Years ago, I had a talk with a Benedictine nun. She told me about an issue in her monastery: For the first time in many decades, the nuns will not have a priest who can regularly celebrate Mass with them. The monasteries and dioceses cannot send priests anymore. Finding a priest for the Sunday Mass will not be an issue, but the times of daily Masses will be over.
I see a lot of theological reasons why a monastery does not need a daily Mass. The Rule of St. Benedict does not even know Sunday Mass. But this is not the point. Many of the nuns – as I was told – desire the daily Mass, and they desire to receive Communion daily. For some of them this is the main spiritual focus and taking it away would tear their hearts off.
Joining the nearest parish for Mass is no option, because this would be incompatible with the monastic schedule and the principle of enclosure.
So, what would I recommend?
I did not recommend anything because such a decision must take into account the specific community. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many options there are to deal with this issue. Every one of these options has its pros and cons. Here is my provisional list with some provisional remarks:
- The harsh option: There is no daily Mass and no daily Communion any longer. Get used to it. This might be a chance for deep discussions about the value of liturgy in general and the meaning of the Eucharist – but it might also be (unnecessarily?) painful to many. If it was not for others, I would clearly prefer this option.
- The German option: Instead of Mass a Liturgy of the Word is celebrated and combined with the Communion. This is what many parishes in German-speaking regions do whenever they cannot celebrate Mass. Most bishops and liturgical scholars are against it, because they regard this practice as pejorative to the value of the Scripture (the Word alone is not enough) and at the same time pejorative to the Eucharist (the Communion is habitually separated from the Eucharistic Prayer). In an enclosed monastery it might work without any of those problematic tendencies, but I would still not appreciate it.
- The pre-Conciliar option: Whenever there is no Mass, the community could hold Eucharistic adoration and combine it with the Communion. I could understand this as a temporary compromise, but it would hurt me as a post-Conciliar theologian. By any means this should not be compulsory for anybody – neither the adoration nor the Communion. For me this would be too much medieval one-sidedness and too little sense for the context of Offertory, Eucharistic Prayer, and Communion.
- The monastic option: The community focuses on the daily Office. But the Scripture readings from the Mass could replace the reading in one of the Hours (e.g. Lauds, Sixth Hour, or Vespers) and the Communion could be administered for those who desire it every day or every few days at the end of that Hour. The Communion should clearly originate from recent Sunday’s Mass. In my eyes this would make more sense than the aforementioned “pre-Conciliar option”, but of course it is still a compromise.
- The festival option: No daily Communion, but on every Solemnity or Feast day the Communion could be administered in any of the aforementioned ways. This would be a compromise with regard to the desire for frequent Communion, and it would respect the liturgical calendar. But somehow it feels random.
If I will ever be asked again, I might start with these five options, but I am happy that I do not have to make the decision myself.