Private Mass Does Not Fit with a Contemporary Understanding of Eucharist

By Albert Gerhards, Benedikt Kranemann, Stephan Winter

In view of the crisis in which people and societies worldwide find themselves because of the so-called coronavirus pandemic, the Christian churches are facing particular challenges. As to be expected, current reactions to this difficult and in many ways confusing situation are marked by great concern, anxiety, and insecurity. All the more important is it to examine as soberly as possible the guidelines for communal activity of the German Catholic bishops’ conference – with a view to liturgy as well as other things.

In all this the primary principle is: churches too must be guided by scientific recommendations and hold to protective measures undertaken by civil authorities. This is the framework within which the planning of liturgies can be seriously discussed.

Many of the faithful were confronted with concrete decisions about what to do on the Third Sunday of Lent. They stood before church doors which were closed because of the danger of infection. But sometimes one could read that behind closed doors there would be so-called “ghost Masses” [like “ghost games” in soccer, which are played without spectators present as a penalty for their misbehavior – tr.]  So priests celebrated Masses alone. In some pastoral letters it was stated, among other things, that these Masses take place vicariously for the people, with intercession for the needs of the community affected by the pandemic. In some places and in some social media this was welcomed and encouraged.

The Mass is not the private possession of the priest

But does this befit the circumstances and does it comport with a contemporary understanding of liturgy? Clearly not. It disregards e.g. division of roles, which of course for theological reasons should apply not only to the celebration of the Eucharist. In the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council it is expressly made clear that the liturgy is enacted communally and publicly by all the baptized (Sacrosanctum Conciliium, 7). Thus the Church came and comes entirely into its own when a local community gathers for worship in its differentiated membership, above all on Sundays and feast days. Private celebration in particular is not compatible with this understanding of Eucharist.

In the course of history there have repeatedly been situations in which liturgy was not possible, or possible only under very great danger – war time, societal disturbances, natural catastrophes, famine, or epidemics. The response to these situations arose from the mentality most predominant the era at hand: with prayer, acts of penance, litanies, devotions, and processions. And for the celebration of the Mass, already in early times in fact, emergency measures developed under the principle of substitutional representation. This led to a spirituality of the “private Mass” which the priest “read” or “said” – for others, to be sure, who “put in an order,” but understood as the priest’s very own possession.

According to such an understanding, the sign of God’s encounter with humanity in the midst of the world is not communal celebration, but rather a cultic act which the priest performs correctly. And precisely for this reason, for centuries the faithful were as much as possible excluded from Communion during the Mass; at the most they received Communion outside Mass, or refrained entirely from Communion out of anxiety of touching the holy material. It was a long path until the Council could again place the notion of communio in the first place: the locally gathered community is the bearer of the liturgy! A corresponding particular understanding of church and ministerial office developed – an understanding which, precisely in times of urgent need, we should not lightly throw to the wind.

One sees the extent to which obsolete understandings surface again in the current crisis in some diocesan guidelines, local practices, and telltale language. Private Masses as described above are strongly encouraged – and admittedly, one can appeal to the church law in force (canon 904 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law). When such Masses are broadcast on social media, we see the painful and possibly fateful resurrection of things rightly done away with. Concerning what happens in secret in the sense of spiritual connectedness, we easily come to a double exclusion via social media presentation: within, the priest exclusively celebrating and communicating; without, the laity reduced to virtual presence and “spiritual Communion.”

One also comes across the suggestion in this connection to expose the Host in the monstrance in open churches; there are even videos of clergy processing through the city with the monstrance. A connection to the celebration of the Eucharist, which is a prerequisite for eucharistic devotion, is no longer present here. This is no longer acceptable today and does damage to the liturgy.

