Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 56

Vatican website translation:

The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship. Accordingly this sacred Synod strongly urges pastors of souls that, when instructing the faithful, they insistently teach them to take their part in the entire Mass, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation.

Latin text:

56. Duae partes e quibus Missa quodammodo constat, liturgia nempe verbi et eucharistica, tam arcte inter se coniunguntur, ut unum actum cultus efficiant. Sacra proinde Synodus vehementer hortatur animarum pastores ut, in catechesi tradenda, fideles sedulo doceant de integra Missa participanda, praesertim diebus dominicis et festis de praecepto.

Slavishly literal translation (kindness of Jonathan Day):

The two parts that, in a certain sense, stand together as the Mass – none other than the liturgy of the word and the eucharistic liturgy – are so closely connected with each other that they accomplish one act of worship. Hence this sacred Synod strongly urges pastors of souls that, when delivering the catechism [or “handing over catechesis” jmj], they painstakingly teach the faithful to take part in the entire Mass, especially on Sundays and feasts of precept.

Roman Rite Catholics of a certain age may remember being taught that they fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation if they are physically present in church for the Offertory, the Consecration, and the [priest’s] Communion. The residue from this teaching is sometimes seen in congregations where assembly members receive holy communion and then exit the church building before the final prayers of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and of the Concluding Rites. Art. 56 once again highlights the importance of attending and celebrating the Liturgy of the Word (and, presumably the Introductory Rites) for a comprehensive ritual engagement with the Mass.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss how effectively their congregations have been catechized about the intimate union of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist accomplishing “a single act of worship.” Do members of the assembly regularly come so late to worship that they miss the Introductory Rites and/or the Liturgy of the Word? Do members of the assembly leave so early that they miss the concluding prayers of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and/or the Concluding Rites? If so, why so? What might be done to “painstakingly” convince the faithful “to take part in the entire Mass”?


  1. First, a question: does anyone know where the folk wisdom comes from that you have to get there by the Gospel in order to fulfill your obligation? Is this a kind of post-Vatican II version of getting there by the offertory?

    Regarding the question of timeliness, I am struck by how much our expectations in this regard are shaped by a culture that runs on the clock. My wife works with many African’s and they all tell here that in Africa you’re considered on time if you get there on the right day.

    More to the point, I think the reforms have been very successful in placing an equal emphasis on the liturgy of the Word. Not that it is always done well, but it’s generally done no less well than the liturgy of the Eucharist. Indeed, when I ask students what the purpose of Mass is, many of them will talk about learning some sort of “lesson” in the homily, with no real mention of worshipping God, much less of participating in a sacramental sacrifice. Of course, this not only is an unbalanced understanding of the liturgy, it doesn’t really even get the purpose of the homily right.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #1:

      “Is this a kind of post-Vatican II version of getting there by the offertory?”

      Certainly not post-Vatican II. My mother, who was born in 1934 told me stories of many of the men standing outside of her childhood church smoking until the Alleluia was sung before the gospel. They all filed in at that time so that ‘it would count’. Now this was a Byzantine Catholic Church, but certainly pre Vatican II.

  2. Nothing short of locking the doors will keep some people from leaving early.
    I think it’s about catechesis, catechesis and catechesis.
    That’s the only way. If you know why you need to stay then generally most people will abide. An occasional comment by the priest or a notice in the bulletin is insufficient. Our commentator has a unique way of mentioning that we need to stay till the end, usually addressed to “visitors” that it is our community custom to stay until after the priest has reached the back of the nave. Hearing it every week seems to work.

    However, it’s been my impression that the more you like your particular church and priest the more you want to stay and not leave. We once had such a popular priest that rarely was anyone late and we needed to usher people OUT of the church after Mass.

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #3:
      Dale, what is a commentator?

      Paul, how is the Body of Christ deficient because someone is late? What can’t “we” do because someone is late?
      What about the many baptized Catholics who could, but don’t even bother to attend Mass on a Sunday at all? Deficient.
      Multiple Masses, the Body of Christ is not worshipping all together. Deficient.
      We have a lot of deficiencies happening then, just in getting there and in attendance. Is our worship even valid and acceptable with all these “role call” deficiencies?

      Saying something like “be on time” and “stay till the priest gets to the back” to people who make a geniune effort to make it to Mass at all, sounds like calling attention to and shaming them. If I heard that kind of “theological point” made on a Sunday morning when I happened to walk in late because of traffic or any other reason, I’d think twice about coming back. Act of courtesy? Sounds like the same old legalisms wrapped up in shiny new packages to me.

  3. While understanding the difficulties that young families (for example) may have in getting to church on time, I think it is nevertheless possible to let the assembly know that arriving on time is an act of courtesy to everyone else present.

    Furthermore, there is a theological point. Without you, the latecomers, the Body of Christ is somehow deficient. Something is missing. Without you we cannot do what this community needs as a body to do. We need you, and we need you to be with us on time (as well as to stay to the end).

  4. It seems that, like the poor, latecomers and early leavers will always be with us. But in my experience less people do this when there is a clear expectation that it is a best practice to participate from beginning to end. Maybe twice a year I ask the people during the announcements if they want to confirm our practice. Almost all the hands go up. But there’s all kinds of reasons and excuses for coming late and leaving early. People who are tending to someone infirm may think of leaving early to get home to them as quickly as they can. Families with small children sometimes just need to get them in the car and back home. For those unable to receive Communion may be less painful for them to leave as the procession begins. And for a few people after 45 or 50 minutes some kind of internal meter prompts them to get up and go.

  5. One reason why some people come late and leave early is to avoid the opening and closing music if there is a pattern of music that they don’t find attractive. They have no say it what is or is not programmed (paging Jack R…) and this is the way they react to that. I know I even won’t stay for a recessional of certain works with zippo compunction; I am out of there after the dismissal. And I have sung in choirs with a wide range of repertoire for three decades, and I have a higher threshold of pain, as it were, than many other PIPs. I most recently did this when visiting a local parish for the evening Mass on the Assumption last month, where the MD was intent on nearly bellowing the banal final hymn into the microphone perched over the keyboard, overwhelming any sound coming from the congregation.

  6. The complaint about people who come late and those who leave early featured in many of our pastoral council meetings when I was on Council just a few years ago.

    My explanation was simple: in most parishes there are very few reasons to come early. In this large parish you could not really pray among all the noise of preparation in the church; you had to go to the reservation chapel to pray. There was only a moderate size narthex unsuitable for socializing. So in a world of “just in time” you do not plan to arrive early (unless you want a favorite parking place or seat) and so many people arrive late.

    In regard to leaving early, there are again few reasons to stay late in this large parish. Once Mass is finished there is simply the huge parking jam of people leaving. Another parish which does have a large narthex suitable for socializing, they have coffee and donuts afterwards. They also have a coat room. A professor at John Carroll has an assignment in her classes for students to visit parishes and report what they see. This parish is on the list of recommended parishes. Students always write up their amazement that there is no rush to the parking lot. People can socialize, then get their coats. The minority who want a quick get away have little trouble.

    My recommendation has always been to have things before and after. Some of these should be places for prayer and some for socializing to give many people an opportunity to spend another fifteen minutes or a half hour.

    Within the large church my two recommendations for before are: first, some form of the liturgy of the hours, or hymn singing, or various other forms of prayers done with frequent pauses for silent reflection and to allow people to take their seats. The second is practicing hymns which also can be done prayerfully. The second was suggest by several council members and rounded condemned by the pastoral staff. The parish with the coffee afterwards has choir practice before Mass; the parish voted by 2-1 to retain that practice because so many people came early to hear the music before Mass even though they were not invited to sing along.

    In the last few years I acquired my walking stick and now leave Mass after communion at all parishes other than the one that has coffee and donuts. Since usually has sung Evening and Morning Prayer for Sundays, I have begun to adopt for myself the option of integrating them with Mass. I do the beginning of the hour up to the lesson before Mass, the remainder of the Office after Mass at home.

    I do arrive early for Mass since I don’t want to walk far before or after Mass. I find leaving exactly at the end of every ones communion , following the last person back the aisle and then out the church is perfect timing. All the rest of the communion leavers are already leaving the parking lot while the rest of the people are still inside. A peaceful walk to my car. I socialize before Mass.

  7. I once asked a woman who left Mass after Communion every Sunday why she left early. After hearing her answer and being humbled by her reply, I will never do that again. I leave that issue to their conscience and God.

  8. Since a recessional song is not required, what is the problem with people leaving after the dismissal? We say “Go,” but almost always what we do non-verbally is say, “Go, but only after 3 verses of this song.”

  9. What is our current understanding of the historical relationship between the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist?

    My general impression is that after a period of time when scholarship drew a lot of parallels between Jewish prayers and practices in relationship to the Liturgy of the Hours, the Liturgy of the Word, and the Eucharist, a period of questioning set in whether these were just general parallels of religious experience rather than historical derivations.

    My own theory is model on Justin’s apology “ on Sunday … an assembly is held…the records of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time allows …the president admonishes …to imitate these good things, …we stand up to offer prayers, then bread and wine are brought forward….”

    I suspect the readings originated as a way to fill the time as people assembled usually in the house of a wealthier person who would be more likely to have books. Readings from books were often a part of social eating rituals among the wealthy. Once everyone arrived the person who presided began by making connections to what had been read.

    The general consensus seems to be that the readings were mostly continuous since we have a lot of commentaries on books and periciopes for specific feasts seem to have been a later development.

    My understanding is there was a lot of regional variation in the number of readings (two, three or four).

    My explanation also sees a lot of continuity between the monastic office which was mostly consecutive readings of the psalms and other books of the bible and an early Christian practice of communal reading of books in homes.

    Benedicta Ward in a symposium on the Liturgy of the Hours at ND several years ago took a similar position emphasizing the simultaneous development of interest in the psalms both in the congregations and among monks rather than a separate “monastic spirituality development.” In other words the monks as lay people continued to do in the desertwhat they did as lay people in their homes even when the clergy were not there for the Eucharist.

    Of course this explanation of the monastic office allows for a far greater integration of the Divine Office and the Divine Liturgy. It also sees the “Cathedral Office” as more of a hierarchical clerical oriented liturgy and the “monastic office” as a more people and household based liturgy.

    This theory of the origin of the Liturgy of the Hours and Liturgy of the Word is like more recent views of the origin of monasticism which sees it as the “simultaneous discovery “ in different parts of the Christian world due to similar conditions rather than tracing it from one location or one historical antecedent that mutated at a specific time and place.

  10. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #1:

    There were a fair number of theologians who taught that one could not miss the Gospel and fulfill the obligation – for example, see here (; page 98) and as far as folk wisdom goes, it even finds a mention over here as the ‘safe opinion’ (; page 119). I do remember reading one of the books from the early liturgical movement which even stated that one could not miss the whole of the Mass of the Catechumens – I will have to dig up that reference.

  11. On a regular basis, one in seven people leave during Communion at our church. (I’ve noted about the same ratio when I’ve visited other churches on the road.) I’d not be surprised that many of them learned, as I did as a child, that the ‘mandatory’ parts of the Mass were the Offertory, Consecration, and Communion. Once they commune, they’re done.

  12. Most of people arrive in the window of 5 minutes before mass begins and 5 minutes after it begins. (I chuckle as I see several people scurrying in behind the procession, frantically looking for a seat) There are a few stragglers who arrive during the Liturgy of the Word. They are easy to spot because everyone is seated. 🙂
    There is a small exodus after communion and they are the same people all the time. After the dismissal, the back 5 pews clear out immediately. Almost everyone else stays until the hymn is over.
    I think our catechesis has been adequate, but certain people will do what they want regardless of the catechesis.

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