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In the Catholic imagination, daily Mass remains a kind of spiritual ideal. Perhaps it is time to reconsider this ideal.
In the first centuries of the Christian era, the celebration of eucharist belonged on Sunday, though the Sunday celebration was regularly extended throughout the week when people took home some of the consecrated bread to be received on weekdays. From the first centuries, Wednesday and Friday were kept as days of fasting and prayer, but without Mass. Weekday Masses were introduced gradually, more quickly in some places than in others. At first, Mass was celebrated at the tomb of a local martyr on the anniversary of death. Gradually votive Masses began to be celebrated, through the first set of Mass texts for weekdays only dates from the 8th century. Weekday Mass first became common during Lent. In the 4th century there is the first evidence of a place with daily Mass. In the mid 5th century, there was still no Mass on Wednesdays and Fridays in Alexandria or Rome: it was not until the 6th century in the West that Mass was celebrated on these days. The ideal of daily Mass can be said to date from the early Middle Ages and became very important during the high Middle Ages.
There are several reasons for rethinking the ideal. Firstly, there is the special relationship which exists between the Lord’s Day and the celebration of the eucharist; we would not want to compromise the links between the gathering of the assembled Church, the ‘weekly Easter’ of Sunday, and the celebration of the paschal sacrifice – this is not to suggest, of course, that daily Mass necessarily takes away from the preeminence of Sunday eucharist. Secondly, rethinking the ideal may help us to rediscover that the Liturgy of the Hours, not eucharist, is in fact the official Daily Prayer of the Church. Thirdly, there may be a number of practical benefits.
Among the practical consequences of a change in this ideal, one would expect a change in Mass timetables. Masses would be scheduled at several different times in the morning and in the evening; while this makes it difficult for someone to go to daily Mass, it makes it easier for a greater number to take part in one or other weekday Mass. It would help to break down the need for daily communion, so that, when Mass is not available on a particular day, the Liturgy of the Hours (without communion) can take its rightful place as daily prayer in our parish liturgy. Such an approach could also help us to celebrate special feasts and occasions better. Without a fixed cycle of daily Mass, important feasts and commemorations or important seasons like Lent will stand out if these days are selected for the celebration of weekday eucharist.
While a good case can be made for holding a communion service on Sunday when Sunday eucharist is not possible, a communion service on a weekday should be extremely rare; the difference in approach to Sundays and weekdays is the result of the special relationship between Sunday and eucharist.
“The Lord’s Day is the day par excellence when men and women raise their song to God and become the voice of all creation” (Apostolic Letter Dies Domini, 15).