without a Priest

Author: ZENIT


Starting Mass Without a Priest

ROME, 25 JULY 2006 (ZENIT)

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

Q: I am a priest working in an area of primary evangelization where people are still trying to grasp the meaning of the Gospel. I have several questions about the liturgy: 1) When is a priest considered to be concelebrating? Is it when he is vested or just a mere presence in the people, or both? 2) Sometimes when we arrive late in the outstations, we find that the catechist has already started the Liturgy of the Word. Is it right to continue with the Mass from where the catechist had reached? For example, if the catechist has read the Gospel, can the priest vest himself and go on with the homily? — C.N., Kontagora, Nigeria

A: In order to concelebrate a priest must be present from the beginning of Mass, vested at least in alb and stole and preferably also with chasuble.

During Mass he should normally sit and stand within the sanctuary. If a deacon is not present a concelebrating priest should usually help the main celebrant in such functions as reading the Gospel, preparing the chalice and raising the chalice for the final doxology.

He must pronounce along with the main celebrant, albeit in a lower voice, the words that correspond to all concelebrants according to the structure of each Eucharistic Prayer (usually the epiclesis, the consecration, the anamnesis and the final doxology), and may say one or more of the parts assigned to a single concelebrant.

He also extends his hands during the recitation of the Our Father. He must take the Eucharist under both species and if necessary assist the other priest in distributing Communion and purifying the sacred vessels.

Under no circumstances should a priest attempt to concelebrate from among the people in the pews by simply pronouncing the words of consecration along with the celebrant. There are serious reasons to even doubt the validity of such a procedure, which in all cases is a serious abuse and lack of respect toward the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

Regarding the other question: The Mass is a single action comprehending the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The priest's presence is required throughout the sacred rite in order to maintain its intrinsic unity. It is through his ministry that the faithful are constituted as a liturgical assembly in communion with the bishop and the universal Church.

Likewise, although the priest presides over the assembly, he is also a member of the assembly and must participate in the entire celebration.

He, like everybody else and indeed even more so, is bound to acknowledge his sinfulness at the beginning of the celebration. Likewise, the liturgical reading of God's Word is also for his benefit and God speaks to him through the Scripture with a more intense presence than that found while reflecting on the texts to prepare the homily.

Although there are few official texts regarding this subject, the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" touched upon the importance of the unity of the celebration when it stated in No. 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 order to handle the real practical difficulty of a priest's being unable to be sure of arriving on time, one possibility is for the priests, together with the catechists, to develop a fallback plan in which the catechist has a series of resources that combine prayers, hymns, devotions, as well as brief talks that prepare the people for Mass, for example by explaining the different parts of the Mass, of the Creed, common prayers, etc.

This solution might not always be practical and it really depends on such factors as location, town size and local custom.

In some Latin American countries, for example, isolated villages with no resident priest have no set time for Mass. The priest announces his arrival by ringing the church bells or even by megaphone. Those assisting at Mass go to the church and start the rosary or other prayers until the celebration begins.

What is important is to find a solution that responds to the demands of evangelization while respecting the integrity of the liturgy. ZE06072521

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Follow-up: Starting Mass Without a Priest [8-29-2006]

I wish to clear up a misunderstanding in the July 25 column. When I mentioned that a priest should never attempt to concelebrate from among the people in the pews, I was referring to those cases of a priest who is attending Mass in the manner of the faithful, and yet tries to join in the consecration from his pew.

I was not referring to the case of large concelebrations where the officiating priests necessarily overflow into the front pews.

That said, several readers asked for clarifications regarding the tasks that may be carried out by lay people who direct Sunday Communion services in communities that are, to use a term that is often preferred, "awaiting" a priest.

The Holy See's 1988 directory for "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest" gives basic guidelines. Based on this document, some episcopal conferences, or individual bishops, have prepared more specific norms to handle such situations.

Chapter 3 of this document (Nos. 35-50) deals with the order of celebration:

"35. The order to be followed in a Sunday celebration that does not include Mass consists of two parts, the celebration of the word of God and the giving of holy communion. Nothing that is proper to Mass, and particularly the presentation of the gifts and the eucharistic prayer, is to be inserted into the celebration. The order of celebration is to be arranged in such a way that it is truly conducive to prayer and conveys the image not of a simple meeting but of a genuine liturgical assembly.

"36. As a rule the texts for the prayers and readings for each Sunday or solemnity are to be taken from The Roman Missal (Sacramentary) and the Lectionary for Mass. In this way the faithful will follow the cycle of the liturgical year and will pray and listen to the word of God in communion with the other communities of the Church.

"37. In preparing the celebration the pastor together with the appointed laypersons may make adaptations suited to the number of those who will take part in the celebration, the ability of the leaders (animators), and the kind of instruments available for the music and the singing.

"38. When a deacon presides at the celebration, he acts in accord with his ministry in regard to the greetings, the prayers, the gospel reading and homily, the giving of communion, and the dismissal and blessing. He wears the vestments proper to his ministry, that is, the alb with stole, and, as circumstances suggest, the dalmatic. He uses the presidential chair.

"39. A layperson who leads the assembly acts as one among equals, in the way followed in the liturgy of the hours when not presided over by an ordained minister, and in the case of blessings when the minister is a layperson ("May the Lord bless us ..."; "Let us praise the Lord ..."). The layperson is not to use words that are proper to a priest or deacon and is to omit rites that are too readily associated with the Mass, for example, greetings — especially "The Lord be with you" — and dismissals, since these might give the impression that the layperson is a sacred minister.

