When Mass is not celebrated an account of the discussion

The discussion on ‘Weekday liturgy when Mass is not celebrated’ highlights different situations, various approaches, a number of options and the need for lay prayer leaders. The following, given in a series of notes, is based on the reports of the discussion by the Council for Liturgy.

Daily Mass is a feature of parish life throughout Ireland. However, it is becoming increasingly common to find that the celebration of Mass on every weekday is not always possible. This now occurs frequently, though in a variety of situations. Yet the need for a daily liturgy remains. The issue is something that more and more parish pastoral councils have recently had to address. It goes without saying that priests and council members know the needs of their faith communities and are committed to serving them. It is proposed, therefore, that an effective response to the current need could be made if available options were to be presented to parish councils for consideration along with the rationale on which they are based. There is a sense that it is, perhaps, at this ‘grass roots’ level in the first instance, that some progress can be made.

The Council for Liturgy, and also under its previous title, Irish Commission for Liturgy, has discussed the issue of week­ day liturgy when Mass is not celebrated on a regular basis.

Sunday Celebrations “in the Absence of a Priest” are not discussed though the issue will arise  and even has arisen. However, the Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest (CDW 1988) has implications for the discussion of weekday liturgy.

Some dioceses through their Council of Priests, the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Diocesan Liturgy Commission have discussed the topic though aware that some parishes or dioceses may already have some form of liturgy in place. Other parishes or dioceses will be looking for a direction to meet what is, for them, a new situation. But all parishes and dioceses may work to having the best option in place or re­ assess their present practice, for example, regarding the training of leaders of prayer. Catechesis for these, leaders but also for congregations is vital.

Consider the different situations.

In the first place, consideration should be given to reflecting on the different situations which require the provision of a weekday liturgy when Mass is not celebrated. Both the immediate and long term pastoral circumstances need to be addressed. Situations may include:

• A parish served by one priest who is unavailable on a regular basis one day a week, or who is unavailable during his holiday times, without ‘supply’;

• A parish which may only have Mass on a limited number of days in the week;

• A parish without a priest, though a priest is available on Sundays;

• Parishes in a pastoral area, cluster or team ministry with a reduced number of weekday Masses;

• Isolated communities;

• Religious communities where the sisters are elderly or infirm;

• Congregations with many elderly people for whom daily Mass is a central part of their prayer and social life.

• Nursing homes and similar situations.

Discuss the various approaches

With the variety of situations in mind, another discussion on different approaches is important before, a . pastoral strategy is put in place. The following are mentioned in the Council’s. discussions.

• There is a long tradition of receiving Holy Communion on weekdays and for many every day. Yet it must be borne in mind that many throughout the world are unable to participate in Mass, even on Sundays, a reality that might enable a sense of solidarity to be part of the discussion in this country.

The Roman Ritual provides the rite of distributing Holy Communion outside Mass with the celebration of the Word in Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass (1973) and to people who are sick in Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying. An immediate possibility lies in following the outline given in the 1973 ritual and having what is most often called a Communion Service, but more correctly it is the Distribution of Holy Communion within a celebration of the Word.

The norms in Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass include:

‘Sacramental Communion received during Mass is the more perfect participation in the Eucharistic celebration’ (13).

‘Priests, however, are not to refuse to give communion to the faithful who ask for it outside Mass’ (14).

‘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’ (16).

Likewise, especially if Holy Communion is distributed during such celebrations [on Sunday], the diocesan Bishop, to whose exclusive competence this matter pertains, must not easily grant permission for such celebrations to be held on weekdays, especially in places where it was possible or would be possible to have the celebration of Mass on the preceding or the following Sunday’ (CDWDS, Instruction ‘Redemptionis sacramentum, 2004, 166). These celebrations are ‘to be considered altogether extraordinary.’ Regulation is given to the diocesan Bishop.

An argument for restricting the celebration of a weekday liturgy with Holy Communion may be based on reading the norms about Sunday (Redemptionis sacramentum, 164, 165, 166) and accepting that the Mass provides the context for full, conscious and active participation as the people’s offering the spotless Victim not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him and so that they may learn to offer themselves’ (GIRM 95).

• In some dioceses in USA it has been decided that weekday Celebration of the Word should not include the distribution of Holy Communion.

• Different situations usually require different solutions, for example, the weekly one day absence of the priest may best be answered by the liturgy without the distribution of Holy Communion. Having a liturgy with the distribution of Holy Communion every weekday over a prolonged time is a poor solution given the other options available and other considerations that need to be brought into the discussion of the unavailability of a priest.

• An understanding of ‘spiritual communion’ should be known as in what St Teresa of Avila wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you” (quoted in Ecclesia de Eucharistia 34).

Two forms of liturgy should be considered:

• ‘Celebrations of the Word of God are recommended. The importance of such celebrations in communities which are unable to celebrate the Eucharist was acknowledged and it was proposed that the wider Church may learn of best practice from these communities’ (Synod of Bishops, October 2008, proposition 18; cf Verbum Domini, 65).

• The Liturgy of the Hours provides a privileged place for hearing the Word of God. The faithful are encouraged to participate in Morning and Evening Prayer so that it becomes

even more the prayer of the whole people. The preparation of simple forms of the Liturgy of the Hours is encouraged’ (Synod of Bishops, October 2008, proposition 19; cf Verbum Domini, 62).

A diocesan-wide catechesis should be provided which covers the following:

• The options for liturgy on occasions on weekdays when Mass is not celebrated.

• An understanding of Morning and Evening Prayer and the Liturgy of the Word, with the resources available, including adaptations of these liturgies.

• Receiving Holy Communion is the culmination of participating in the celebration of the Eucharist. The celebration of the Eucharist should find its consummation in receiving

Holy Communion.

• The distinction between the celebration of the Eucharist and the distribution of Holy Communion outside Mass.

• The distinction between Sunday worship, characterised by the celebration of the Eucharist, and weekday liturgy.

• The place of liturgy as the public and formal worship of the Church and devotions.

Ideally this catechesis should take place before any decision about weekday liturgies is implemented but could also be concurrent with it.

Consider the options for weekday liturgy

There are four options to be considered and their merits may be assessed in one of two ways; (a) in order of preference as out­ lined below; (b) in terms of their impact on the celebration of the Eucharist.


1. Celebrating Mass in. a neighbouring church

People are much more mobile and the nearest church may not be far away. It is good practice that the schedule of local churches is ‘publicised. However, going to another church may fragment an existing community, both• eucharistically and socially.

2. Praying Morning or Evening Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours characterises the norm of daily worship. It is encouraging that more popular versions of Morning and Evening Prayer are available and that an increasing number of people are becoming familiar with the Hours, for example, at the International Eucharistic


3. Having a Celebration of the Word of God

People have an experience and understanding of the Liturgy of the Word; its celebration of the presence of God in his Word, offering daily nourishment for the soul. There is no confusion with the celebration of Mass.

4. Having a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion

This has become the liturgy used in many places but it necessitates good catechesis for its proper understanding and may cause possible confusion with the celebration of Mass.


(i) Celebrating Mass in a neighbouring church or having a liturgy with Communion…

Given the possibility that either celebration may, over time, negatively affect a church community’s celebration of the Eucharist, the ‘ pros and cons’ in each case must be considered. Canonical norms and principles of good liturgy need to be taken into account if an informed choice is to be made, while maintaining the centrality of Mass.

(ii) Celebrating a Liturgy of the Word or Morning/Evening Prayer. ..

The advantages of celebrating either liturgy on a weekday are well documented. Both positively influence a community’s celebration of the Eucharist including their capacity to anticipate it. Difficulties that may arise for people are likely to be lessened, considerably, if they are addressed in the context of sustaining the faith of church communities into the future.

When the Celebration of the Word includes the distribution of Holy Communion

• The permission of the Bishop is sought and obtained.

• The liturgy should be led by a person who has had a programme of formation in the leading of worship and prayer.

• The Liturgy of the Word should be carefully prepared.

• Various parts of the liturgy should be distributed among several people, for example, readers, cantors.

• Avoid the expression “Communion Service” and “Eucharistic Service.”

• Reserve the expressions “presider;’ “presiding” for the ordained minister. Note also that certain greetings are reserved to ordained ministers. The presider’s chair should

not be used. The altar is only used from the time of saying the Lord’s Prayer after the ciborium is placed on it.

• A Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion should not take place where Mass is celebrated in the church at another time on the same day.

• Only one celebration of the Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion may take place on the same day.

• Care should be taken that there is no confusion between this liturgy and the Mass or that this liturgy is seen just for the purpose of the distribution of Holy Communion.

• Having a liturgy with the distribution of Holy Communion on every occasion when Mass is not celebrated does not rep­ resent a careful consideration of options and other factors relating to the unavailability of a priest.

Useful Resources

Weekday Celebrations by John McCann'(Veritas, 2000) provides a variety of texts for a Liturgy of the Word in chapter four (pp 41-60). This book is highly commended for its introduction to this particular area of liturgy and the liturgies it presents, including complete liturgies that could be used as a standard liturgy or on occasion.

A homily is given by a deacon if he conducts the service. It could also be provided by the pastor or bishop and read by the lay leader. A lay leader may offer a reflection. A useful resource is Scripture in Church, published quarterly by Dominican Publications. Daily Prayer, published annually by LTP, has a short reflection based on the Gospel and general intercessions. It is, however; based on the Calendar for USA.

The Prayer of the Faithful for Weekdays, edited by Eltin Griffin, OCarm (Dominican Publications, 1985), remains a useful resource.

The most convenient book for the Liturgy of the Hours is A Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer (Collins, 1983).

Other sources may be used such as The Glenstal Book of Daily Prayer (Columba Press, 2008) or the shorter The stal Book of Prayer (Columba Press, 2001). Morning and zing Prayer in the Parish by Laurence Mayer (LTP, 1985) excellent resource offering a simplified form of prayer for parishes.

Weekday Celebrations by John McCann provides a variety of texts for Morning and Evening Prayer in chapters two and three: (pp 12-40).1t offers complete liturgies that could be used standard liturgy or on occasions.

This resource also provides a standard liturgy for a Service of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion in chapter five (pp 61-68).

The leader brings the ciborium to the altar before the Lord’s Prayer. Holy Communion outside of Mass provides Concluding Prayers.

The conclusion in a service, Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy Hours, conducted by a lay person is: ‘May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life,’ followed by ‘Go in the peace of Christ’ or ‘Let us bless the Lord.’

Formation of lay prayer leaders

Those who will lead the weekday celebration should have the opportunity of a training programme, for example:

A first session might offer an overview, including the particular situation affecting the parish. The following principle should be examined: that leaders of public prayer do so by the virtue of their baptism, and are mandated to act as such by the parish, so that there is an official recognition of their training and their skill in this ministry. The skills for such leadership should be explored. The question ‘why gather on weekdays?’ could then be raised and an outline of the possible options given. The more sessions, including practical content, would be necessary and would cover the options in detail.