From a reader:
I remember my father telling me when I was young that if one arrived after the Gospel at Sunday Mass, one could not receive Communion and the Sunday obligation was not fulfilled. My question has to do with daily Mass. I travel 40 miles each way to work and try to attend a 6:30 Mass before work. I am definitely not a morning person and occasionally arrive right after the priest has read the Gospel. Am I allowed to receive Communion? When that does happen I stay a few minutes after Mass and read the Gospel passage in my Magnificat publication.
Reading texts from Mass on your own is praiseworthy, but it is not the same as participating in their reading during Mass. One is a private act of devotion. The other is a liturgical action.
There were different views about limits on lateness, or presence at Mass. In one view, moral theologians thought that you had to be there at least for the reading of the Gospel onward. A good view. The Gospel is important. In another view, you had to be there from offertory onward at least under the purification of the chalice after Communion. (Let’s not focus too much on leaving Mass early and getting into a problem about fulfill one’s obligation.) This is one reason why bells were rung at the unveiling of the chalice at the offertory: that was your demarcation point between being in or out, as it were.
Others will say that you have to be there from the first words of Mass to the very end. A laudable approach, though a little inflexible. Yes, there is the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of Sacrifice/Communion/etc. There is the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful. But, however you divide up Mass, Mass is one. It forms a unity. So, we should be therefore the whole Mass, right? To get around the inflexibility part, some of the same people who will say you have to be therefore every breath, will tell you with the next breath that you should go to Communion anyway, even if you were late. I have me doubts about that. I’ll get to that below, after I rant for a while longer.
I am inclined to use the old chalice veil to chalice veil idea, at least insofar as “obligation” is concerned. We need to be as favorable towards people as we can when it comes to any obligations that are imposed on them. The veil to veil approach seems reasonable and clear cut.
At the same time, when it comes to our involvement in liturgical worship I am not comfortable with the minimalist approach.
In one sense, it is enough the have the priest say the minimum amount of the form of the consecration over bread and wine and then consume it. Sure, that is “valid”. It is “enough”. But enough isn’t enough. Sure, you can look at Mass from the point of view of being there for enough of it, and that is useful for being able to be clear or at ease about your obligations. The law helps us relax.
The obligation thing and the Church’s law are important. People should be able to rest easy about their obligations. Take, for example, a penitent and his penance assigned in confession. Some dreamy and pastorally sensitive priests who want to make confession spontaneous and chummy and nice will give as a penance – such a harsh word – something like “Think a nice thought someone today!” or “Do a good deed.”. Sorry, but when I get out of the confessional I wanted a penance I can perform and then know that I have done it and not have to wonder even for a spit second whether I did it or not.
The same goes for Mass attendance and obligation. Did you fulfill it? Yes or no? The demarcation lines and “minimum time there” approach have the benefit of answering that question, though they may leave some deeper questions about our role at Mass unresolved.
So, if you are late for Mass through no fault of your own, and there is no other way to fulfill your Sunday or Holy Day obligation, you have nevertheless done your best. If you late through your own fault, that is another matter.
I am going to go with an old traditional way of seeing this: chalice veil to chalice veil. Despite the indisputable importance of the Gospel and the rest of Mass, that’s where I will draw the line because when we have a restriction, we have to restrict our restrictions to the minimum.
Reception of Communion is not the mark of having fulfilled your Mass obligation. You are still obliged to go to Sunday Mass even if you know you cannot receive Communion. Communion is not the same as getting your parking ticket validated at the restaurant. Communion is more complicated and more simple.
No one has a gun to your head saying that you must receive Communion at every Mass you go to, even when you are in the state of grace. You can go… or not go.
Here is my simple answer to whether you can go to Communion.
If you are not sure you have been there at Mass “enough”, and you will have a sense of when that is, then don’t go to Communion. Don’t make excuses for yourself and introduce doubts about whether you should have gone or not. Don’t go and you won’t wonder about whether you have to go to confession about unworthy reception. Keep it simple. The next time, get to Mass on time and go without having to weigh the odds.