This letter ‘Are you attending Mass?’ appeared in the June 11 issue.
The Editor: Is it still correct to say that if you come to Mass during or after the Gospel you have not really attended Mass? Recently more and more persons arrive at Mass during and after the Gospel and as well while the priest is giving the homily.
This doesn’t include persons who arrive at Mass as soon as the Gospel begins and stand at the back of the Church until it’s over then walk in to get a seat just before the priest begins the homily; they actually do arrive while or after the Gospel is being read and walk into church for a seat.
I’m not being judgemental in any way because there are persons who genuinely – and due to extenuating circumstances get to Mass late but even so can they consider that they have attended Mass arriving as they do after the Gospel?
One or two persons actually arrive just prior to Communion, receive the Host and leave after Mass. Does arriving at Mass after the Gospel, fulfil your Sunday obligation and should you receive Communion if you do? I am not sure; can someone advise me? M Pouchet, Woodbrook
Msgr Michael de Verteuil, Chair of the Liturgical Commission, replies:
‘The Mass consists, in some sense, of two parts, namely the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, these being so closely interconnected that they form one single act of worship’ (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 28).
This sentence was probably added because of the widespread opinion that once one got to Mass before the ‘offertory’ (the Preparation of Gifts) one had fulfilled the ‘Sunday obligation’. So what about people who come to Mass late i.e. they arrive after or during the Liturgy of the Word which is so closely interconnected with the Liturgy of the Eucharist that it forms one single act of worship? Should they receive Communion? Have they fulfilled their Sunday obligation? These are two separate questions and not necessarily linked.
Certainly, people should arrive in time for the beginning of Mass, and should make every effort to do so. But there are many reasons why people are late, and some very good ones too, e.g. transport difficulties, rain, visiting a parish and mistaking the time of Mass, illness (theirs or that of someone for whom they care), job.
Then there are those, albeit few, who have an inability to be on time for anything (yes, there is such a recognised condition). Obviously, it is ideal to be on time but we have to give people the benefit of the doubt and welcome them into the assembly of God’s hospitable people.
That being said, if the late coming is on purpose – ‘the priest too boring’; ‘all I want is Communion’; ‘once I reach for the offertory I fulfil my obligation’ (possibly the worst reason of all, the Mass being seen primarily as an obligation) – then there is a problem and the person should be encouraged to learn about and understand the Mass.
Has this person fulfilled their ‘Sunday obligation’? Strictly speaking, no, as they have willfully not attended Mass which is made up of two parts with an introduction and conclusion (GIRM 28).
Can they receive Communion? Yes. Canon Law 843.1 says, “Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who request them at the opportune times, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them”. Further, Canon 912: “Any baptised person who is not forbidden by law may and must be admitted to Holy Communion”.
It seems to me that at the time when Communion is being distributed, and giving the person the benefit of the doubt that they are properly disposed (having fasted for one hour before, free of mortal sin, believing in the Real Presence), and not prohibited by law (there also being no law as to the time one must arrive at Mass to be able to receive Communion), that the person can receive Communion.