No representation of the community by the priest alone

It does not necessarily follow from all this that the church may or should do entirely without the bodily presence of pastoral ministers. It is urgent that the churches, together with civil authorities, clarify how we can further preserve ritual attention to the needy, ill, and dying. Those in pastoral ministry must continue to attend to their activities – adapted to the situation at hand – as much as possible. But vicarious representation of the community cannot credibly be exhibited by one individual person. If Mass continues to be celebrated in parishes, the priest alone cannot credibly be the tangible representative. Only a community, however small, can. If even this would not be possible today, in light of the most recent developments, then all who are bound in the common priesthood of baptism are called to seek out responsibly, as possible, forms of common listening to the Word of God and prayer.

In this manner, the time at hand can be used to awaken and encourage spiritual potential in families, circles of friends, and social networks, not least by means of the creative use of digital media. We look, among other things, for suggestions from dioceses and liturgical institutes – and some good initial suggestions have already been published. But finally, the question arises as to why Vespers or other forms of the Liturgy of the Word are so seldom broadcast in the media. The suspicion arises that the theology of the Word, which actually should be a given since the Council, has hardly permeated the office bears, and even less been implemented in practice. It’s now coming back to roost!

In the best case, the crisis could contribute to an enrichment of liturgical assemblies, which hopefully will soon take place again, because it uncovers and activates slumbering charisms and gifts. Images such as those in Italy, where people sing and make music together from balconies, have an entirely prophetic character!

The liturgical scholars who wrote this text are Albert Gerhards (Bonn, retired), Benedikt Kranemann (Erfurt), and Stephan Winter (Münster). This article is reprinted with kind permission of Translation awr.



  1. Private Mass Does Not Fit with a Contemporary Understanding of Eucharist

    Then the “contemporary understanding” is wrong.

    For goodness’ sake, the editio typica tertia of the post-conciliar Missal provides an Ordo Missae cuius unus tantum minister participat, which in the previous editions was called the Ordo Missae sine populo!

    1. Hi Matthew,

      But its existence in the current liturgical books and current code of canon law doesn’t necessarily mean that it fits with Vatican II’s theology of liturgy and eucharist, or with the guiding assumptions embedded in the reformed liturgy! Just because something is permitted and foreseen does not mean that it SHOULD be! It is perhaps not to be expected that all these different areas of the Church’s life would advance simultaneously at the same rate, nor that the full implications of something as momentous as Vatican II would be worked out in less than a hundred years or so.

      My only point is that if one starts with Vatican II, and with the assumption that the liturgical books are in accord with Vatican II, than one arrives at different conclusions. The starting point is crucial.


      1. Not necessarily, but it greatly complicates the argument that needs to be made to be credible. The utter failure to even address it makes the argument suspect from the start. It’s an own-goal.

        You can choose your starting point. But, in so doing, you are relying on assumptions, not arguments. And assumptions are not readily argued. So, when you start with an assumption that people who don’t already agree with you aren’t likely to share, you may end up with a much smaller audience by the end than you wish. (“You” being generic here for any arguer; in fact, this piece is best thought of as a mirror image of the kinds of argument style deployed by certain traditionalist mimeograph operators. )

      2. Vatican II: It is to be stressed that whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and quasi-private.
        This applies with especial force to the celebration of Mass and the administration of the sacraments, even though every Mass has of itself a public and social nature.
        (SC 27)

        The liturgists: If Mass continues to be celebrated in parishes, the priest alone cannot credibly be the tangible representative. Only a community, however small, can.

        One of these things is not like the other…

        Today, the Bishops of England and Wales have suspended public Masses until further notice. I work in the office of one of the Catholic Cathedral churches in England. Concerned parishioners and those who have requested that Masses be celebrated for their particular intentions have rightly taken comfort in the fact that, although not publicly, Masses will continue. The abundant grace of God made manifest in the Sacrifice of the Mass carries on, even though almost everything else in our day-to-day lives is up in the air, with currently no end in sight.

        So, I hope you will understand that I find this article of Gerhards, Kranemann and Winter not only not in keeping with the balance that SC 27 strikes, but contemptible, corrosive of faith, and anti-pastoral. If one were to write a parody of late-20th century liturgical theology, this is the sort of article that one would end up with.

      3. Hi Matthew,

        Help me understand your comment, I’m missing something. I agree that the original post overstates things. But the two quotations you give here seem mostly in harmony. Both emphasize that the liturgy is communal, not private. ???
        Fr. Anthony

      4. You have a profound misunderstanding of the church’s canon law. The present code granted the priest even more latitude to celebrate the Mass without the physical presence of the Christian Faithful and the current code is in the words of St. John Paul the teaching of Vatican II translated into canonical norms….you are trying to be more VAtican I I than a sainted Pope

      5. Thanks, Fr. Braun, but I think you misunderstood my point. I don’t deny that he said that. I’m suggesting though that perhaps not all parts of canon law are equally in harmony with the vision of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the reformed liturgy. As Pope Francis has said, “We’ve implemented half of Vatican II, now we must implement the other half” – and he’s the Pope! So that tells me it’s possible that the Code hasn’t caught up to the reformed liturgy. And as I tried to suggest, I think the reformed liturgy is so rich that it wouldn’t surprise me if it takes a century or more for the church to appropriate it.
        Fr. Anthony

      6. SC 27 basically retains the idea that even an individual celebration of the Mass by a priest is, by nature, public and social; hence referring to it as “quasi private” – not “private”. SC 27 is dealing with preferences, degrees and grays, unlike the antipodal frame taken by the article writers, separating white from black, sheep from goats, wheat from tares, as it were. Not the same starting assumptions.

        Consequently, it should surprise no one that the Missal that is the fruits of the Council retained specific provisions for the celebrations of such Masses. It’s not a contradiction of the Council – to strongly assert it would be is not very different from the method of George Weigel in his infamous rapid-fire gold ink/red ink fisking of Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate in 2009.

      7. Fr. Ruff, I think Fr. Braun’s point is valid as I think you have a tendancy to clamp down on traditional interpretations of Vatican II and just state that his position is wrong and that Canon Law is out of accord with Vatican II without citing anything. You just say the spirit of the documents. That is what I call an unsubstantiated argument. Please explain from SC why he is wrong.
        “Private” Masses are still public since “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory.” SC 8 Given that the theology of the council emphasized the eschatological dimension of the Mass. Heaven participates in each Mass.
        Since the Mass is the source and summit of Christian life and all sacraments and prayer flow to and from the Mass. The faithful are still united (albeit a less than way) with the Priest offering of Mass.

      8. Perhaps we should look to the Pope who implemented the Council, Pope St. Paul VI who said in Mysterium Fidei:

        “For each and every Mass is not something private, even if a priest celebrates it privately; instead, it is an act of Christ and of the Church.… For every Mass that is celebrated is being offered not just for the salvation of certain people, but also for the salvation of the whole world. The conclusion from this is that even though active participation by many faithful is of its very nature particularly fitting when Mass is celebrated, still there is no reason to criticize but rather only to approve a Mass that a priest celebrates privately for a good reason in accordance with the regulations and legitimate traditions of the Church, even when only a server to make the responses is present.”

        When your interpretation directly contradicts the words of Pope St. Paul VI, perhaps it is your interpretation of the Council that is mistaken.

      9. Oh my interpretation could well be mistaken for sure! But Pope Francis has also said that we’ve implemented half the council and now we must implement the other half, so perhaps he’s on to something. I think the whole church will probably have to keep working on how best to receive and implement Vatican II, and I suspect that will take a good bit of time yet.

      10. First off, good article. I made much the same point to a gathering recently, that private masses, though permissible, are problematic for a post concilar theology.

        We have a problem though. In practice, why do we treat the one pastoral Council of the Church as the ONLY doctrinal one?

