by Markus Tymister
So that everything in our worship service is in proper agreement, we wish to preserve the following custom: when a more solemn feast day brings about a more numerous assembly of people, and such a multitude of the faithful comes together that the basilica is not able to contain the one group, without doubt the offering of the sacrifice is to be repeated, lest only they who came first be admitted to communal prayer, while those who came in later and couldn’t find a place be excluded. For it is entirely reverent and reasonable that each time the basilica where the worship takes place is filled with another group of people, a subsequent sacrifice be offered. It is clear that if the custom of only one Mass is preserved, one portion of the people would be deprived of their worship and would not be able to offer the sacrifice, unless they gather at an earlier time of day.
Ut autem in omnibus observantia nostra concordet, illud quoque volumus custodiri, ut cum solemnior quaeque festivitas conventum populi numerosioris indixerit, et ea fidelium multitudo convenerit,quam recipere Basilica simul una non possit, sacrificii oblatio indubitanter iteretur: ne his tantum admissis ad hanc devotionem, qui primi advenerint, vedantur hi, qui postmodum confluxerint, non recepti: cum plenum pietatis atque rationis sit, ut quoties Basilicam, in qua agitur, praesentia novae plebis impleverit, toties sacrificium subsequens offeratur. Necesse est autem, ut quaedam pars populi sua devotione privetur, si unius tantum Missae more servato, sacrificium offerre non possint, nisi qui prima diei parte convenerint.” (Leo I, Epistola 9 Ad Dioscorum Alexandrinum, 2, in Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, vol. 5, ed. J. D. Mansi et al., Firenze 1761, 1142).
There should only be a second Sunday Mass when the church is so overfilled that not every is able to participate in the liturgy. Here something becomes clear about the understanding of Eucharist for Christians of that time. The priest does not offer something for the people or in their name, but rather, all offer the sacrifice. This is a right of Christians and one may not deprive them of it. For Pope Leo the liturgical practice is taken for granted that every Christian brings his or her gifts of bread and wine to Mass (the Pope did the same!), which are then gathered together and brought to the altar.
At a time of constant and explosive growth of communities, Leo was concerned as bishop for the right of Christians to the celebration of Mass. But the reason for an additional celebration of Mass on the same day is the overfilling of the church and not the more convenient time schedule of the individual Christian. As long as the church is not overfilled, one Sunday Mass per community is entirely adequate.
Translated and reprinted with permission from the blog Populo Congregato. Original: “Überfüllte Kirchen im 5. Jahrhundert” Fr. Markus Tymister is faculty member at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome.