Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. At the church I attend, the priest has been telling the congregation (or having the lector tell us) that people do not fulfill their Sunday obligation if they leave Mass before the final blessing. Is there any documentation to validate that?

I understand that priests don’t like parishioners to leave before Mass is completed, but this sort of threat does not sit well with me. I remember years ago when we were told that we had to hear the scriptural readings in order for Mass to “count,” but aren’t such rules technicalities that miss the point of why we participate in the Eucharist? (Clarksville, Tenn.)

A. A half-century ago, before the Second Vatican Council, canonists and moral theologians would sometimes try to answer your question with technical precision: They spoke of three principal parts of the Mass — the offertory, the consecration and the (priest’s) Communion — and said that if you missed any one of those parts, you could not “count” the Mass.

Since the liturgical renewal, with its emphasis on the overall unity of the Mass as an act of worship, no one takes such a minimalist approach. The current Code of Canon Law (No. 1247) says simply, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.” (Note that it doesn’t say “part” or “certain parts” of the Mass.)

By answering your question directly, I might give the (mis)impression that some parts of the Mass are unimportant. But I’ll take that risk by saying that I think one who leaves just before the final blessing has substantially fulfilled the Sunday obligation.

My question, though, would be, “Why would you want to?” Not only are you depriving yourself of the priest’s blessing, but you are insulting the faith community with whom you have joined in a public act of worship.

You have also taken away the opportunity to thank God properly for the gift of his son. I remember being taught that “the priest is the last to enter church and the first to leave.” That strikes me still as good advice.

Q. I am a member of a Saturday morning prayer group consisting of nine people. We come from six different Catholic churches, and each of us is active in our own parish. I have led Communion services at a local nursing home weekly and, in past years, I have held a Communion service twice annually for this prayer group (prior to our Christmas luncheon and, again, just before we break for the summer).

Recently, my parish was assigned a new pastor. When I asked him about getting nine hosts consecrated for our prayer group, he said that he was not able to do that because “the Catholic Church frowns on Communion services.”

I am fully aware that: 1) I myself cannot consecrate hosts; 2) a Communion service should be considered a “special event” and not an everyday occurrence; and 3) a Communion service does not replace the sacrifice of the Mass.

But it seems to me that if a group of active, practicing believers wants to share in the body and blood of Christ at a different time of the week, in addition to attending Sunday Mass, they should be accommodated. Otherwise, we are being prevented from worshipping outside of the church building. (Baltimore County, Md.)

A. Your new pastor is right. A Communion service is meant for people who are unable to get to Mass. Your weekly service at the nursing home is a perfect example of its intended use.

As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says (on its website, under “Weekday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest”), “this rite is designed for ‘those who are prevented from being present at the community’s celebration.'”

The reception of holy Communion is not a purely private devotional practice but is linked — intimately and necessarily — with the sacrifice of Jesus; it is that same sacrifice that is recalled and re-presented in the Mass, which is why the Mass has been called the center of the entire Christian life.

Imagine if any well-meaning group of three or four Catholics could be given consecrated hosts to be received whenever they wanted to get together.

Not to minimize their laudable desire, but what would this do over time to their appreciation of the Eucharist as an act of “public worship,” as the central prayer of the gathered community of faith, presided over by a priest commissioned by Jesus to offer sacrifice on behalf of the faithful?

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.