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Bishop Osei-Bonsu explains “how many Times a Priest can say Mass in a day”

Question by Christian Dugan:

My Lord, I have a problem with one of the measures relating to the President’s progressive lifting of restrictions.  My problem concerns the fact that the number of persons allowed for a religious service should not exceed 100.  Is it feasible to have only 100 people at the celebration of Holy Mass, especially on Sunday?  Who are going to constitute the 100 people?  Mass is now mandated to take one hour at the maximum.

I know the Catholic Church can effectively celebrate Holy Mass within that period. However, with the restriction to have at most 100 people at Mass, if a parish has 1,000 members, does that mean there will be ten Masses said on that day, Sunday probably? Can the priest withstand that stress? Let us assume that he may be able to do so: the important question is Holy Communion.

A priest can take a maximum of three Communions a day, during Mass.  Now he is saying 10 Masses, even let us say, 5, if he has an assistant and so they rotate. They will need to take 5 Communions that day, if they are to effectively celebrate Mass. But unfortunately, they cannot do so because it is against the Church’s teaching. (Ref: pp 144 para 2 of Sacraments…. Commentary on Canons 840-1004.)

Answer by Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu:

The problem raised by Christian Dugan about the number of people permitted at Mass is a genuine one. How will the 100 be chosen? Will it be a case of “first come first served”? Will they be chosen from the various societies in the church as well as from among those who do not belong to any society in the church? How many of the youth and adults will be selected? The bishop of the diocese, the priests and members of the parish councils will have to deliberate on these issues and take a decision about them.

With regard to the number of Masses to be celebrated, the problem will not be solved by priests saying five or more Masses a day!  On the matter of how many Masses a priest can celebrate in one day, the Church has this to say:

Can. 905 §1. A priest is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day except in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day.

  1. If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation.

The principal occasions when the law permits a priest to celebrate or concelebrate more than once a day are: (1) on Holy Thursday at the Chrism Mass and at the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper; (2) at the Easter Vigil and second Mass of Easter; (3) at the three Masses of Christmas, provided that the Masses are at their proper times according to the liturgical books; and (4) at concelebrations with the bishop or on occasions of a meeting of priests, or gatherings of religious – and another Mass celebrated for the benefit of the people.

The maximum number of Masses that a priest can celebrate in one day, with the permission of the bishop, is three (Canon 905).  In the light of the Covid-19 pandemic with its limitation of 100 people per Mass, the bishop may grant permission for three Masses to be celebrated on Sunday or on holidays of obligation.  On the other hand, a priest could celebrate a Vigil Mass on the Saturday evening before the Sunday.  A Vigil Mass is a Mass held on the “vigil” (evening before) the actual date of the event being celebrated.

A Sunday “Vigil Mass” is held on Saturday, but is the same as a Sunday Mass.  For one priest, then, the maximum number of Masses that he can celebrate with the Vigil Mass will be four, i.e. one on Saturday evening and three on Sunday.  So, even with the provision of a Vigil Mass on the evening before, one priest cannot fulfil the obligation of celebrating 5 or 10 Masses on Sunday!  If, in the parish with 1,000 parishioners proposed by Christian Dugan, there are even three priests, a Vigil Mass can be celebrated on the evening before, and on the following Sunday, each priest could celebrate three Masses and receive Communion three times.  But how many parishes have the luxury of three priests?  What about if a parish has 2,000 people and not 1,000?

It may not be possible to cater for all the members of a parish in terms of Mass attendance with the limitation of 100 people per Mass.  We should realize that these are not normal times and so we have to look for other means to cater for the spiritual needs of our people.  We may, for example, want to consider online Masses for those who cannot attend Mass.  This also has its problems, as the network is not good in some places.

If we are not able to attend Mass physically or online, we can still say our prayers at home.  We should be able to put up with some inconveniences in these unusual times for a while.  We should also remember that in the early Church, Christians did not always have the luxury of a daily Mass.  As Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Emperors, they could not meet publicly to celebrate the Eucharist.  They were in hiding most of the time.  Some celebrated the Eucharist secretly in people’s homes.  The majority did not have this privilege, but they said their prayers at home.  Let those of us who cannot attend Mass either physically or online do likewise, and let us all pray that the Covid-19 pandemic will disappear speedily from the face of the earth!

Authored by Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu


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