Shifting or Substituting the Sunday Liturgy

And More on Communion and Extraordinary Ministers

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ROME, JAN. 6, 2009 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q1: We here in Nepal have a very peculiar situation. Sunday is a normal working day in this country (I believe also in many Arabian countries). Therefore, over many years (30-plus), we have been having our entire Sunday celebration shifted to Saturday, the only day on which people could participate fully. However, this has led to some confusion: For some people it is hard to feel that the Sunday obligation is fulfilled by attending Mass on Saturday. Another problem is the question over what Mass to celebrate on Sunday. Some of us just repeat the same Mass; some others instead celebrate the Saturday Mass on Sunday. At times, some of the feasts on Saturdays are lost because of our particular situation. I personally miss the Saturday Mass, because I am used to celebrating on both days. And to add to all this, is our national calendar, which is different from the Gregorian calendar; the month begins somewhere in the middle of the Gregorian calendar. For all official purposes we have to use that national calendar, and most of our people too use that calendar. For example, we had debates on several occasions: When is the first Friday of the month? As per the Nepali calendar or the Christian calendar? — P.P., Katmandu, Nepal

Q2: Here in our country, very often parishes celebrate the parish feast on Sundays, e.g. the feast of St Jude’s Church, etc. Is this correct? If the Sunday Readings are not proclaimed but some other readings pertaining to the feast day are read, I thought that it is not right to do so. — M.J., Colombo, Sri Lanka
A: As both questions are related to the Sunday liturgy, I will attempt to answer them together.

In the first case, it is important to remember that for Christians Sunday as such is not a transferable feast. During the first three centuries Christians met on Sunday even though it was a normal working day, and many of them were slaves taking a great risk. This often meant getting up very early or perhaps sneaking out in the evening. (Of course, we are also in an epoch when the mere fact of being a Christian could lead to a painful death.) As one group of ancient martyrs famously related to the magistrate who sentenced them, «We cannot live without Sunday.»

Sunday Mass has not lost any of its value or importance to the lives of Catholics, nor have they become less heroic in defending their faith as recent events have shown. At the same time, the present circumstances of Christian living and the Church’s desire to care for the spiritual needs of as many of the flock as possible can lead to some innovations.

Therefore what is the situation of Sunday in Nepal, Arabia and some similar situations?

First of all, Sunday always remains Sunday, and the proper liturgy of the day should always be celebrated. Likewise as far as possible the faithful should attend Mass on Sunday or on Saturday evening. If it is necessary and useful, then priests should be willing to celebrate Mass at unusual times.

In those cases where permission has been granted for Sunday liturgy to be celebrated on a Friday or Saturday morning because Sunday is a normal workday, it is important to note that it is not a case of transferring Sunday to another day. Rather, it is a pastoral response so that those Catholics who find it impossible to attend Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday might not be deprived of the riches offered by the three-year cycle of biblical readings and prayers.

Canonically speaking, those who are objectively unable to attend Sunday Mass are dispensed from the precept and in fact have no obligation to attend Mass on Friday or Saturday Morning. If they do attend, then they do something that is very good. And when this is a common situation pastors act well in addressing their spiritual needs by providing the best liturgical fare while being careful to avoid the impression that they are moving Sunday to another day.

As our correspondent points out, this can sometimes lead to losing some celebrations that fall on a Saturday. In some cases it might be enough to mention the feast in the prayers of the faithful and the homily; on others it might be pastorally more useful to actually celebrate the feast on Saturday morning instead of using the Sunday texts.

The other question, regarding the proper calendar to follow when the local one is different, is something of a conundrum. In such cases the local bishops would be the ones to decide. If need be, the bishop would ask the Holy See for permission to change the dates of certain liturgical feasts that are tied to the Gregorian calendar, such as the solemnity of the Sacred Heart.

Since practices such as the first Friday or first Saturdays are devotional and not official liturgical practices, I see no difficulty in adjusting the practice to local needs.

Finally, a reply to our reader from Sri Lanka: Since the patron saint of a parish is usually ranked as a solemnity within the parish church itself, it is permitted to transfer the celebration to the nearest Sunday so as to allow as many parishioners as possible to attend.

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Follow-up: Extraordinary Ministers and Both Species of Communion

In the wake of our comments on Communion under both species (see Dec. 16), a Drogheda, Ireland, reader asked for a clarification on the role of the instituted acolyte with respect to purification. After summarizing the relevant documents, he asked: «Am I right in thinking that if acolyte, deacon and priest are present, then the deacon should purify; if priest and deacon are present, then the deacon should purify; and if priest and acolyte are present, then the acolyte should purify?»

In a nutshell, yes! This is the proper procedure in the cases described.

Other readers had asked specific questions about the distribution of Communion under both species. A Calgary, Alberta, reader asked: «Is it appropriate to have Communion under both species at weekday Masses and Sunday Masses in Ordinary Time, or should this be reserved for feast days and other celebrations? If there is more than one Mass on a Sunday, can just one of the Masses be in both species or should all Masses be the same?»

There is no universal answer to this question. The decision as to when to offer Communion under both species now falls primarily on the local ordinary who, in some cases, may delegate the decision to the local pastor.

Distributing the Precious Blood in parishes on weekdays is rare, but the bishop could permit this practice if circumstances warrant it. It is quite common in seminaries and religious houses and during spiritual retreats.

Similarly there could be good practical reasons why a parish would offer the Precious Blood at only some Masses on a Sunday, for example, if one particular Mass was so packed that there was real danger of spillage or of overly extending the time of communion. In such cases the reasons should be explained to the faithful so that they may choose at what Mass to assist.

Finally, a Colorado reader asked: «If the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ are present in both the consecrated bread and wine, does not one receive Communion twice if one receives under both species? If not, why?»

The answer is no! The reason is a tad more complex. Receiving Communion should always be related to participation at Mass and the context of completing the holy sacrifice, and not be seen exclusively from the point of view of the doctrine of the real presence. This is one reason why the priest celebrant must, with rare exceptions, communicate under both kinds at every Mass.

Even if one occasionally may receive Communion outside of Mass, it is always related in some way to the sacrifice in which this host was consecrated.

In this light, for the faithful, receiving Communion
at Mass is the high point and completion of each person’s personal participation in the holy sacrifice. From the point of view of the sign this completion is fuller when Communion is received under both species but are, so to speak, two moments of a single act of communion.

Nor is there any difference, from the point of view of communion, in receiving the Precious Blood directly from the chalice or by intinction of the sacred hosts.

At the same time, while Communion under both species is a fuller sign of participation at Mass, the fact that Christ is fully present in both species means that reception under just one species is sufficient for holy Communion.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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