Sunday Mass and Daily Mass - 27th April 2014

In the first centuries of the Christian era, the celebration of Eucharist was held always and only on Sunday.

During the persecution of Diocletian, many Christians defied the imperial decree and accepted death rather than miss “the breaking of the bread” on Sunday.

This tradition was been retained down through the centuries, as evidenced by Pope John Paul II’s 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini:

• 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. (# 15)
• 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 and it is only in relatively recent times that attending Mass daily became an ideal in the minds of many Catholics. 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.

There are several reasons for rethinking the ideal:

• The current staffing situation means that it is no longer possible to offer daily Mass in most parishes.
• The need to emphasise the special relationship which exists between the Lord’s Day and the celebration of the Eucharist.
• Retaining the traditional link between the gathering of the assembled Church, the “weekly Easter” of Sunday, and the celebration of the paschal sacrifice.
• Rethinking the ideal may also help us to rediscover that the Liturgy of the Hours, not Eucharist, is in fact the official Daily Prayer of the Church.
• Without a fixed cycle of daily Mass, important feasts and commemorations or seasons like Lent will stand out if these days are selected for the celebration of weekday Mass.

To make it easier for more people to take part in one or other weekday Mass, parishes could consider scheduling them at different times (morning and evening) on different days during the week. Not everyone is able to get to Mass early on weekday mornings which seems to be the most common time for them to be held.

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. In present circumstances we need to reconsider what is held up to people as the spiritual ideal.


Elizabeth Harrington