"40. The lay leader wears vesture that is suitable for his or her function or the vesture prescribed by the bishop. He or she does not use the presidential chair, but another chair prepared outside the sanctuary. Since the altar is the table of sacrifice and of the paschal banquet, its only use in this celebration is for the rite of communion, when the consecrated bread is placed on it before communion is given.

"Preparation of the celebration should include careful attention to a suitable distribution of offices, for example, for the readings, the singing, etc., and also to the arrangement and decoration of the place of celebration.

"41. The following is an outline of the elements of the celebration.

"— 1. Introductory rites. The purpose of these is to form the gathered faithful into a community and for them to dispose themselves for the celebration.

"— 2. Liturgy of the word. Here God speaks to his people, to disclose to them the mystery of redemption and salvation; the people respond through the profession of faith and the general intercessions.

"— 3. Thanksgiving. Here God is blessed for his great glory (see no. 45).

"— 4. Communion rites. These are an expression and accomplishment of communion with Christ and with his members, especially with those who on this same day take part in the eucharistic sacrifice.

"— 5. Concluding rites. These point to the connection existing between the liturgy and the Christian life.

"The conference of bishops, or the individual bishop himself, may, in view of the conditions of the place and the people involved, determine more precisely the details of the celebration, using resources prepared by the national or diocesan liturgical committee, but the general structure of the celebration should not be changed unnecessarily.

"42. In the introduction at the beginning of the celebration, or at some other point, the leader should make mention of the community of the faithful with whom the pastor is celebrating the eucharist on that Sunday and urge the assembly to unite itself in spirit with that community.

"43. In order that the participants may retain the word of God, there should be an explanation of the readings or a period of silence for reflection on what has been heard. Since only a pastor or a deacon may give a homily, it is desirable that the pastor prepare a homily and give it to the leader of the assembly to read. But in this matter the decisions of the conference of bishops are to be followed.

"44. The general intercessions are to follow an established series of intentions. Intentions for the whole diocese that the bishop may have proposed are not to be omitted. There should also often be intentions for vocations to sacred orders, for the bishop, and for the pastor.

"45. The thanksgiving may follow either one of the ways described here.

"— 1. After the general intercessions or after holy communion, the leader invites all to an act of thanksgiving, in which the faithful praise the glory and mercy of God. This can be done by use of psalm (for example, Psalms 100, 113, 118, 136, 147, 150), a hymn (for example, the Gloria), a canticle (for example, the Canticle of Mary), or a litanic prayer, together recite the thanksgiving.

"— 2. Before the Lord's Prayer, the leader of the assembly goes to the tabernacle or other place where the eucharist is reserved and, after making reverence, places the ciborium with the holy eucharist on the altar. Then while kneeling before the altar he or she together with all the faithful sing or recite a hymn, psalm, or litany, which in this case is directed to Christ in the eucharist.

"But this thanksgiving is not in any way to take the form of the eucharistic prayer, the texts of the prefaces or eucharistic prayers from The Roman Missal (Sacramentary) are not to be used, and all danger of confusion is to be removed.

"46. For the communion rite the provisions given in The Roman Ritual for communion outside Mass are to be observed. The faithful are to be frequently reminded that even when they receive communion outside Mass they are united to the eucharistic sacrifice.

"47. For communion, if at all possible, bread consecrated that same Sunday in a Mass celebrated elsewhere is used; a deacon or layperson brings it in a ciborium or pyx and places it in the tabernacle before the celebration. Bread consecrated at the last Mass celebrated in the place of assembly may also be used. Before the Lord's Prayer the leader goes to the tabernacle or place where the eucharist is reserved, takes the vessel with the body of the Lord, and places it upon the altar, then introduces the Lord's Prayer — unless the act of thanksgiving mentioned in no. 45,2 is to take place at this point.

"48. The Lord's Prayer is always recited or sung by all, even if there is to be no communion. The sign of peace may be exchanged. After communion, 'a period of silence may be observed or a psalm or song of praise may be sung.' A thanksgiving as described in no. 45,1 may also take place here.

"49. Before the conclusion of the assembly, announcements or notices related to the life of the parish or the diocese are read.

"50. 'Too much importance can never be attached to the Sunday assembly, whether as the source of the Christian life of the individual and of the community, or as a sign of God's intent to gather the whole human race together in Christ.

'All Christians must share the conviction that they cannot live their faith or participate — in the manner proper to them — in the universal mission of the Church unless they are nourished by the eucharistic bread. They should be equally convinced that the Sunday assembly is a sign to the world of the mystery of communion, which is the eucharist.'"

To this may be added the note of the 1997 interdicasterial document "On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest."

The text is found in the "Practical Provisions" section, Article 7, on "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest":

"§1. In some places in the absence of priests or deacons, non-ordained members of the faithful lead Sunday celebrations. In many instances, much good derives for the local community from this useful and delicate service when it is discharged in accordance with the spirit and the specific norms issued by the competent ecclesiastical authority. A special mandate of the Bishop is necessary for the non-ordained members of the faithful to lead such celebrations. This mandate should contain specific instructions with regard to the term of applicability, the place and conditions in which it is operative, as well as indicate the priest responsible for overseeing these celebrations.

"§2. It must be clearly understood that such celebrations are temporary solutions and the text used at them must be approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority. The practice of inserting into such celebrations elements proper to the Holy Mass is prohibited. So as to avoid causing error in the minds of the faithful, the use of the eucharistic prayers, even in narrative form, at such celebrations is forbidden. For the same reasons, it should be emphasized for the benefit of those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the eucharistic Sacrifice and that the obligation to attend mass on Sunday and Holy days of obligation is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass. In cases where distance or physical conditions are not an obstacle, every effort should be made to encourage and assist the faithful to fulfill this precept." ZE06082927

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