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How Much of the Mass Must I Attend?

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The Sunday Obligation

To fulfill the Sunday obligation to attend Mass, how long or for what parts must you be present? What is the penitential rite? Must you be present for that? When may you leave and still fulfill the obligation? If you left for the homily or while Communion was being distributed, then returned, would you fulfill the obligation?

The present Code of Canon Law reads: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” It doesn’t say part or parts of the Mass. The expectation is that the person will attend a complete Mass. A Catholic Catechism quotes the canon and states, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”

Before Vatican II, moral theologians and canonists would talk about the three principal parts of Mass as the Offertory, Consecration and Communion. If you missed any one of those parts, they wrote, you would not have fulfilled the obligation of hearing Mass.

Today, canonists and liturgists do not use that terminology. They speak of the gathering, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the commissioning as the main divisions of Mass.

And moralists are more likely to speak of substantial observance of the law and what that might mean. They would assert that the law imposes a serious obligation. But some would question whether a person seriously or gravely violates the law if on one occasion he or she does not attend Sunday Mass. And all moralists would acknowledge that to miss a few minutes would not be a serious matter.

If you look at your missalette or recall your experience on Sundays, the penitential rite is part of the Mass. It takes place after the entrance song, right after the priest has entered the sanctuary and greeted the people. It can take different forms. One commonly used is the confession of fault (confiteor) and Lord, have mercy (Kyrie, eleison). So if you come after these prayers, you are late for Mass.

Just as there can be excuses for missing Mass, there could be excuses for coming late or leaving early or missing part of the celebration. A parent might have to take a crying child from the church. A person may feel ill or need to use the restroom. There would be no fault in leaving for such reasons. But to sneak a cigarette or step outside because of boredom would hardly be sufficient causes.

A hospital worker may have to leave early or a mother may have to hurry home to watch children while Dad takes a turn at going to Mass. A traveler may have to make a bus or plane. Surely such reasons would excuse from fault. But to be first out of the parking lot, no!

While an emergency may demand that a person leave before the end of Mass, one who has departed before the consecration and Communion can hardly be said to have attended Mass. But the emergency may excuse that person from further effort to go to Mass.


Donating the Sanctuary Lamp

My parish church has recently begun the practice of accepting money to have the sanctuary candle lit in memory of deceased parishioners. The donation is $10 for the week. Is this an acceptable practice? Several people believe this should not take place.

A: The practice of offering money to light the tabernacle lamp or candle is new to me. I cannot say it is wrong, however. If a person may make an offering for a candle to burn before the statue of a saint or the Blessed Virgin, why not before the Blessed Sacrament? If someone wanted to pay the cost of the hosts or wine to be used in the Eucharist, would that be wrong? Or if a person donated a chalice, would that be wrong? Then why not an offering for the sanctuary light?


When Does Jesus Become Present?

At what moment does our Lord become present at Mass?

Over the centuries East and West have argued when, precisely, the body and blood of Christ become present in the Eucharist. According to Johannes Emminghaus in The Eucharist (The Liturgical Press), a practical question was at the base of the discussion—”What is to be done if, for some reason (for example, the sudden death of the celebrant), the Canon is broken off? When could the bread and wine simply be removed? From what point on is it consecrated?”

The Western Church asserted the body and blood are present at the completion of the words of consecration. The Eastern Church supported the view that the real presence takes place through the epiclesis (the prayer for the sending or coming of the Spirit to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine).

According to Richard McBrien in his Encyclopedia of Catholicism (Harper Collins), ecumenical theologians in the 1990’s avoid attempts to locate a moment of consecration at either the epiclesis or words of institution. They prefer, he says, to consider the entire prayer over the gifts, and not one of its isolated moments, as the consecratory prayer.

Emminghaus observes that the Church has never made a dogmatic pronouncement on the point.

Ludwig Ott, however, in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Herder Book Company, 1955) states it as certain that the form of the Eucharist consists of Christ’s words of institution uttered at the consecration. And Ott cites the Council of Trent as teaching, according to the standing belief of the Church, “‘immediately after the consecration,’ that is, after the uttering of the words of institution, the true body and the true blood of the Lord are present.”

I would add, as Emminghaus notes, the practice of the celebrant genuflecting immediately after the consecration of the bread and again after the consecration of the wine indicates belief that the real presence takes place at the consecration through the words of institution.


The Our Father, Amen and Holding Hands

Would you say if there is still an amen at the end of the Our Father? At Mass, I realize a prayer has been inserted between the main body of the prayer and when the priest says amen. But when saying the Our Father in the rosary or just saying the prayer, is there still an amen? Second, is it proper to hold hands at the Our Father during Mass? I have read that this should not be allowed.

In the Enchiridion of Indulgences where the texts of prayers are given, amen usually appears as a response of others to a leader’s prayer. When the text of the Our Father appears at the end of the renewal of baptismal promises, however, the prayer itself ends with amen. You can draw your own conclusion. The prayer’s efficacy doesn’t depend on the amen. When praying in a group, I would follow whatever is the common practice. Personally, I would not find holding hands during the Our Father at Mass antirubrical, though it is not included in the official rubrics. Neither are there rubrics allowing for the collection!

The question may become moot if the new Sacramentary is approved. There is provision there for the worshipers to imitate the gesture of the celebrant by raising their arms with palms and hands extended during the Lord’s Prayer.


Substituting for the Gloria

For the past few years, from midnight Christmas through Epiphany, the director of music in our parish has elected to use “Angels We Have Heard on High” instead of the Gloria. What is proper in this regard?

The General Instruction on the Roman Missal, in the front of our U.S. edition of the Sacramentary, says of the Gloria: “It is sung by the congregation, or by the congregation alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by all together or in alternation. The Gloria is sung or said on Sundays outside of Advent and Lent, on solemnities and feasts, and in special more solemn celebrations.”

Nowhere did I find a permission for the U.S. Church to substitute a hymn for the Gloria. I remember, however, reading that, in the Missal approved by Rome for the German Church, it is permitted to substitute some hymn of glory for the Gloria.

I might also note that the Gloria is also called the Angelic Hymn because its opening words are those of the angels at Christ’s birth. So I can see where the organist is coming from in singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” in place of the Gloria in the Christmas season.

Old Copies of St. Anthony Messenger: From time to time readers ask what they can do with back issues of St. Anthony Messenger. The Wise Man recently received a letter from Father Lazar S. Pattakadavu in India saying back issues are very helpful and much desired in his ministry—especially by youth.

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