Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I read your article on Communion services. I understand the regulations for Sundays, but I understood the article to say we should not have a Liturgy of the Word and Communion on weekdays. In 2013, our ordinary proscribed the practice of having a Communion service on weekdays when Mass is celebrated at another time of the day. This seems new to me. Has the Ritual Romanum (De Sacra Communion … extra Missam) of 1978 been abrogated? It makes no mention of a prohibition of using it even if we have Mass celebrated at another time that day in the church. I do not want to multiply services without necessity, but I think it still should be correct to have Communion services, using the correct ritual, on weekdays. I determined to obey the ordinary, but I think he overstepped the law. — D.V., Ohio
A: There is a maxim sometimes used in canon law that says, Distinguish the circumstances and the laws will come into agreement (Distingue tempora et concordabis iura).
I think it is safe to say that the Roman Ritual has not been abolished and that the bishop has not overstepped his authority.
The introduction to the Rite for Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside of Mass says:
“14. The faithful are to be led to the practice of receiving communion during the actual eucharistic celebration. Priests, however, are not to refuse to give communion to the faithful who for a legitimate reason ask for it even outside Mass.”
“16. Communion may be given outside Mass on any day and at any hour. It is proper, however, to determine the hours for giving communion, with a view to the convenience of the faithful, so that the celebration may take place in a fuller form and with greater spiritual benefit.”
The 1983 Code of Canon Law also notes:
“Canon 918. It is most strongly recommended that the faithful receive holy communion in the course of a eucharistic celebration. If, however, for good reason they ask for it apart from the Mass, it is to be administered to them, observing the liturgical rites.”
The website of the U.S. bishops’ conference touches on this topic for when there is no priest available. In its section on frequently asked questions it says:
“In recent years the topic of Weekday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest has been raised by diocesan Directors of Worship and during the 1998 National Meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. The then-Secretariat for the Liturgy conducted consultations with diocesan directors of Worship, pastors and bishops which culminated in an extended discussion by the members and consultants of the Committee on the Liturgy at its March 13, 2000, meeting in Washington D.C. The following reflections are offered to bishops and their advisors and may serve or assist bishops in the formulation of guidelines for this important area of pastoral life.
“Any discussion of weekday liturgical worship must begin by recalling the importance and normative character of daily Mass in the life of every Catholic community. Pope Paul VI recommended that priests ‘worthily and devoutly offer Mass each day in order that both they and the rest of the faithful may enjoy the benefits that flow so richly from the sacrifice of the cross.’ Pope John Paul II echoes these words in recalling that the celebration of the Eucharist be the ‘most important moment of the priest’s day, the center of his life,’ and urging that ‘priests should be encouraged to celebrate Mass every day, even in the absence of a congregation, since it is an act of Christ and the Church (cf. ibid., 13; Code of Canon Law, c. 904).’
“Elsewhere, the Holy Father encourages seminarians to ‘take part every day in the eucharistic celebration, in such a way that afterwards they will take up as a rule of their priestly life this daily celebration.’ Quoting the Cure of Ars the Holy Father also exhorts, ‘How well a priest does, therefore, to offer himself to God in sacrifice every morning!’
“In recent years, the Church in the United States of America has experienced a reduction in the number of priests available to celebrate Mass on a daily basis in our parish communities. Indeed, in some places, one priest is assigned as pastor of several parishes and is barely able to provide Sunday Mass in each of these communities. In other instances, even the Sunday Mass is not possible each week. Thus, the ritual book Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of Priest was developed.
“In recent discussions, the Committee on the Liturgy considered several principles which it recommends to bishops in their development of diocesan norms on the question of how to address related issues. These principles are presented as a starting point for such considerations:
“1. Whenever possible, daily Mass should be celebrated in each parish.
“2. Whenever the Rite for Distributing Holy Communion Outside Mass with a Celebration of the Word is scheduled on a weekday, every effort must be undertaken to avoid any confusion between this celebration and the Mass. Indeed, such celebrations should encourage the faithful to be present at and to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist.
“3. Whenever possible, the Mass schedule of nearby parishes should be available to parishioners. If a nearby parish is celebrating Mass on a given weekday, serious consideration should be given to encouraging people to participate in that Mass rather than the parish scheduling a Liturgy of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion.
“4. When daily Mass is scheduled in a parish, it is usually not appropriate to schedule a Liturgy of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion. This rite is designed for ‘those who are prevented from being present at the community’s celebration.’ When necessary, the scheduling of these celebrations should never detract from ‘the celebration of the Eucharist [as] the center of the entire Christian life.’ Such celebrations should never be seen as an equal choice with participation at Mass.
“5. The proper ritual for the Liturgy of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion is found in Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. The specialized provisions of Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest are not appropriate to weekday celebrations.
“6. A Liturgy of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion should never be scheduled for the purpose of ‘providing a role’ for deacons or lay ministers. Likewise, choosing the option of the Funeral Liturgy outside Mass solely to provide a role for the deacon is inappropriate. It is also inappropriate to have the deacon preside at the Funeral Liturgy outside Mass when a priest is available to celebrate a Funeral Mass.”
Therefore the norm issued by the bishop is in line with Point 4 above.
It must be remembered, however, that the reference is to scheduled distribution of Communion in a church where a weekday Mass is celebrated. This is a legitimate pastoral decision that is within the bishop’s authority to determine. That is, do not schedule Communion services if daily Mass is celebrated so as to avoid the possible creation of an equivalence in the minds of the faithful or in virtue of other pastoral considerations.
Admittedly, another bishop could come to the opposite conclusion in other pastoral circumstances. In such cases he would not need to do anything, for the universal law as such would not forbid having both Mass and a scheduled Communion service, even though I do not think that the spirit of the documents would encourage such a practice.
The bishop’s prohibition would not cover a priest’s normal use of the Roman Ritual to administer Communion to the faithful who, as the ritual says: “for a legitimate reason ask for it even outside Mass,” and who are prevented in some way from attending daily Mass. These spontaneous requests can and should be granted. If such requests are habitual and the impediment to attend Mass is continuous, I think that there is nothing that would prevent the priest from coming to a private agreement with an individual or a group to give them Communion at a fixed time.
In such cases we would probably be dealing with well-formed Catholics who would desire nothing more than to be able to attend holy Mass. The bishop would, in all probability, fully agree to attending to their spiritual needs. What he does not desire is that Mass and a Communion service appear together on the same day on the parish notice board or webpage as if they were of equal spiritual value.
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Follow-up: Postures at Communion
Following our October 18 comment on communion postures, several readers pointed out a defect in my presentation.
Referring to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal one priest wrote: “I would, though, like to point out that you had used text from an older version of the U.S. GIRM in your column. The text of GIRM 160 which you had quoted in your column was from the 2002 translation of the GIRM. When the Roman Missal was released in 2011, there were a few slight modifications made to the GIRM, including GIRM 160. The current text of GIRM 160 actually reads: ‘The norm established for the Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling.’”
Our reader is correct. I seemed to have taken a bad case of deadline-induced laziness.
It must be commented, however, that this new version of the norm greatly improves the earlier version, which seemed to imply that kneeling is something of a problem that required pastoral intervention.
The new formulation is in line with the thinking of the Holy See and leaves freedom to the individual faithful to kneel, while making no judgment whatsoever as to his or her intentions in choosing to do so.
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Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.