Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q1: I say Mass daily with two other priests of our parish. Am I permitted, for example, to anticipate my Wednesday morning weekday Mass and say it on the preceding Tuesday evening, because on Wednesday I will have things to do or places to go, or it might be more convenient for me to do so? For example, if I were to have surgery early the following morning, couldn’t I say Mass the night before? I like to say Mass daily, also because the Lord wants it. — G.D., Chicago
Q2: I am a retired elderly priest, I offer a private daily Mass in a room of my apartment. I am living outside of my diocese. There are times I would like to offer a Saturday evening Mass for Sunday. I am not sure if this requires the local bishop’s permission or if there is blanket permission for all priests to do this. Must a serious reason exist to anticipate Sunday Mass on Saturday? — J.H., Austin, Texas
A: Since these two questions are closely related, we shall address them together. There are several issues involved, but principally there is the concept of daily Mass and the possibility of anticipating Mass.
First of all, the Church recommends to all priests to celebrate Mass on a daily basis, thus Canon 904 of the Code of Canon Law says:
“Remembering always that in the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice the work of redemption is exercised continually, priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal function.”
Each priest would normally celebrate or concelebrate at one Mass per day unless required to say another Mass for pastoral reasons. Hence Canon 905:
“§1. A priest is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day except in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day.
“§2. If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation.”
From the point of view of the daily Mass, the calendar followed is that of the 24-hour day. That is, the Mass of the day can be celebrated at any time after midnight until before the following midnight. The daily Mass, therefore, cannot be anticipated to the evening of the previous day as it would be the equivalent of celebrating two Masses in one day.
Thus our first reader cannot anticipate a weekday Mass to the previous evening. He may, however, make a sacrifice and celebrate very early on the same day.
Another question is that of anticipating the celebration of Sundays and holy days of obligation. In these cases the Church allows for Catholics to fulfill their obligation using a liturgical concept of day in which the feast begins the previous evening. Thus canon law states:
“Canon 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.”
As can be seen, this faculty exists above all to facilitate fulfillment of the obligation to attend Mass.
Thus, in the case of our retired priest, if he wishes to celebrate his daily Mass on a Saturday evening, he would be free to use the Sunday texts and would fulfill the obligation to attend Sunday Mass that he shares with all the faithful. Since the point is covered in canon law, there would be no need to seek the bishop’s permission to use the Sunday texts.
However, it would only make sense to do so if for some reason he was going to be unable to celebrate his daily Mass on that Sunday.
It would not be correct to celebrate two Masses without the faithful on a Saturday, one for the day and another for the Sunday, as this would violate Canon 905.
It is certainly permitted to all priests who celebrate for the people on both occasions as happens frequently in parishes. It would also be permitted for religious to concelebrate in their community Mass on the Saturday, although they are scheduled to celebrate another Mass for the faithful on the same day whether it be the Mass of the day or the Saturday evening Sunday Mass.
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