ROME, 8 MARCH 2011 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: My parish has a Hispanic "Sunday Mass" on Monday evenings. They celebrate the Mass of the previous Sunday, and I believe the implication is that it fulfills their Sunday obligation. Is this licit? — M.M., Biloxi, Mississippi
A: If it is true that the implication is that this Mass fulfills the Sunday obligation, it is not licit. The Sunday obligation is just that, Sunday. The obligation may be fulfilled at any Mass on Saturday evening but may not be transferred to a weekday.
Another possibility exists, however. On another occasion we explained how in some Arabian countries it is permissible to celebrate the Sunday liturgy on a Friday, the Muslim day of prayer. In these countries Sunday is a regular working day, and many Christian immigrants find it impossible to attend Mass.
In this case it is the Sunday liturgy that is anticipated, not the Sunday obligation. Any Christian in these countries who can attend Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday retains the obligation of doing so. Praying a second, Sunday liturgy on a weekday holiday is a pastoral provision so that the large number of Christians who attend Mass on Friday may benefit from the richer selection of readings and prayers found on a Sunday.
There is no obligation to attend Mass on such a Friday celebration, and it is necessary to explain that Sunday is not transferred.
It is possible that the repetition of the Sunday liturgy on Monday obeys a similar motivation. In the United States large numbers of Spanish speakers work in service industries that frequently require weekend work. If the number is significant in a particular parish, then it is possible that the necessary permission could be sought to repeat the Sunday liturgy so as to provide a continuous catechesis in line with the liturgical year. But to repeat: Clear catechesis is necessary to explain that using the Sunday liturgy for pastoral purposes is not synonymous with fulfilling the Sunday obligation.
Celebrating the Mass in Spanish would not in itself be a sufficient motivation for this transfer. In this case it could encourage some Spanish speakers to neglect their Sunday obligation in the false belief that they can do so attending the Monday Mass. If a Sunday Mass in Spanish is needed in the parish, then it must be celebrated either on Saturday evening or Sunday proper.
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Follow-up: "Sunday Mass" on Mondays [3-22-2011]
Quite a number of readers commented on the celebration of the Sunday liturgy on a weekday (see March 8). We will try to address them as succinctly as possible.
One reader wrote, "In your reply you did not question whether the local ordinary had allowed this for some legitimate reason."
I did not question this as I presumed that such a celebration had been authorized by the local ordinary, since a parish priest would not have the authority to do so.
However, even the local ordinary would need to consult with the Holy See if he desired to habitually authorize the celebration of the Sunday liturgy on a weekday. Permanent changes to the liturgical calendar do not fall under the exclusive competence of the local bishop.
Some of our correspondents mentioned authentic pastoral reasons that might allow for the celebration of the Sunday liturgy on weekdays, for example: rural parishes with many distant outstations, or hospitals where Mass can only be celebrated on a weekday.
However, even where permissions exist to repeat the celebration of the Sunday liturgy, the general rules of liturgical precedence must be respected as well as the integrity of the liturgical seasons. Likewise, the priest celebrant would always be free not to celebrate the Sunday liturgy on a weekday if he believed that the liturgy of the day would be of greater spiritual benefit.
In all such cases the change would only refer to the celebration of the liturgical formulas, not to changing the Sunday obligation. Although the Sunday liturgy is made available on a weekday, the faithful would not be obliged to attend since the obligation refers only to Sunday. And if Mass is unavailable on Saturday evening or Sunday, the obligation simply ceases to oblige according to the moral principle: "nobody is obliged to do the impossible."
This could help clarify the difficulty of another reader who wrote: "My daughter got a job about nine years ago as a registered nurse in a neurointensive care unit of the local hospital. She is required to work from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. three weekends a month. At the time, our parish priest told her that her only option to fulfill her Sunday obligation would be to find another job. She loves what she does, and is very good at it, so she left the Catholic Church and joined a local Episcopal church. She is very active in this church, acting as the parish nurse, attending Sunday [services] when she can, attending Wednesday [services] regularly, and bringing up her three boys in the Episcopal church. I praise God that she still has faith and tries to live that faith, but it tears at my heart that she is no longer Catholic, participating with my wife and I in our local Catholic parish. Is the information she was given about finding another job really Catholic Church policy?"
I find it sad that such consequences came from inaccurate advice. If this were truly Church policy, there could be no Catholic firefighters, police, soldiers, ambulance drivers, airline pilots, and a long list of other professions besides. The Church has always understood that there are some socially necessary professions which impede assistance at Sunday Mass for the sake of the common good. This has never been a problem. Catholics doing such work are encouraged to do all that is within their power to attend Sunday Mass as often as possible and attempt to sanctify the Sunday as best they can through prayer.
As mentioned above, when the obligation is impossible, the obligation ceases and so Catholics in such situations do not commit a sin by not going to Mass. Attendance at a weekday Mass in such cases is highly recommendable but not required. In the concrete case of our correspondent's daughter, she could have peacefully continued in the Church and her profession although with the intention of eventually seeking a more flexible schedule that would allow her to attend Sunday Mass more often. I hope this reply might be of some help in bringing her back to Christ's Church.