        It seems to me that contemporary view is either wrong because it replaces the Holy of Holies with a communal din-din table of remembrance, or if it is right we should just become honest Lutherans because they do the job much better and obviously were more in tune with the Holy Spirit 500 years ago. So why follow modern Catholics now? If Lutherans were superior and more correct in worship, 500 years ahead of us, why not in other things? Like the priesthood and role of the petrine office? It’s really not as silly a question as it first sounds. Institution itself can become an idolotry.

        You can’t square this circle with “development of doctrine”; one or the other is wrong. If it was a simple difference of spirtualites we would have allowed from the launch of the Paul VI Mass the old and new rite to co-exist, or for the old to be in the vernacular. But there are two different and distinct theologies at play, with a failed historical attempt to suppress the old. One is not like the other. So choose boldly.

        Good article, thank you.

  2. I agree that Vatican II managed to push the concept of Mass as a communal act of the Church back into practice. But the rarity of Communion by the Faithful at Mass never accorded with the official view of the Church. Thus nearly 60 years eaflier SRC wrote an Instruction which begins by quoting the Council of Trent :-
    On Frequent and Daily Reception of Holy Communion
    Issued and approved by Pope Pius X on December 20, 1905
    The Holy Council of Trent, having in view the ineffable riches of grace which are offered to the faithful who receive the Most Holy Eucharist, makes the following declaration: “The Holy Council wishes indeed that at each Mass the faithful who are present should communicate, not only in spiritual desire, but sacramentally, by the actual reception of the Eucharist.” These words declare plainly enough the wish of the Church that all Christians should be daily nourished by this heavenly banquet and should derive therefrom more abundant fruit for their sanctification.

    1. Yes, but not quite. This view of church history and official church teaching doesn’t account for how checkered the history is. Let’s be honest: for centuries, laity went years without receiving, without meaningful official guidance to counteract it. Then, finally, a medieval council mandated reception once a year – a statement of official position which is hardly a full restitution of an authentic, Christian understanding of liturgy. Yes, Trent said something very helpful. But church authorities did not succeed in implementing it for nearly 400 years – hence the need for Pius X to state, as a reform measure and an innovation in his time, that salutary line from Trent.

      1. And yet Pius X did, and it’s a point often completely overlooked by many people who pine for a past they imagine.

        I think the point that our history is quite mixed is most important to keep in mind – so long as we also own the fact that in so doing, it will necessarily make our own arguments more complicated if they are to be more persuasive to people who need to be persuaded (if we actually want to do that).

  3. Yes to Matthew’s and Anthony’s notes. The piece was too cherry-picked and included straw figured aspects to have a firmly grounded conclusion, even if I am sympathetic with certain aspects of the incomplete argument presented. I will stop there for now.

  4. I think this article makes two important missteps.

    Firstly, it makes the best the enemy of the good. Certainly, “a local community gather[ing] for worship in its differentiated membership” is better than a private Mass, and I agree with the authors’ reading of the conciliar texts that affirm this. Indeed, like them, I’m grateful for the corrective that these texts offered to a previous operative theology that had become unbalanced. But, in these times when community gatherings are impossible, (and would be irresponsible if possible), the impossibility of the best option doesn’t render a good option bad. There is simply no reason for a priest to deprive himself of the nourishing sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    Secondly, I’ve heard from many Catholics (of all kinds of “stripes”) recently of how comforting they find the fact that Mass is still being offered. Sometimes people find false comfort in things that are wrong. But it’s still a misstep to do theology in a way that ignores that experience. This is “judging” without “seeing;” theology that starts with texts and never reaches the experience of the suffering. I find this problematic also.

    1. Very well put, Adam. As I translated this I had the feeling that they overstate things in ways that are not helpful, though in broad terms their convictions are correct.

  5. This article represents an extreme point of view that finds no support in the current magisterium and law of the Church.

    In Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), John Paul II teaches: “If the Eucharist is the center and summit of the Church’s life, it is likewise the center and summit of priestly ministry.… We can understand, then, how important it is for the spiritual life of the priest, as well as for the good of the Church and the world, that priests follow the Council’s recommendation to celebrate the Eucharist daily: ‘for even if the faithful are unable to be present, it is an act of Christ and the Church’ (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 13).” (n. 31)

    Benedict XVI concurs in Sacramentum Caritatis (2007): “Priestly spirituality is intrinsically Eucharistic.… An intense spiritual life will enable him [the priest] to enter more deeply into communion with the Lord and to let himself be possessed by God’s love, bearing witness to that love at all times, even the darkest and most difficult. To this end, I join the Synod Fathers in recommending ‘the daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not present’ (Propositio 38). This recommendation is consistent with the objectively infinite value of every celebration of the Eucharist, and is motivated by the Mass’s unique spiritual fruitfulness.” (n. 80)

    As Pope Paul VI stated in Mysterium Fidei (1965): “It is not permissible to extol the so-called ‘community’ Mass in such a way as to detract from Masses that are celebrated privately” (11). “Each and every Mass is not something private, even if a priest celebrates it privately; instead, it is an act of Christ and of the Church. … [E]ven though active participation by many faithful is of its very nature particularly fitting when Mass is celebrated, still there is no reason to criticize but rather only to approve a Mass that a priest celebrates privately for a good reason in accordance with the regulations and legitimate traditions of the Church, even when only a server to make the responses is present…

  6. Oh Lordy! The medieval notion of the “Massing Priest” is alive and well….

    “even if the faithful are unable to be present” and “even when the faithful are not present” never envisioned the present case. They referred to cases where the faithful could not be present because of lateness, or inaccessibility of the location, or some other occasional set of circumstances, or even because they did not want to be present or could not be bothered to be present.

    The case today is very different. Many people do want to be present, but they feel that they are being prevented against their will over an extended period of time. Furthermore, a proportion actually feel guilty that they cannot be present (many have already told me this), even though they know that the obligation is dispensed and that on weekdays they will not be sinning if their daily Mass devotion (for that is what it is) is not satisfied. The challenge there is to convert them from a devotional mentality to a more mature understanding.

    The problem is that this attitude is inculcated in the seminary, and we can see it perpetuated in the citations from Paul VI, Benedict XVI and John Paul II. It’s an older model, where the Mass is the priest’s personal devotion. But that is not what the Church sees as the ideal today, as Gerhards and his colleagues so clearly point out. The continued celebration of Private Masses in the absence of a congregation thus additionally becomes a punishment inflicted on lay people who want to participate.

    Those priests who wish to persist with private Masses (“my Mass”) in opposition to today’s ecclesial understanding of what Eucharist means should be shipped off immediately to South America where they can provide Mass to their heart’s content for the hundreds of thousands if not millions there who do not have the luxury of a monthly or even yearly celebration of the Eucharist, let alone a daily one.

    If they do not wish to do that, then they should consider the absence of a regular Eucharist as a form of penance and join with their lay sisters and brothers in what will be a protracted Eucharistic fast for all. There are many other prayer forms, not to mention the Divine Office, which can nourish them partially in the meantime.

  7. What about the quote from Presbyterorum Ordinis “In the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which priests fulfil their office most especially, the work of our redemption is continually carried out, and therefore its daily offering is warmly commended. Even if the presence of the faithful is not possible, this offering is an act of Christ and the Church.” ?

  8. Also, Pope Francis has started to do benediction at the end of his daily Mass. I guess someone should tell him that he’s doing “damage to the liturgy”…

    1. Well, this is an unfortunate practice in my view. So it goes…
      By the way, with all due respect for Pope Francis, whom I very much love, I think it’s entirely possible that a great pope like him is, in this respect, doing damage to the liturgy. I mean, to the extent that the Vatican II liturgical reform was necessary (which I think it was), a good bit of what church authorities did and permitted over the centuries did damage to the liturgy. It’s two steps forward, one step back. I’m attempting here to speak from the foundational principles of the liturgical reform as I understand them.

