ASK FATHER: Mass in the living room

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Our parish priest has agreed to say mass in our home living room. How should we set up furniture wise to accommodate this? Thank you.

If your manor house has a chapel, as in Brideshead Revisited, it is appropriate to have the Mass there, especially if the chapel has been duly blessed in accord with can. 1229. Even with a blessed private chapel, permission of the local ordinary is required for a licit celebration of Holy Mass in a private chapel (can. 1228).

If you have a family chaplain, as one does, local ordinary’s permission need not be obtained for the parish priest to offer Mass, though protocol would probably call for him to be at least informed.

If there is no chapel, consider having one constructed. Mass ought to be celebrated in a place specifically built for such an august occasion.  Furthermore, we may be needing them when the real persecutions come and civil authorities and other sue the Church out of all her holdings simply for remaining true to the Faith.  Consider priest holes as well.

The current Code of Canon Law requires that Mass be celebrated in a sacred space, “unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise,” (can. 932). If there is a necessity for Mass to be offered in a home without a chapel (say, for example, Catholicism has been outlawed in one’s home territory and the churches are being closely watched by agents of the state in order to catch and prosecute priests) an appropriate table may be used, but there must always be an altar cloth and corporal on it. The Code does give to the priest the ability to determine whether this is a case of “necessity”. “Necessity” need not be as dire as the situation outlined above, but there should be a good reason for celebrating Mass outside of a sacred space that has been constructed and blessed for just such a purpose.

As to the specifics of how to set up a room that has not been built as a chapel, the principles applied to chapels would be used. Insofar as possible, a table set up, facing east, covered with a cloth and with the requisite number of candles, a crucifix, … of course altar cards. The priest needs space to stand and genuflect and turn about.  Sufficient space for the participants to stand and kneel as required.

The former law forbidding Mass in a bedroom is no longer in force.  However, that is still something to be avoided if possible.  There may be occasions when it must be so, for example, when Mass is being offered for Granpa, who is on his deathbed and unable to come to church, or a priest is on a trip in a place where churches are sparse.

Perhaps at the home Mass a collection could be taken up for the construction of a home chapel (and priest hole, as necessary) in the future.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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18 Responses to ASK FATHER: Mass in the living room

  1. benedetta says:

    Not hoping to open a rabbit hole (ahem), however I am most interested in what sorts of things, in 2014, one might consider in terms of furnishing a proper priest hole. The portable altars that Fr. Z has posted previously and altar cards seem like a useful start for a household that is willing to serve. I am interested in equipping the next generations so that they may have access to the sacraments so much as possible — certainly this is something to think seriously about.
    St. Nicholas Owen, ora pro nobis.

  2. medievalist says:

    When the recent (in)famous Toronto Tunnel was found with a Rosary in it, my first thought was: that would make an excellent priest hole.

  3. benedetta says:

    With certain people with huge amounts of 1% money to throw around on whim and incentivize mobs according to their hate, it seems this is a topic we should be discussing in terms of the particulars in order to plan prudentially.

  4. mulieribus says:

    My husband is the one who builds portable altars. [Yes… see my post on the Ultimate Gift for a priest… HERE] One of our recent orders was from a lady who is wanting one for her local priests. She reminded us of the scenario in Robert Hugh Benson’s “Lord Of The World” where all the altars have been destroyed, and the priests are given permission to use portable altars. I would think some items one would want for these priest holes would be an altar stone (so hard to find these days) and unconsecrated hosts. Of course a small chalice would be nice, as well as simple altar cloths, and blessed 51% beeswax candles – and don’t forget the wine! We were able to have the Sacrifice of the Mass in our living room as my mother is bedbound and was deteriorating. The priest asked for a bell for the Consecration.

  5. M. K. says:

    I wonder about the situation of a priest who is traveling and may want to say a private Mass each day. I imagine this would be fairly clear-cut in some cases, e.g. if the priest is in Riyadh or Pyongyang and can’t count on getting to a sacred place where he could celebrate Mass. I’m more curious, though, about cases of doubt, e.g. if the priest is visiting his parents and staying in their home, could “necessity” permit him to celebrate at the house – or should he make arrangements to say Mass privately in a nearby parish church? I could see how one could argue that saying Mass at home would simply be a matter of convenience in such a case and that the priest should use the church instead, but I wonder whether there would be any real problem with the priest celebrating Mass at home (so as not to bother the local pastor, for example) provided there was a setting where he could do so reverently and he had the necessary items.

  6. Gerard Plourde says:

    There are times and places where a sacred space is not available. That said, is there a reason why the family is seeking to have a Mass said for only themselves? Are they celebrating an event that precludes celebration with the community (even in a weekday Mass where there is smaller attendance)?

  7. gramma10 says:

    If and when the time comes, God will provide. In the meantime get real connected to the Holy Spirit so you can hear His voice and follow His directions.

  8. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    I see I’m going to need a bigger house.

  9. Stephen Matthew says:

    In many diocese there is either particular law (as in canon law for that particular diocese) or at the very least a set of “guidelines” for celebrations in residences and other non-sacred places. From what I have seen, it seems common for priests to have permission to celebrate at places of convenience while traveling. Also, home masses for shut-ins seem to be permitted. However, in some diocese there are restrictions on celebrating masses in private homes without some sufficient cause. Outdoor masses also tend to be restricted to some degree (by law, not just be weather). Sometimes pastors may rule on these matters within their parishes, sometimes it is at least the expectation they will consult higher authority. Not that my knowledge is universal, but that is what I have seen in the few places I have ever come across such things.

    Among my priest acquaintances (I am not sure I have any “priest friends” anymore, negligent of those relationships as I have sadly been, though once I had a number), many when first ordained made a trip home shortly after their “First Mass” and at some point celebrated a mass on the dining room table of their parents’ home, for many families this is a very special moment and even was in some ways a major change in the relationship of the new priest to the rest of the family, for it showed that even in the home they were a priest. To me I can’t hardly imagine not seeking out a church or chapel even for a private mass with family while home visiting, another priest acquaintance of mine has that same attitude and uses a very small and very disused chapel belonging to the local parish for his private masses while at home (his parents have been trusted with a key to make this more convenient).

  10. HeatherPA says:

    God provides by placing the people in our lives that make portable Mass kits and beeswax candles and unconsecrated Hosts and the correct Altar wines and the proper Chalices and Altar cloths and the priests to give us the instructions on the exact rites of such. I wouldn’t wait, but make plans and budget to procure these things, if I didn’t have any yet.

  11. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I find I had a freer and easier idea of portable altars than “necessity requires” – thank you for this post!

  12. ReginaMarie says:

    Being that an altar stone is heavier & more difficult to transport, I wonder if priests of the Roman Catholic tradition are permitted to celebrate Mass using an antimension? The antimension (from the Greek: “instead of the table”) is among the most important furnishings of the altar in the Eastern Catholic liturgical tradition. It is a rectangular piece of cloth, of either linen or silk, typically decorated with representations of the entombment of Christ, the 4 Evangelists, & scriptural passages related to the Eucharist. A small relic of a martyr is sewn into it. The Eucharist cannot be celebrated without an antimension.

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    Random thoughts…

    I suppose having a Mass on an airplane is wrong?

    The first Mass was in someone’s upper room.

    The Chicken

  14. mulieribus says:

    It is my understanding that with the Traditional Latin Mass the priest needs a corporal with the relics of martyrs sewn into it, or an altar stone. I think they get their corporals from their Bishops. I don’t think either a corporal with relics or an altar stone are used for the N.O. What we have found in selling our portable altars is that the newly ordained Diocesan priests WANT an altar with a stone. If they are lucky, they are finding them in cubboards in the basement of their churches. They are also requesting the Traditional Latin Mass SPORCH cards – which tells me they are wanting to learn and say the TLM. One priest was donated some altar stones that were rescued from a garden – being used as stepping stones. Another priest said he was so pleased to have his altar as he hated using the ironing board in his hotel room to say Mass on when he travelled. They don’t always have easy access to a Church/Chapel. It used to be forbidden to say Mass on a ship, but that has changed. Many priests appreciate portable altars for use in Nursing Homes where they had to use a fold-up plastic dining table or a piano. We just received a request to built an even smaller altar with an altar stone that would fold up nicely into a back pack (bug-out bag?). Then there is the request from “Fr. Football” – a nickname we gave to the priest who says Mass for the visiting NFL Football Team’s staff. He was saying Mass on a convention table in the hotel where the visiting team stayed and was so happy to upgrade. Thank you Fr. Z for the plug! We are almost to altar #100 and over 90% are built with altar stones.

  15. Stephen Matthew says:

    There is a ritual for consecrating an antimension (cloth substitute for an altar stone) contained in the 1964 Roman Ritual, it specifies it may only be used by bishops of mission territories and such, though in the Eastern Churches the use of the atimesion is required for every licit Divine Liturgy, even those conducted on a consecrated altar. In other cases in the Latin rite traveling priests should have taken a portable altar stone with them.

    Today it seems new altars are regularly constructed without altar stones or relics, in fact there seems to be an idea that altar stones and relics were outlawed or some such. Virtually no priests have portable altar stones anymore. I doubt the ritual for making antimensions even survived in the current Roman Ritual (which sadly is not available online in English so far as I know, so I don’t have access to it). Most priest now think it is perfectly normal to celebrate mass on a regular corporal on just whatever table or surface is available. I know a priest, a very good priest, devout, traditional in his liturgical choices, who once celebrated a mass on a briefcase in the aisle of a bus for a group of pilgrims on only thought it slightly anomylous. Such is the state of things.

    I know the traditional notion of linking the altar stones to the celebrations on the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs, and the notion of maintaining a physical symbol of the communion of saints, but much of the history and meaning of the old ways on this issue is a bit murky to me. I know of very old places where there where shrines with altars that had no proper altar stones (at least none visible), I do not know how these altars were used.

    My home parish has a stack of old altar stones in the sacristy vault. They keep popping up in all sorts of odd places around the parish, such as one, turned upside down, being used to prep the (very rarely used, usually only for funerals) charcoal for the thurible, or as a fire-resistant surface for burning votive candles near various statues. There was even one being used as an ash tray by the maintenance guy outside at one point. I don’t think anyone knows what those are. Even less, I don’t think anyone knows about the false panel that hides all the circa 1962 liturgical books behind the shelves in the vault.

  16. Mojoron says:

    I made friends with a Nigerian priest who was attending our hospitals Chaplain program for two years. Since he did not have faculties in the local diocese to say Mass or give homilies, I and a few other Catholics, when we had an opportunity, at 0400 in the morning, to go to his apartment to pray Mass, we did. Obviously we didn’t pray the Mass every day, often times we would recite the Morning Prayer from the Brevary or pray the Rosary when times were short, he was on call to the hospital and so were we. The hospital was secular and there was only one Catholic church in town. Those two years were the best two years I have ever had as a Catholic. Big Sanctified Church or not, his Masses were a blessing for us working folks.

  17. Gratias says:

    Mass in the living room can be very effective if a new pastor is trying to bring people back to a parish. It worked in our case in Los Angeles.

    Another thing is a Mass in a mortuary. Recently my dear Mother in law passed away in South America. By the time we arrived she was in cold storage. We could get her out in a mortuary and in a nice coffin. The firm knew a priest who came and offered mass right on top of the coffin. This was probably the nicest reformed Mass we attended. The young priest simply laid a cloth over the lid of the coffin and went right ahead. The readings were by family members. Many took communion after many years. (I asked the priest, who received a substantial donation, whether he could at least say the Agnus Dei in Latin; in the middle of mass he approached me that his missal did not contain the Cordero de Dios in Latin, so in Spanish it was.) It was a wonderful send off for a wonderful woman who died at 94 in her sleep; there was no consecrated space for this Mass.

    Maybe being too picky about consulting Bishops is not such a great idea as hard times for Keeping the Faith are approaching.

  18. mulieribus says:

    It is my understanding that with the Traditional Latin Mass the priest needs a corporal with the relics of martyrs sewn into it, or an altar stone. I think they get their corporals from their Bishops. I don’t think either a corporal with relics or an altar stone are used for the N.O. What we have found in selling our portable altars is that the newly ordained Diocesan priests WANT an altar with a stone. If they are lucky, they are finding them in cubboards in the basement of their churches. They are also requesting the Traditional Latin Mass SPORCH cards – which tells me they are wanting to learn and say the TLM. One priest was donated some altar stones that were rescued from a garden – being used as stepping stones. Another priest said he was so pleased to have his altar as he hated using the ironing board in his hotel room to say Mass on when he travelled. They don’t always have easy access to a Church/Chapel. It used to be forbidden to say Mass on a ship, but that has changed. Many priests appreciate portable altars for use in Nursing Homes where they had to use a fold-up plastic dining table or a piano. We just received a request to built an even smaller altar with an altar stone that would fold up nicely into a back pack (bug-out bag?). Then there is the request from “Fr. Football” – a nickname we gave to the priest who says Mass for the visiting NFL Football Team’s staff. He was saying Mass on a convention table in the hotel where the visiting stayed and was so happy to upgrade. Thank you- you Fr. Z for the plug! We are almost to altar #100 and over 90% are built with altar stones.

    A priest said Mass on one in a Mortuary – the weather was so severe, it was unreasonable to move the body.
    Nursing Homes – instead of the plastic dining tables or the piano.
    Hospital Rooms – Fr. Vitz said Mass at midnight for three days prior to his surgery and his confreres said it for him after surgery.

    One of the most beautiful instances I am aware of with Mass being said outside of Church was in a hospital room. The young priest was just diagnosed with a brain tumor and immediately admitted into the ICU. He spent three days in that room prior to his surgery and he offered Mass in the quiet of the night at midnight each evening. After his surgery, his confreres were able to offer Mass for him as well in that room. What a consolation in such a trial!