Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I’m an elderly retired priest who offers daily Mass in my apartment. May I offer Holy Thursday Mass and Easter Vigil Mass in my apartment? Also, for a weekday Mass during Ordinary Time, may the collect for an optional memorial be substituted while using the other prayers from Ordinary Time? — J.H., Austin, Texas
A: The general rules for elderly and infirm priests can be found in canon law. To wit:
Canon 930 §1. If an infirm or elderly priest is unable to stand, he can celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice while seated, but not before the people except with the permission of the local ordinary; the liturgical laws are to be observed.
§ 2. A blind or otherwise infirm priest licitly celebrates the eucharistic sacrifice by using any approved text of the Mass with the assistance, if needed, of another priest, deacon, or even a properly instructed layperson.
Canon 931. The celebration and distribution of the Eucharist can be done at any day and hour except those which the liturgical norms exclude.
Therefore, the law does allow wide-ranging possibilities that allow an elderly priest to continue celebrating daily Mass. The canons, however, do mention that this possibility does not exist if the liturgical norms exclude a celebration. And the sacred triduum would be one such time.
The norms of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal say the following:
“199. Concelebration, by which the unity of the Priesthood, of the Sacrifice, and also of the whole People of God is appropriately expressed, is prescribed by the rite itself for the Ordination of a Bishop and of Priests, at the Blessing of an Abbot, and at the Chrism Mass.
“It is recommended, moreover, unless the good of the Christian faithful requires or suggests otherwise, at:
“a) the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper; ….
“Every Priest, however, is allowed to celebrate the Eucharist individually, though not at the same time as a concelebration is taking place in the same church or oratory. However, on Holy Thursday, and for the Mass of the Easter Vigil, it is not permitted to celebrate Mass individually.”
The reason behind these restrictions is the central importance of the community celebration during the sacred triduum. The introductory rubrics to the triduum explain this very well:
“1. In the Sacred Triduum, the Church solemnly celebrates the greatest mysteries of our redemption, keeping by means of special celebrations the memorial of her Lord, crucified, buried, and risen. The Paschal Fast should also be kept sacred. It is to be celebrated everywhere on the Friday of the Lord’s Passion and, where appropriate, prolonged also through Holy Saturday as a way of coming, with spirit uplifted, to the joys of the Lord’s Resurrection.
“2. For a fitting celebration of the Sacred Triduum, a sufficient number of lay ministers is required, who must be carefully instructed as to what they are to do. The singing of the people, the ministers, and the Priest Celebrant has a special importance in the celebrations of these days, for when texts are sung, they have their proper impact. Pastors should, therefore, not fail to explain to the Christian faithful, as best they can, the meaning and order of the celebrations and to prepare them for active and fruitful participation.
“3. The celebrations of the Sacred Triduum are to be carried out in cathedral and parochial churches and only in those churches in which they can be performed with dignity, that is, with a good attendance of the faithful, an appropriate number of ministers, and the means to sing at least some of the parts. Consequently, it is desirable that small communities, associations, and special groups of various kinds join together in these churches to carry out the sacred celebrations in a more noble manner.”
These are further confirmed in the rubrics for the celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday itself:
“All priests may concelebrate even if they have already concelebrated the Chrism Mass on this day, or if they have to celebrate another Mass for the Good of the Christian faithful.
“Where a pastoral reason requires it, the local Ordinary may permit another Mass to be celebrated in churches and oratories to be celebrated in the evening, and, in the case of genuine necessity, even in the morning, but only for the faithful who are in no way able to participate in the evening Mass. Care should, nevertheless, be taken that celebrations of this sort do not take place for the advantage of private persons or of special small groups. And do not prejudice the evening Mass.”
We could also point out that the somewhat complex rites of these Masses imply an assembly are not conducive to celebrations on one’s own.
Therefore, the best option for our elderly priest would be to see if he could attend a local parish where he could concelebrate in these Masses. If his condition does not allow him to leave home, he should at least request that Communion be brought to him on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. On Holy SaturdayCommunion may only be given as viaticum for the dying.
The second question may be answered affirmatively in the light of the concessions granted to elderly and infirm priests. If following the different parts of the missal creates difficulty, then the collect of the optional memorial may be used on its own along with the prayers of the day. An exception would be those occasions when a prayer over the gifts and a prayer after communion are offered along with a collect in the proper of saints on the saint’s feast day. This would be rare for optional memorials.
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