Christmas Questions - 7th December 2014

Christmas Mass in Church or Hall

Q. What is the Church's directive when it comes to major liturgies like Christmas being celebrated in the church in preference to the school hall next door when the only reason for the celebrations to be held in the hall is that it has more space? There is a solution for catering for the overflow of people at these special liturgies, which is to provide seating and screens outside the church, so that the liturgy can be celebrated in the church.

A. This is what the official documents say on the matter:

“The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in a sacred place unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise; in such a case the celebration must be done in a decent place.The eucharistic sacrifice must be carried out on a dedicated or blessed altar; outside a sacred place a suitable table can be used, always with a cloth and a corporal.” (Code of Canon Law 932)

“For the celebration of the Eucharist, the People of God are normally gathered together in a church or, if there is no church or if it is too small, then in another respectable place that is nonetheless worthy of so great a mystery. Therefore, churches or other places should be suitable for carrying out the sacred action and for ensuring the active participation of the faithful.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal 288)

Both documents clearly permit Mass to be celebrated in a school community hall if the church is too small, as long as the former is “decent” and “respectable”. With careful preparation, a hall can certainly be made suitable for celebrating Mass with a large group.

You suggest that the overflow could be accommodated by providing seating and screens outside the church. That is easier said than done. Obtaining and setting up suitable seating and sound equipment is not a simple exercise and can be very costly. Dividing the assembly into the “insiders” and “outsiders” also does not make for good communal liturgy.

Parishes which have tried putting seating and sound equipment outside the church to cater for overflow have encountered many other problems such as rain, wind, insects, poor sound quality, and interference from outsiders.

Nativity Scene

Q. Your Advent liturgy planning guide says that when the Christmas crib is set up, the figure of the infant should be included. I am of the opinion that there is the period of waiting for the birth of Christ and so the infant Jesus is placed there only at Christmas and the same with the “Wise Men” at the Epiphany. If we put it all out then we are like the shops.

A. Putting the figure of Jesus in the crib on Christmas Eve and the wise men at Epiphany historicises the gospel accounts in a way that they were never intended to be used. None of the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year are re-enactments of historical events. At Christmas we celebrate the fact that the incarnate, crucified and risen Christ is always present in the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The planning guide also suggests that the nativity scene not be put in the church until the 4th Sunday of Advent and be kept there throughout the Christmas season. That is not at all “like the shops”!

Elizabeth Harrington