ASK FATHER: Priests don’t say daily Mass in the parish

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Is it the case that any Masses that a parish priest says, other than on a Sunday, are “private Masses” and, therefore, it is entirely up to him whether or not he says them?

This is the line taken by the two priests who have taken over the parish my father lives in. It seems that there is the odd day or two in the week (differing from week to week) when a weekday Mass is offered, and it is their view that as such Masses are “private”, and that as under canon law they have no obligation to say Mass each day, then everyone should be happy with whatever pattern of weekday Masses might be offered and think themselves lucky that any “bonus Masses” above the Sunday requirement are offered.

I appreciate that canon law does not require priests to say Mass each day but, in setting out the duties of a parish priest canon law states that, in effect, the Eucharist should be at the heart of parish life, and there is a reference to offering Mass with greater solemnity on Sundays and Feast Days. This clearly suggests that Masses are by no means to be restricted to Sundays, but should be central to parish life. How can this be given effect if weekday Masses are increasingly a rarity?

Do parishioners just have to accept that they now have to give up the habit of daily Mass as the parish priest can do as he wishes? It is not even as if saying Mass takes them very long, as the present incumbents have it all over in well under 15 minutes.

[… and rambling begins….]

GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson:

To think of any sort of “obligation” to offer Mass daily strikes me – and surely will strike the hearts of many other priests as odd. It would be similar to a tourist in Rome thinking he had some sort of an obligation to have a cup of espresso every day, or a scoop of gelato, or a beautiful plate of perfectly-cooked pasta. As a priest, those few days since ordination when, either because of illness or necessary travel I have been unable to offer the Holy Sacrifice are sad days in my calendar.

Yet, the law is the law, and just as the faithful are only required to receive Holy Communion once per year, the requirements of the priest with regards to offering Mass are pretty minimal.

Canon 904 recommends, but does not require, that a priest offer the Holy Mass daily. Canon 534 requires that pastors offer Mass on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation for the faithful of his parish (whether or not they’re registered, whether or not they’re Catholic (the Missa pro populo should be offered for ALL the baptized living in the territory of the parish, or if the parish is a personal parish, for all the faithful who fit the parameters set by the bishop for that parish).

Now, particular law may have different requirements, and the priests of a parish should be seeking to meet the needs of the faithful. If they are not doing so, the faithful have every right to appeal to the bishop. It would be difficult to think of how a priest could more provide for the needs of his parish than by offering Mass for them on a daily basis.

A priest may be permitted a day off during the course of the week, and during that day off, it could be reasonable for the priest not to offer a publicly scheduled Mass – perhaps he goes away on his day off, or sleeps in a bit, but it would seem to me that a priest failing to offer regular daily Masses at his parish is, if not in violation of the specifics of the law, certainly negligent in his obligations toward the spiritual welfare of those entrusted to his care. And our interlocutor speaks of two priests at this parish (what a luxury in this day and age!) Two priests should certainly be able to divide their obligations suitably so that at the very minimum, daily Mass is offered at the parish.

If the priests are not approachable, and the bishop is unwilling to address the matter, what recourse do the faithful have? I’m a big fan of the power of shame. If the priests keep the church locked up all day and twenty people show up every day at noon and pray the rosary on the front steps of the church, it won’t take long for that to grab attention. Is there another parish nearby, or a convent or chapel with regular Mass? If a dozen or so parishioners of St. Eleutherius start showing up for daily Mass at St. Exuperantius or the Convent of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin, it won’t take long for priests to begin chattering. If those parishioners then write to the priests at St. Eleutherius and tell them that, since they are receiving regular pastoral attention from the priests at St. Exuperantius and the Seven Dolour nuns, they will, in justice, have to lessen their contributions to St. Eleutherius accordingly to support other needs, attention will be obtained.

If the priests are negligent in their other duties, such as visiting the sick, or prisoners, or the homebound, and a group of parishioners take it upon themselves to make the rounds and visit the sick themselves, attention will be grabbed.

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17 Responses to ASK FATHER: Priests don’t say daily Mass in the parish

  1. APX says:

    The primary reason a priest is ordained is to offer Mass and absolve sin. If offering Mass isn’t high on their priorities, then I can only assume hearing confessions is an even less of a priority. I also imagine these priests have stopped saying their Divine Office as well. Even if they haven’t, this is a very sad state of affair for those priests who will have to stand in front of God at their particular judgment, and all the souls entrusted to their care at the final judgment (which is why at a priest’s funeral, their head is placed facing the altar. Food for thought when offering Mass versus populum) and render an account for their negligence. How many graces and souls have been lost due to not offering Mass daily. We should all re-double our prayers and Penances for negligent priests.

  2. FranciscusVegrandis says:

    In the Central Wisconsin town where I grew up, the priests of the local deanery parishes coordinate to ensure that there is Mass at a designated parish on Mondays, the day that many of them take off. That seems to me a laudable practice at this time when there are so many fewer priests.

    At my own current parish out in the rural Wisconsin countryside, our pastor has been away on medical leave for some time now. (Please say a prayer for him!) We are grateful for the priests who visit on Sundays and holydays in his absence, but we very much miss having daily Mass. Not that there is any excuse–I’d guess that there are a half dozen parishes with daily Mass within half an hour’s drive. We truly are blessed!

  3. rtjl says:

    A priest also has to balance the ability to say a daily Mass with other pastoral duties. In most parishes in my city for instance priests balance saying daily mass in the parish with saying masses at hospices, retirement homes and schools. In the case of hospices and retirement homes, the priests are making Mass available to people who are otherwise effectively shut ins. So some days the priest says Mass in the parish and some days he says it in other locations.

    If you are concerned about daily prayer offerings in your parish and if Mass (and the priest) is not available on a daily basis, I would suggest organizing a group to pray Lauds and/or Vespers under the direction of the priest (even if he cannot attend) and putting that on offer for the days when a Mass cannot be said.

  4. caputvero says:

    I am a priest, and I offer the Holy Mass every day, but it is not always in my parish church. I like to have a day of rest each week, so I generally offer Mass on the small altar in my rectory, so that I can sleep in a bit. Several times a month I have Mass at a nursing home, and several days a month I have Masses for special groups who meet at odd times, like a sodality of pious mothers, etc. At the same time, I don’t feel obligated to offer two Masses on days when I have these “extracurricular” Masses. My regular parishioners are always blessed to have weekday Masses several days each week, even though it isn’t always on a schedule set in stone. (They get the schedule of daily Masses for the week in their Sunday bulletin.) I don’t feel the need to say two Masses on a week day, just so as to accommodate a person who wants to go to Mass every single day. It is a beautiful and pious desire, but one of my parishioners who wants to do that will need to be flexible and occasionally drive to another parish for a Mass in the middle of the week, so that I can do these “extracurriculars” without having to binate. I offer three Masses every single Sunday morning, and I can tell you that the danger of burn-out and beginning to offer the Masses without due reverence and faith is a very real concern for many priests, which is why it is ideal to only say one Mass each day.

    I don’t know the situation of the priests of the person who asked this question, but I would ask him or her to consider if his or her priests might be in a similar situation. If they are just being lazy and don’t want to say Mass at all, then there is no good excuse, but if they are trying to stick to offering only one Mass a day on weekdays, then I think they should be cut some slack.

  5. hwriggles4 says:

    There was one summer where our large parish only had one priest due to commitments made with other summer assignments, such as pilgrimages, teaching, and a good Filipino priest who was promised a visit to his homeland for a month. Here’s what was decided and it worked:

    1. The pastor decided to celebrate one daily Mass per day. It was the 5:30 pm Mass. This parish is located in an area with lots of businesses, and many attend Mass after work. It is well attended.

    2. The pastor notified parishioners well in advance of daily Mass times at parishes within a 15 mile radius (at least four parishes). Mass times and directions were posted in the narthex all summer for these other parishes. This way if people were used to attending before work or preferred morning liturgy could do so.

    3. When summer was over, the pastor thanked parishioners. The pastor also said that the summer schedule allowed him to continue pastoral duties, such as meetings, sick calls, funerals, emergencies, etc. Like most pastors, priests are busy, and this one arises at 5 am. most days.

    Keep in mind too that many places now have “clustered” parishes, where daily Mass may be alternated between two parishes.

  6. Traductora says:

    Good points by the priests who have to say other masses (such as at nursing homes, etc.). I can certainly understand that sometimes it’s just not possible to have mass in the parish.

    I grew up in NYC prior to Vatican II, when parishes usually had several daily masses (because they usually had several priests). I also used to see elderly priests who could barely walk being helped out to say a “private” mass at a side altar, because they never wanted to stop saying mass.

    After VII, however, I think it’s undeniable that priests do not regard saying mass as the one special thing (along with hearing confessions) that only they can do, and that the availability of masses has decreased. I suspect that this is because, in this post VII era, a lot of the mass was taken over by little old ladies and other “Eucharistic ministers,” which has devalued the whole thing.

    I always understood that saying mass was what being a priest was all about, his identity, so to speak, and it’s not surprising that having this taken away has led to a decrease in getting out of bed in the morning to celebrate mass. We have a daily mass in my parish – but we also, by some fluke, have 4 priests (one semi-retired for a back injury, but still able to celebrate mass) and I can’t believe that it would be impossible to have another mass, other than the one daily mass at a very early hour that most of our large tourist population can’t get to, if the priests really wanted to say mass. But we need to go way beyond individual reluctance and look at the devaluation of the whole project if we want to stop blaming individuals and see this as basically an institutional problem.

  7. aliceinstpaul says:

    To Fr. Caputvero,

    Imagine a lady who stays at home with small children. She has maybe one day a week when her husband can go into work late so she can go to morning mass without little ones. He can’t do that on just a couple days’ notice, and therefore neither can she. Knowing on Sunday which day daily mass is offered that week isn’t enough time to make arrangements.

