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Another look at daily Mass
DAILY MASS REVISITED
My recent column on the subject of Daily Mass has elicited more response than any other column. While most of the reaction has been positive, I seem to have touched a nerve with some who have reacted vociferously.
Because some of my comments seem to have been misunderstood or misread, I am taking the opportunity to revisit the issue.
The gathering of the community on Sunday to celebrate eucharist is normative and has been since the earliest years in the church. During the persecution of Diocletian, many Christians defied the imperial decree and accepted death rather than miss the Sunday eucharist.
The preeminence of Sunday eucharist is emphasised in the pope’s recent apostolic letter “Dies Domini”. The Sunday eucharist expresses with greater emphasis its inherent ecclesial dimension and is the paradigm for other eucharistic celebrations. (#34). Among the many activities of a parish, none is as vital or as community forming as the Sunday celebrations of the Lord’s Day and his eucharist (#35). The truth that the whole community shares in Christ’s sacrifice is especially evident in the Sunday gathering, which makes it possible to bring to the altar the week that has passed, with all its human burdens. (#43)
The early Christian community came together for prayer on other days of the week in response to Christ’s command to pray always. But they did not celebrate the eucharist. The weekday liturgy that developed was based on recitation of the psalms and prayers of intercession – what we now know as “cathedral office”. It was used in parish churches and was designed for public participation. It was not until the Middle Ages that weekday Masses became widespread.
In the minds of many Catholics, attending Mass daily became an ideal – “a conception of something that is perfect, esp that which one seeks to attain” (Collins Dictionary). When priests were available to say Mass every day in parishes, such an ideal was a possibility if people were free to attend at the time when it was scheduled.
I would never suggest that Mass is not important! The fact is that it is simply no longer possible to offer daily Mass in most parishes. How we respond to this reality needs to be carefully thought through.
On those days when the priest is able to preside at Mass, when should it be scheduled – at the usual 6.30am or 9.00am timeslot or at a variety of times, including evenings, so that a wider range of people might be able to come? Preference could also be given to special feast days such as solemnities or parish patronal feasts to highlight them as significant liturgical occasions.
Because Mass has become the regular form of daily parish worship, people are unsure of what to do when a priest is unavailable.
The Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest (1988) recommends celebrating some part of the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly morning or evening prayer (#33). What can replace eucharist on a Sunday is certainly appropriate for weekdays. Unfortunately many people know only the complicated form used in the official “breviary” and consider it the preserve of priests and religious. Yet its origin was very much as the worship of ordinary folk. Vatican II called for the Liturgy of the Hours to be made available again to lay people, describing it as “the very prayer that Christ himself, together with his Body, addresses to the Father”. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 84). When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we join our voices in prayer with the universal church.
The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (1971) has this to say:
“Those taking part in the Liturgy of the Hours have access to holiness of the richest kind through the life-giving word of God”. (14)
“In the Liturgy of the Hours the Church exercises the priestly office of its Head and offers to God, without ceasing, a sacrifice of praise”. (14)
“When the Church offers praise to God in the Liturgy of the Hours, it unites itself with that hymn of praise sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven”. (16)
“Whenever possible, groups of the faithful should celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours communally in church”. (21)
Some parishes choose to celebrate a Liturgy of the Word with communion when Mass is not available. There are real dangers here. Often the form and words are almost identical to those of the Mass. Even the title “eucharistic service” can cloud the fact that this is not Mass. We’ve all heard stories of people saying: “I like going to sister’s Mass on Monday when Father has his day off!”
The recent emphasis on frequent communion is somewhat puzzling in light of our history. The "Easter duty” was introduced in the Church to compel people to receive communion annually. Sodalities were established early last century to encourage monthly communion. Novenas and Benediction were always well attended although they did not include the reception of communion.
While a good case can be made for a communion service on Sunday when eucharist is not possible, a communion service on a weekday should be extremely rare. The different approach to Sundays and weekdays is because of the special relationship between Sunday and eucharist.
The Mass is the summit and source of the Church’s life. While we treasure and value the eucharist as the centre and highpoint of all Christian prayer, it should not be our only spiritual nourishment. I certainly do not want to downplay or abolish weekday Masses. But perhaps in present circumstances we need to reconsider what is held up to people as the spiritual ideal.