April 02, 2019. Why a Priest Might Opt Only for the Vigil Liturgy
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In our area, we only have one church and two priests to celebrate Mass. One of them goes to another town to serve Mass on Saturdays, the other one serves Mass for the local parish on those days. Now, recently our rector has decided to always celebrate Sunday Mass on Saturday evenings, that is, instead of the Saturday’s Mass, so there is no Saturday’s Mass on Saturdays at all. Is that the right thing to do? What does the canon law say? Is that allowed? Our parish is not that big to have three Sunday Masses in a row. Besides, I could understand having a Sunday Mass on Saturday evenings and the Saturday’s Mass in the morning, but he says there won’t be any Saturday’s Mass at all. Is that OK? — N.G., Samara, Russia
A: I hope our reader will understand if I do not second-guess the reasons behind the rector’s decision, as I have no means to know the concrete situation. I will stick to the possibilities offered by general liturgical and canon law.
Regarding the number of Masses a priest can celebrate, canon law says:
“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.”
Therefore, when only one priest is available, that can limit the number of Masses offered in the parish.
This can cause a problem on Saturdays. Whenever, as is usually the case, the faithful who attend Mass on Saturday evening do so to fulfill their Sunday obligation. In such a case the priest must necessarily celebrate the Sunday liturgy.
In some countries, such as Spain and Italy, the bishops have mandated that all evening Masses on a Saturday must use the Sunday liturgy. Many single dioceses have similar norms.
Indeed in Spain, where the Sunday liturgy must be celebrated after 12 noon, quite a few convents of nuns who habitually celebrate their daily Mass in the evening, schedule a Saturday morning Mass.
If there is only one Mass, then it means that the celebration proper to Saturday is omitted unless it coincides with a special feast day such as a solemnity.
In many cases, the problem does not present itself because most priests would celebrate two Masses on Saturday: one in the morning and one in the evening. The need to fulfill the spiritual needs of the people who habitually attend daily Mass would be a sufficient pastoral justification to celebrate two Masses.
There are, however, many variables, and the pastoral situation is not always so clear cut. For example, and with no pretense of being exhaustive, some of the following situations could easily affect a pastor’s decision:
— The daily Mass in the parish is always an evening Mass and circumstances are such that few would be able to attend a Mass in the morning.
— Weddings are frequently celebrated on Saturday and so the priest would have to celebrate two Masses anyway but could not celebrate three.
— The priest has other pastoral commitments that impede his being able to celebrate on Saturday mornings.
Our reader could ask the pastor for help in understanding the reasons behind his decision and inquire if it is possible for one of the priests to celebrate a second Mass.
However, if the pastor determines that this is the only reasonable solution, then it must be accepted as such.
Not celebrating the Saturday liturgy probably means that parish would miss the annual celebration of some beloved saints and could not keep up certain traditions such as the Saturday memorial of Our Lady.
Knowing this, it is quite possible that the priest himself has made a difficult decision, and he is one who most regrets having to give up the celebration of the Saturday Mass for the overall good of the faithful.