  9. The public health officials have allowed for some forms of gathering with no more than ten people. Yet many bishops forbid the participation in private Masses of anyone other than the priest during the time that publicly scheduled liturgies are cancelled. Even four or five people gathering to participate in the sacred mysteries is not necessarily placing anyone at risk provided no on is ill and social distancing is observed. The idea of a private Mass harkens back to the days when many Masses meant a little more income for poor priests.

  10. I think that part of the question turns on how we understand the concept of “private.”

    Here in the Diocese of Oakland, we are under a Shelter in Place order. All Masses have been cancelled. But I know that our pastor continues to offer the Mass for the community every day. I find this gives me great comfort. I really don’t consider this a “private” Mass. I want him to continue doing this while we figure out what to do.

    We are exploring options for having future Sunday Masses “broadcast” over the Internet. But even here, a strict interpretation of the Shelter in Place order suggests that the priest should be alone when he celebrates. Would that be a private Mass?

    I appreciate the value of liturgical theology, canon law, and conciliar hermeneutics. But we’re kind of desperate out here, so I’ll beg your indulgence if not everything we up with fits neatly into those boxes…:-)

    1. Thank you, Peter

      SC considers all Masses, including such Masses, to have a public and social dimension by their very nature. The article writers were overeager to ignore that perhaps subtle point. Go with SC on this one. Sursum corda.

  11. Perhaps it would be helpful to distinguish between Mass without a congregation and a solitary Mass of a priest alone. The sacraments are built on concrete symbols. There is no Body of Christ if there is not first bread, no Blood of Christ if there is not first wine. It is a struggle to argue then, it seems to me, that the whole community is mystically present at a priest’s solitary Mass when there is not a single member of the faithful to symbolize their presence. It is an un-sacramental way of thinking to divorce the spiritual and the material in this way. The Rite of Mass itself never imagined it: the Rite includes dialogues which require another to answer. The prohibitions of the solitary Mass over more than a millennium represent the strength of this theological intuition, even in the West. The Missa sine populo could be offered without a congregation, but not without a server or at least someone to answer the prayers. Such provision could surely be made now even in time of pandemic.

    The solitary Mass was resisted in church legislation, and often if not always in practice, over many centuries until quite recent times. Bl. Charles de Foucauld, for example, when living in the Sahara, did not say Mass for years until he successfully petitioned for an indult to allow him to celebrate Mass alone in a region where he was the only Christian, so strong was the sense of the prohibition of the solitary Mass at the end of the 19th century.

    1. Yes, agree, Paul! Missa sine populo, or what is currently called Mass at Which only One Minister Participates, is not the same as solitary Mass, or what I guess is meant by “private.” The form in the Roman Missal requires at least one other “minister” who is a deacon or one of the faithful (GIRM 254).

      During these extraordinary times, I am grateful for the efforts so many clergy have undertaken to serve, comfort, and nourish their people. And, as a member of the baptismal priesthood, I also am concerned. If we, especially ministerial priests, who strongly promote the validity and good of private Masses when they are needed do not just as strongly lament the people’s absence and work vigorously for every possible option to get at least one other person safely present at the Mass to do the parts that are the right and duty of all the faithful–then we risk slipping into territory where we (priests and people) begin wondering whether the participation of the people is even necessary at all.

      If it is necessary, why not explore this? If even the presence of one other person is risky, with our current technology and growing use of live-streamed Mass, there must be a way to have the priest see and hear at least some of the people who are responding from afar in a synchronous way during the Mass. It would be messy, difficult to set up, and imperfect in many ways. But the effort fits with our current circumstances and strives to uphold the principles of the dignity of baptism and full participation because of that baptism. An effort like this tells me that priests and those who help prepare the liturgy want the people there–not just as an abstract theological idea, not just as people priests will pray for or on behalf of, not just as photos taped to the pews. But they need to see and hear the people responding in the dialogues, serving in various roles, doing the parts in the Mass that are proper to the office of their baptismal priesthood, and offering the Eucharistic sacrifice with them. Because it matters.

  12. I suppose “private” Masses are irrelevant to me. As I understand the justification, the clergy at this Mass have staked a charism for intercessory prayer. On top of everything else for which they are ordained, this may be true. Or it may be supposed. It takes place beyond my view, and as such is a supernatural event perceptible only to God. I would hope that clergy engaging in this ritual are taking ample time to pause, be silent, and pray well for the people in their care. But I long ago stopped caring about Masses for which I had no responsibility. And in this case, I never will.

    I find the notion that religious women and men in monasteries praying for the people of the world to be far more comforting to me than the (admittedly stereotypical) priest saying the black and doing the red. Even in time of crisis.

    1. I am comforted by all that praying, with no discount on the prayer of such a priest that is not just the prayer of such a priest, but of the entire Church – Triumphant, Suffering and Militant. The rubrics of the Sanctus in the conciliar Missal shifted (perhaps too subtly for some to notice) to more clearly underscore that eschatological dimension of the Mass.

      1. Obviously, grace is unaffected by the abilities or even the lack of the charism on the part of a priest. That said, is there a point to some people being granted the supernatural ability to intercede on behalf of others? I know that intercessory prayer is a gift unbound by ordination.

        Mass with lay people has all of the graces of a Mass without. One point of conciliar reform was to enrich the spiritual life of ordinary laity at Mass, to draw them deeper into the full range of mystery offered at Mass. In that sense, “private” Masses are okay. But perhaps not unlike bacon without tomato, lettuce, and bread, cabbage without corned beef, fruit filling without crust. Nutritious, healthy, but falling far short of an ideal. Even without meat, cabbage alone is better than nothing.

        A lay believer with the charism also prays with the prayer of the entire Church, only without the rubrics and given texts.

      2. I think that is to concede too much to erstwhile traditionalists, because it essentially denies that an individual Mass remains public and social by its very nature. I prefer underscoring the Council’s perhaps subtle reversal of terrain on this point.

        The benefits of any Mass are infinite. Infinity plus more (with congregants in this mortal plane in addition to those outside it) is plus more and even better. But it’s also better not to get caught up in the infinity minus and even worser equation. It’s a stingier or at least resentful perspective, kinda caught up in the preconciliar idea of quantification; maybe that’s the issue with it – it’s stuck in reaction with that past.

        As for “is there a point to some people being granted the supernatural ability to intercede on behalf of others?” you can take that up with Roman Catholicism (very much including the Vatican II Edition) and Eastern and Oriental Christianity….

  13. Thanks, all for a vigorous discussion. I hope it leads us all to a better understanding of the Second Vatican Council and its ongoing implementation. (I have edited some comments lightly to remove offensive elements.)

    Helmut Hoping has written a response to the original post of these three liturgical scholars. I’m translating it now and hope to post it soon.


    1. Anthony, I’m grateful for your work in providing these translations. I am sure it is no easy task. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to engage deeply with these very important issues that are at the heart of our understanding of what it means to be church and will shape what that will look like during and after this global crisis.

  14. While I believe I understand and agree with the point of this article, I’m not sure it is helpful given our current situation of no Mass at all for Catholics in our country and most of our world. I also do not not think it is worth our time to nitpick at the rules of Canon Law and the various interpretations right now.

    Yes, the assembly is an important facet of every Eucharistic celebration, but in times like this, I continue to believe in our community and connection. To me, this is part of my utter belief in the mystery of the Body of Christ of which I am a part. Since we believe our God is not bound by limits of time and space, I can easily believe in that “Spiritual Communion” with a Mass that is celebrated somewhere other than in my physical presence. I also believe that my participation and my prayers can also be unbound by physical limitations and therefore connected to Eucharist.

    I do also believe this separation from physical presence and physical community is certainly not ideal but better than no mass at all for 2 months (or more). I also agree with the hope that we can return to our ritual with a renewed love and enthusiasm that is a result of a deep yearning for what we could not completely have.

Leave a Reply

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