Chrism Mass During Sede Vacante

And More on the Sunday Precept

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Pope Francis accepted our archbishop’s resignation last December. He then was appointed as the administrator until the new bishop has been appointed. From diocesan «sede vacante» time, the priests in the dioceses have omitted our bishop’s name in the Eucharistic Prayer. My question: During diocesan «sede vacante,» can the bishop emeritus celebrate the Chrism Mass with the priests of the diocese — with the understanding that the Chrism Mass is the symbol of the unity between the bishop and his diocesan priests? — B.E., Malaysia

A: If I have understood correctly the situation outlined by our reader, the bishop’s resignation was accepted by the Pope and then he was appointed administrator by the Holy Father. In this case the bishop would be, properly speaking, the apostolic administrator of the diocese until his successor is appointed.

In this case then, the bishop retains all the powers proper to the diocesan bishop. The apostolic administrator, whether the see is vacant or not, is named during the Eucharistic Prayer, and he would also preside over the Chrism Mass.

The figure of temporary apostolic administrator is used quite frequently today, in spite of not being mentioned in the current Code of Canon Law. He is usually a bishop named to govern a diocese for a certain period. Apart from the case of the bishop emeritus, when a bishop is transferred to another diocese he is sometimes appointed apostolic administrator of his former diocese. This appointment is sometimes until he takes procession of the new diocese, although on occasion it is until a successor is appointed, so that for a time he effectively governs two dioceses.

In some circumstances the pope will appoint a bishop of a nearby diocese as apostolic administrator of a diocese, so that it may be governed by someone having all the powers of the bishop’s office. This is usually only done when particular difficulties exist.

If the pope does not make any such provision, then the period of diocesan vacancy begins as soon as the bishop’s resignation or transfer is announced.

In accordance with canon law a diocesan administrator is elected by the diocesan council of consultors to administer the vacant see until a new bishop is appointed and takes possession. The diocesan administrator is usually a priest but could also be an auxiliary bishop who is not a candidate for succession to the vacant see.

He is not mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer. If he is the only auxiliary bishop, then he may be mentioned as such in the same manner as before the vacancy.

The diocesan administrator has most of the bishop’s powers with some restrictions. He cannot change written dispositions made by the former bishop nor introduce important innovations. Nor can he do anything that requires episcopal ordination.

If the diocesan administrator is an auxiliary bishop, then he may celebrate the Chrism Mass. If he is a priest, then he may either invite a bishop to preside over the Mass and bless the holy oils. Or he could choose not to hold the Chrism Mass, and just procure the oils from a neighboring diocese.

For example, in one Irish diocese there was no Chrism Mass during a vacancy from 2009 to 2013. In 2013 the apostolic nuncio presided over the Chrism Mass, in which the oils to be used in the ordination of the bishop-elect were duly consecrated.

Both solutions are possible. It is true that the unity of the presbytery around the bishops is especially underlined during the Chrism Mass. But the Mass also serves a practical purpose that remains even when the see is vacant.

* * *

Follow-up: Sunday Precept and the Orthodox Divine Liturgy

There were several commentaries from readers regarding the March 18 column on the Sunday precept.

One reader asked at what age the precept begins, as someone had told him that even young children were obliged to attend. This information is incorrect. Children are obliged after reaching the age of reason, which in the common estimation is usually around the age of 7. This is also the apt age for receiving first Communion.

Another reader doubted the correctness of an «evening» Mass after 12 noon. He commented:

«In your recent post for March 18, 2014, you mentioned that Holy See has not established a time before which anticipated Masses should not be celebrated. However, Canon 1248 states that the obligation for Mass is satisfied in the evening of the preceding day. The legislator uses the word ‘evening’ (‘vesper’ in Latin) and not ‘afternoon’ (‘Post meridiem’). The time of 4 p.m. comes from Pius XII in his apostolic constitution ‘Christus Dominus,’ 14-24: ‘Rule VI. If the circumstance calls for it as necessary, We grant to the local Ordinaries the right to permit the celebration of Mass in the evening, as we said, but in such wise that the Mass shall not begin before four o’clock in the afternoon …’ Perhaps the canonists still debate this point, but I think there was a statement by a Pope on this matter.»

I personally find the arguments favoring after 4 p.m. as the proper time more convincing, and certainly more appropriate. But the question is not closed, and the Holy See has thus far not corrected any bishop who has decreed the noon limit.

I also think that the argument from Pius XII is off-topic. The venerable Pontiff was decreeing the possibility of evening Masses, on a Sunday or feast day. Before his time, evening Masses were not allowed, since the Eucharistic fast was from midnight. Pius XII reduced the fast to three hours in order to allow Mass to be celebrated for those unable to attend in the morning. The 4 p.m. time falls into this logic so as to ensure the respect of the three-hour fast after lunch.

A Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic also questioned my position, based on the Ecumenical Directory and the Eastern Code, that attendance at an Orthodox Divine Liturgy did not fulfill the Sunday obligation:

«I am a Ruthenian Greek Catholic. I read your interpretation of the Eastern Code of Canon law as saying that I am bound to attend a Latin Church if there is no Greek Catholic Church available. As I read the Code of Canon law for the Eastern Churches, it says only that I am obligated to attend the Divine Liturgy.

«I don’t see how you get from that, that I must attend a Novus Ordo Mass if a Catholic Divine Liturgy is unavailable. By the plain wording of the law, I am only obligated to attend the Divine Liturgy. Why can’t I do that at an Orthodox parish instead of going to a Western Catholic parish? Please show me a law or a ruling on the law for the Eastern Churches that says Divine Liturgy only means a Divine Liturgy or a Mass in a Catholic parish. I simply do not see that in the Eastern canon law. It seems as if the promulgators had meant to say that, they would have. No offense, but your simply saying that does not prove anything to me. I would like to see something authoritative.»

I would say that the norms for the Ecumenical Directory apply to all Catholics irrespective of liturgical family. If it no longer considers attending an Orthodox Divine Liturgy as fulfilling the Sunday obligation, then this applies to all.

However, as I mentioned in the article, there are exceptions, and in this I naturally defer to the particular laws of a Catholic Eastern Church which may allow for this possibility.

Secondly, the Eastern Code applies to more than 20 Catholic Eastern Churches. In this case the term «Divine Liturgy» does not refer to the Byzantine rite but in a generic way to any one of the Eucharistic celebrations of an Eastern rite, some of which use other terms to describe the celebration. In this broad sense a Roman Catholic Mass is also a Divine Liturgy.

Finally, I did not say that Eastern Catholics
are obliged to attend a Roman Catholic ordinary-form Mass if their own rite was unavailable. I said that he should attend a Catholic celebration. If they cannot attend their particular rite, then they can attend any of the 20 or so Eastern Catholic rites, the Roman rite in the ordinary or extraordinary form, an Anglican-use celebration if available, or even the Ambrosian rite (if in Milan, Italy) or the Hispanic-Visigothic rite (if they happen to be in the Cathedral of Toledo in Spain at 10 a.m.).

* * *

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation