Indult for 3 Daily Masses?

And More on Venerables

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ROME, OCT. 20, 2009 ( 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: Veneration for a «Venerable»

In the wake of our comments on the absence of any liturgical honors for a venerable (Oct. 6), there were inquires regarding the liturgical honors due to a blessed.

We addressed this issue on Dec. 21, 2004, and Jan. 18, 2005.

In synthesis we stated that according to the norms given in the 1970 instruction «Calendaria Particularia,» Nos. 25-37: «The blessed are usually venerated with celebrations on a local level in places where they were born, where they died, where their relics are preserved. They are also venerated in places that had a long-term association with their activities, in a church dedicated to them, or within the confines of the churches and oratories of a particular religious order which has its own liturgical calendar.

«However, even in these cases, it is better to begin by inserting this celebration as an optional memorial and later expand, both territorially and in liturgical ranking as devotion spreads (No. 31).

«In some cases, especially in ancient dioceses, it might even be better to restrict this initial veneration to the church where his relics are kept or to his native town.»

The restriction of veneration to certain locales means that the presence of a significant community from the same country as the blessed would not in itself constitute a sufficient motive to be able to celebrate the memorial.

The case of a saint is different as a saint’s day may be celebrated throughout the world unless impeded by another celebration of higher liturgical rank.

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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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