A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Using Classrooms for Mass
ROME, 8 JULY 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Should a school classroom be used for the celebration of Mass when the parish church is close enough for children to get to easily, and the church (or a smaller chapel within it) is available? — S.H., Lancashire, England
A: The overarching principles in question are quite clear as indicated by the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 108:
"The celebration of the Eucharist is to be carried out in a sacred place, unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise. In this case the celebration must be in a decent place. The diocesan Bishop shall be the judge for his diocese concerning this necessity, on a case-by-case basis."
This would indicate a clear preference toward using the chapel as often as possible.
The first sentence of this instruction is a direct quote of Canon 932.1 of the Code of Canon Law.
The second sentence, referring to the diocesan bishop's judgment on a case-by-case basis, for all practical purposes harks back to the situation found in the equivalent canon of the 1917 Code which always required the bishop's permission to celebrate outside of a sacred place.
Most comments on the reformed code had considered that the decision now rests with the individual priest but this, apparently, was not the mind of the legislator.
However, I believe that the bishop's case-by-case judgment does not necessarily mean that he has to grant permission for each individual celebration. The bishop could grant a habitual permission covering certain frequently occurring circumstances in the diocese and allow pastors and chaplains to decide when these circumstances are met.
Such would be the case for Masses celebrated in places such as hospitals and retirement homes that have no specific chapel.
In the case of classroom Masses the bishop could discuss along with pastors the relative advantages and disadvantages of celebrating Mass outside of a sacred space for the sake of the children.
While proximity to the church is clearly a factor to be weighed, it is not the only factor. Teachers should be consulted as to whether moving the children to the chapel might cause disciplinary problems. Another factor would be if the children are more likely to be distracted in unfamiliar surroundings such as the chapel or more concentrated on the Mass itself in their habitual classroom.
The answer might vary even within different age levels of a single school. It might be more profitable for some grades to go to the church and for others to remain in the classroom.
Another question to be taken into account is the frequency of the Masses. If the Mass is a sporadic or annual event, then I believe that classroom Masses cause no special problem.
If, however, the children attend Mass at school on a regular basis, then it is better to habituate them to go to a sacred space specifically reserved for that purpose. I would even say that if the parish church is unavailable, then, as far as possible, a room should be set aside as an oratory. Or at least the Masses should be held in an especially worthy space, rather than a regular classroom.
Therefore it is not just a question of liturgical law but also a pastoral question regarding the best means of introducing children to the Mass as well as to other practices of genuine Christian piety.
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Follow-up: Using Classrooms for Mass [7-21-2008]
A question related to our July 8 column on classroom Masses was on file from a Filipino correspondent. He asked: "Here in the Philippines, some of the shopping malls have a practice of having the Eucharist celebrated in them, most especially during Sundays. Coming to Mass in malls has been a practice of some of the families who frequent them, especially during Sundays. Some of these Masses are even televised. Could you comment on this? Is it really allowed?"
As with all habitual Masses outside of sacred spaces, such celebrations would have to be authorized by the bishop.
There are several things to be taken into account. There is no particular difficulty in having a chapel within a mall, just as they are found in other places with large conglomerations of people, such as airports, where people may take a spiritual break before the Blessed Sacrament and employees with irregular work shifts can attend Mass.
There is at least one religious congregation that specializes in setting up chapels in busy city areas so that Mass, confession, and adoration are available close to where people spend most of their time.
If this is the case with a mall Mass, then it is something worthwhile.
But herein lies the difficulty. Making Mass available at a mall on a Sunday could easily be seen as cooperating with a prevailing cultural trend that empties the Lord's Day of its sacredness and converts it into just another shopping day.
One could argue that it is best to offer the Mass where people are to be found, but the question remains if this is best for the common good. Sunday has a social as well as a religious function in predominantly Christian societies: It permits as many families as possible to be together for prayer and social interaction.
Although it will always be necessary for some people to work on Sundays, the commercialization of those days ties down an ever-growing number of families and thus weakens already fragile social bonds.
Another difficulty is the venue. If Mass is held in some public part of the mall, as seems to be implied by our correspondent, then the necessary separation from the profane cannot be achieved. It is hard to imagine serenely attending or celebrating Mass while people carry on business as usual all around you. This would hardly be a situation worthy of the Lord.
Things might be seen under a different light if commercial activities are suspended during the Mass. But the problem of respecting the integrity of Sunday as the Lord's Day still remains.
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