Watching the Holy Week liturgies online

by Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue

There is an interestingly post on the Rorate Caeli blog, suggesting that people might like to attend the Holy Week liturgies by logging in their computers and participating in the liturgies on-line, rather than actually going to their local parishes:

There is a huge number of Catholics who do not have access or are not able to go to a close by celebration of the Sacred Triduum according to the Traditional Roman Rite (Vetus Ordo, Extraordinary Form, etc).

For these Catholics, one option is to watch the Sacred Triduum online and join spiritually those faithful who are present – for instance, by way of LiveMass. Their schedule is the following.

Reading this I wonder how it relates to the famous 21st canon of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), where full sacramental participation at Easter Mass seems to be the definition of what being a Catholic means.

All the faithful of either sex, after they have reached the age of discernment, should individually confess their sins in a faithful manner to their own priest at least once a year, and let them take care to do what they can to perform the penance imposed on them. Let them reverently receive the sacrament of the eucharist at least at Easter unless they think, for a good reason and on the advice of their own priest, that they should abstain from receiving it for a time. Otherwise let them be barred from entering a church during their lifetime and they shall be denied a Christian burial at death.

– Norman P. Tanner, ed. and trans., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 1:245.

While you can receive Holy Communion at any time during the Easter season (or maybe to see with your pastor that it might be spiritually better for you not to receive Communion at all) it seems a little strange that you would recommend that people look at their computer screen rather than going to a parish to attend the liturgy on the holiest days of the year.

Also, while I admit that I am not a moral theologian, I do not think that an able-bodied person with the possibility of attending a parish can fulfill their Sunday Obligation by “attending Mass” over the internet. This is how one of the traditional manuals of moral theology defines the Sunday Obligation:

In order to satisfy the precept, Mass must be heard in the proper place. By a decree S.R.C. (January 23, 1899) the faithful may satisfy the precept by hearing Mass in any public church or public or semi-public oratory … One would not hear Mass so as to satisfy the precept if he were stationed apart at a considerable distance from the place where it was being celebrated, even though he might be able to see and hear what was being done. He must be morally present so as to form one of those who are together hearing and offering up the Holy Sacrifice.

– Thomas Slater, A Manual of Moral Theology, London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1925), 170-171.

For a more up-to-date teaching, we can also consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on the Sunday Obligation:

2180 ” The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”

2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

2182 Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

2183 “If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the Liturgy of the Word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families.”

I suppose that 2180’s declaration that “the precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite,” could be read to mean that the obligation is fulfilled by logging onto to a Mass on your iPhone. However, Canon 1248 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law says that the faithful must “assist” at Mass. Again this seems to imply being physically present in the church building.

The famous Fr. Z has this to say of television Masses, on the WDTPRS blog:

You don’t, can’t, fulfill your Sunday obligation, by watching Mass on TV. If you can go, you go. If you can’t you can’t. God doesn’t ask the impossible … Of course, if a person really can go to Mass, and doesn’t… well… don’t get hit by a truck.

Personally I would have a slightly more benign view of God. And while I do believe in hell as a real possibility for all of us, I don’t know if some able-bodied Catholic who didn’t go to Mass on Easter Sunday, deciding to watch the Mexican Extraordinary Form that Rorate Caeli recommends, was to die before they could go to Confession, they would definitely go to hell.

I readily admit that I am not an aficionado of the Extraordinary Form. But if I weren’t able to go to a regular liturgy, and a Tridentine Mass were available, I think it would be much better to go to that, rather than logging on to my computer to find a liturgy that suited my aesthetics. Maybe my ecclesiology is wrong, but I would prefer to attend Mass with a community of Catholics who are really present in the flesh, rather than spiritually joining a more appealing liturgy on the internet.

On the other hand, maybe I am simply too old-fashioned. Definitely the virtual aspect of human reality is getting more significant by the day. Maybe this is the future and Rorate Caeli is ahead of the curve and soon all of us will be going to Mass on-line. But for 2014, I think that this proposal seems to be more suitable to this year’s crop of April Fool’s joke’s on Pope Francis’ various reforms to the Mass than to the current reality.

Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ. He currently serves as Prefect of Studies of Redemptoris Mater House of Formation in Dundalk, Co. Louth, Ireland and as a curate in Holy Redeemer parish.


  1. I suspect that the original Rorate Caeli post was not referring to Easter Sunday Mass when referring to the Triduum. I find that even those I work with at the parish think of the Triduum liturgies as being Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.

  2. I see no EF-OF issue here. While a televised Mass may be spiritually rewarding when physical attendance is inconvenient or even impossible–e.g. viewing tomorrow’s papal Chrism Mass in Rome, or a daily Mass on EWTN if home bound for whatever reason–and a spiritual communion can be a source of grace, I’ve never seen or heard anyone (not even Rorate) allege that one can actually satisfy the Sunday Mass obligation via TV.

    1. @Henry Edwards – comment #2:
      Maybe I am misreading the Rorate post, but their post reads “a huge number of Catholics who do not have access or are not able to go to a close by celebration of the Sacred Triduum according to the Traditional Roman Rite… For these Catholics, one option is to watch the Sacred Triduum online.” Maybe they just assume that those who are able will also go to Mass in their local parish. But presenting the internet liturgies as an “option” seems to be more than a devotion in addition to attendance at their parish.

      1. @Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue – comment #3:
        I think that it’s important to keep in mind that many rorate caeli readers don’t recognize the ordinary form as licit and even think that it is objectively evil, so that’s why they’re treating this like a situation in which there is no liturgy available at all.

      2. @Stanislaus Kosala – comment #5:
        Oh, I’d say more than just the “Rorate Caeli” readers. Catholics who don’t like their parish liturgies and find them dull and lifeless with terrible speakers and poor music will find an almost endless array of choices online . Providing real competition with liturgies, eastern and western, from around the world.

        The Western Rite Orthodox and Syrian Antiochene Orthodox with a western rite are noteworthy examples of how to aggressively use the internet to offer alternatives to appeal to evangelicals attracted to Orthodoxy and Catholics bored with their own Roman rite.

      3. @Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue – comment #3:
        Fr. O’Donoghue, Rorate surely suggests the possibility of viewing the Sacred Triduum services–Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil–on line, but I see in this quote no allegation that the Sunday obligation on Easter itself can thereby be satified. No doubt, many traditional Catholics will view these Sacred Triduum services on line, in addition to physically attending either EF or OF Mass at church on Easter Sunday (just as I myself almost frequently watch the papal Easter Vigil Mass from Rome on Saturday evening, in addition to attending Mass at church on Easter Sunday).

      4. @Henry Edwards – comment #5:
        Henry, hopefully that is the case. Obviously there is nothing wrong with watching liturgies on the tv or internet in addition to going yourself (or if you are not able to physically attend). Also I know that Holy Thursday and Good Friday are not days of obligation, but one would hope that the internet liturgies are supplemental and not the main celebration for the Triduum

      5. @Henry Edwards – comment #6:
        Those who may find the almost “low church” papal liturgies predictable and tedious can always follow Anglo Catholic holy week services by looking for them online. Or going to Smokey Mary’s (St. Mary the Virgin in NYC), St. Mark’s Philadelphia or The Church of the Advent in Boston) Some use a combination of pre-1955 rites mixed with Sarum ceremonial unavailable in Roman churches. Enhanced by the fact the these Anglican churches have magnificent settings: churches, choirs, splendid vestments, the smells and bells etc.

  3. I’m sorry, but Fr. O’Donoghue’s “take” on the RC direct quote is ignoble due simply by inserting the word “attend” and thus surmising the intent of the announcement, and then stirring up the tempest in his own teapot. Does Father have anything else to do this week?

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #”9:
      You don’t appear to have any difficulty “surmising the intent” of Fr O’D.

      The text of the RC blog provided here (I don’t intend to consult the blog directly.) refers to an option for those who are “not able to go to” an EF liturgy, for which “attend” is a perfectly acceptable synonym.

      Fr O’D is pointing out, how preferable it is to attend liturgy in person, when one can, all other things being equal, than to watch it on-line. That’s an appropriate thing for anyone to do, this week or any other.

  4. I’m a bit shocked that Mr. Palmer did not mention S. Thomas on Fifth Avenue which offers real patrimony. A place for the true Prayer Book Catholic.

  5. I had a different sense for the context for the RC post. The EF liturgies of Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week are much scarcer than Sunday Mass for logistical reasons (in dual-form parishes, it’s much more likely that OF liturgies only would be offered). None of them are liturgies of precept. It’s not like a majority of parishioners show up at them (if they did, there wouldn’t be room for all of them at the same time in many places!). After a quarter century of attending and mostly singing at those liturgies, I haven’t attended them for the past couple of eyars myself for a confluence of reasons I won’t dilate on here (but that have nothing to do with the EF, which I have no interest in attending), and I won’t be this year, either.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #12:

      The EF liturgies of Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week are much scarcer than Sunday Mass for logistical reasons (in dual-form parishes, it’s much more likely that OF liturgies only would be offered).

      Not only rare but in fact illicit — nothing to do with logistics. Summorum Pontificum article 2 says:

      In Masses celebrated without a congregation, any Catholic priest of the Latin rite, whether secular or regular, may use either the Roman Missal published in 1962 by Blessed Pope John XXIII or the Roman Missal promulgated in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, and may do so on any day, with the exception of the Easter Triduum. [My emphasis]

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #15:

        I am assuming that a principle is being laid down here, that if you may not do it on your own then you certainly can’t do it with others present. It seems clear that the Triduum ceremonies are a notable exception to the principle that a priest can do what he likes about Mass without reference to the local Ordinary. This is reinforced by the clarification issued by the Ecclesia Dei commision on January 10, 2010, which notes that if there is no other possibility, because for instance in all churches of a diocese the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum are already being celebrated in the Ordinary Form, the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum may, in the same church in which they are already celebrated in the Ordinary Form, be additionally celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, if the local ordinary allows. In other words, unless the Ordinary has given specific permission, the EF Triduum is forbidden.

      2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #18:

        I think the clarification cited makes it clear that one can indeed celebrate the Triduum liturgies in the EF, but only with the consent of the Ordinary, unlike the case with a regular Mass when no permission is required.

  6. I think Deacon Fritz has the more persuasive interpretation; private Masses in the NO during the Triduum are also verboten without permission of the Ordinary, and this appears to be merely be a cognate provision.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #21:
        Oh, come on, Paul, private Masses in the NO are not verboten, period, but normally permitted for a just and reasonable cause, which is a relatively low bar in Roman liturgyspeak.

        254. Mass should not be celebrated without a minister, or at least one of the faithful, except for a just and reasonable cause. In this case, the greetings, the instructions, and the blessing at the end of Mass are omitted.

      2. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #22:

        There has been much comment on this in the past as to whether there can in fact be a “just and reasonable cause” except in exceptional circumstances. Not a low bar at all.

  7. These discussions tire me, honestly.

    We have such a priest shortage that communities all over the world are going without Eucharist. And we’re nattering on about the necessity of private Masses.

    To me, the less restrictive code in this regard is an historical reaction issued at a pitch of hysteria over the dwindling priesthood, when people were scapegoating the liturgical reform’s emphasis on community for the loss of “priestly identity.”

    What’s the subtext? It’s all about priestly identity, not about sacrament or church. We must shore up the traditional “prerogatives” of the priest at all costs. Never take their toys away.

    OK, I say, fine. Knock yourselves out. Private Mass? Private Triduum? What the heck. Private everything. Go play with your toys.

    In the meantime the sheep are not being fed and, sorry, I think that this is the question that ought to shame us. Shame on a church that can foresee “just and reasonable cause” for private celebrations of Eucharist and can’t foresee a way out of the impasse that has resulted in whole communities of people going without Eucharist.

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #25:
      Rita is exactly right. The proper response to these discussions is fatigue laced with dissatisfaction. And shame for the clergy, especially bishops and their personnel boards. My own bishop, shortly after his installation, instructed his name be added to the roster of priests available to fill in at rural parishes when pastors needed a vacation. His priorities are straight.

      Private Masses, celebrated consistently over any period of time, are an abomination not because of some misguided sense of community or an over-hyped clericalism, but simply because of a greater need for the sacramental life of the many, rather than the privileged few.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #26:
        I don’t think KLS or I were advocating for private Masses, but rather trying to clarify what we thought a particular piece of legislation required. I realize that might not be a burning issue for everyone, but it might in a narrow range of circumstances be relevant (e.g. Fr. Bastrass is preparing for Holy Week and wonders if he needs to contact the bishop to get permission to have a Vigil according to the 1962 Missal in his largely EF parish. No? OK, he can check that off the to-do list. Good thing, since he’s 86 and has plenty of other things to do to get ready).

      2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #27:
        Fair point, my friend.

        But at some juncture, we liturgists might do well to steer the discussion to the pastoral need of the many, if not the all. Perhaps we feel the accusation of terrorism and other such is unjustified when flung at us. But they see us talking about mundane points of dispute. I live within a few hours’ drive of otherwise stable Catholic parishes of 150 to 200 families–more than enough for a Protestant minister. And they get Sunday Mass twice a month. A priest in our city used to pray a private Mass on days he wasn’t scheduled at the parish. What’s the best call there?

        Maybe a priest celebrating a Mass without a congregation sometimes–just sometimes–has the wrong kind of time on his hands.

  8. Ah yes, the primary function of liturgists is to argue the finer points of worship in spirit and truth. A mass with just a server makes some sense if we’re talking about a senior priest in a retirement home, or a priest imprisoned for his faith who somehow manages to get hold of some bread and wine. How can anyone read the GIRM and conclude other than the Eucharist is to be preferably celebrated in the presence of worshippers, even with servers and readers and deacons each fulfilling only that they are called to do.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #28:
      Jack, if you look back at the genesis of this tangent on private Masses, it originated in a disagreement regarding whether a bishops permission was needed to celebrate the Triduum liturgies according to the 1962 Missal. The issue of private Masses only came up because Paul interpreted a directive in Summorum Pontificum as requiring the bishop’s permission and KLS and I replied that the passage was really speaking about private Masses being celebrated during the Triduum. Whatever one might think about who is right in this disagreement, it was not really a disagreement about private Masses. And, as I indicated before, if one is the pastor of a parish where the 1962 Missal is regularly used, the question of what you do and do not need your bishop’s permission to do is hardly one of “the finer points.”

      For what it’s worth, I completely agree with you that the GIRM holds that “the Eucharist is to be preferably celebrated in the presence of worshippers, even with servers and readers and deacons each fulfilling only that they are called to do.”

  9. Sorry if I seem to have derailed this thread. My original (simple) point was that watching EF Triduum liturgies online was a no-no because said liturgies would be in all probability be (a) contrary to the mind of the Church and (b) taking place without the permission of the Ordinary and on both counts therefore illicit.

  10. Actually, it now occurs to me that watching videos of liturgies online raises the notion of “private Masses” to a whole new level, democratizing it and allowing laypeople to have a “private Mass.”

    O brave new world,
    That has such liturgies in’t.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #31:

      I agree. Didn’t want to raise the spectre of watching videos as being de facto private Masses in case I was accused of derailing the thread again. 🙁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *