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 o 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."1 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)."2
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"3 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!"4
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:
- Whenever possible, daily Mass should be celebrated in each parish.
- 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.5
- 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.
- 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."6 Such celebrations should never be seen as an equal choice with participation at Mass.
- 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.
- 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.