    Imagine a man who works in a shop or on call. He wishes to attend morning daily mass once a week. He works mostly days, but one day a week he works nights, so his morning is free. But that is fixed because everyone else’s schedule had to cover the other evenings and open mornings. He can’t alter the day he’ll work nights and have a morning off. Knowing on Sunday which day mass is offered doesn’t work for him.

    Imagine an older lady who needs help to get to church. Her daughter can only take her one day a week. She is willing to adjust her work schedule to help, but she can’t change it every week.

    I hope you can imagine the laity’s experience a bit more. It sounds as if you help certain groups, and that’s wonderful. But perhaps that means you are accidentally favoring some parishioners over others. Maybe there are some ways you can make your schedule more consistent to help a different set of parishioners. And maybe you’d find parishioners more willing to give their emotional, spiritual, and financial support to the parish as a result.

  8. hwriggles4 says:

    Here’s two other things to keep in mind:

    1. Sometimes the diocese has meetings or retreats for priests. These are announced well in advance, since daily Mass is oftentimes cancelled or reduced during this time. Some parishes will have a permanent deacon run a communion service in lieu of daily Mass, and good priests often remind parishioners of these and the fact this is a communion service.

    2. Some seminaries, novitiates, convents, priories, and formation houses sometimes have closed” Masses that are not open to the public. For example, a seminary may have a family weekend with only family members being invited, so there isn’t public Mass on several Sundays. The college seminary in my diocese posts a list of “public Mass weekends” on their website. That way, visitors know ahead of time when they can attend. On closed weekends, visitors can attend a parish.

  9. majuscule says:

    And then there are priests who offer three Masses on this day, All Souls, because they are privileged to be able to do so.

  10. APX says:

    Some parishes will have a permanent deacon run a communion service in lieu of daily Mass, and good priests often remind parishioners of these and the fact this is a communion service.

    These types of services aren’t actually permitted to be held in lieu of daily Mass, as indicated in Redemptoris Sacramentum. They’re only permitted on Sundays when there is no priest available and it is not possible to attend Sunday Mass at another parish. Instead the faithful are instructed to pray for more priests.

  11. hwriggles4 says:

    Clarification: When I said “good priests”, this is a reminder of the difference between a “communion service ” and a “Mass”. A “communion service ” is not Mass, and good priests let parishioners know that a communion service is not Mass.

    However, a few days a year quite a few priests are called away in bulk for a convocation, and are not available for daily Mass. It is either not have daily Mass at all, or have a permanent deacon do a communion service. While I am not a regular daily Mass attendee, I do know that some parishes in my diocese (to my knowledge, the two I regularly attend including my registered parish do not do a communion service ) have done communion services during these few days, and announce in advance that there will not be daily Mass due to the priests not being available, since the convocation is mandatory for priests to attend.

  12. bilop says:

    @ hwriggles4

    But that’s not right. When there is no priest available for daily Mass it is to be cancelled, and parishoners directed to nearby parishes.

    There is no provision in the Church law for communion services in lieu of Daily Mass. That is an abuse.

  13. Imrahil says:

    These types of services aren’t actually permitted to be held in lieu of daily Mass, as indicated in Redemptoris Sacramentum. They’re only permitted on Sundays when there is no priest available and it is not possible to attend Sunday Mass at another parish.

    Forgive me for not looking it up right now, but I was under the impression that these types of services are actually forbidden on Sundays – at least if it is not possible to attend Mass at another parish, as you say, which, let’s face it, is not a situation that practically occurs in the areas we chiefly look to. The reason for this ban is that they would be perceived by the people as replacement for the Mass, which they are not.

    I cannot see how on a weekday, where people are not obliged to attend Mass at all, but where they very much might still desire to partake of the Blessed Sacrament, they should be forbidden.

    (Note that receiving Communion outside Mass is a legitimate thing to do and not restricted to the sick and to Good Friday, notwithstanding rumours to the contrary.)

  14. TonyO says:

    I don’t feel the need to say two Masses on a week day, just so as to accommodate a person who wants to go to Mass every single day. It is a beautiful and pious desire, but one of my parishioners who wants to do that will need to be flexible and occasionally drive to another parish for a Mass in the middle of the week, so that I can do these “extracurriculars” without having to binate. I offer three Masses every single Sunday morning, and I can tell you that the danger of burn-out and beginning to offer the Masses without due reverence and faith is a very real concern for many priests, which is why it is ideal to only say one Mass each day.

    caputvero raises some very good points. I would like to raise some equally valid points, and then propose some potential solutions.

    First, as a father of many children, I can guarantee you that there is an immense benefit to going to daily mass if you can do it – for all of the family. While it is certainly not an obligation, it is also more than just a “pious desire,” too. Better to think of it more along the lines of daily exercise for a person recuperating from an injury: sure, they can get by if they miss a day or two here and there, but if the only exercise they EVER get is one hour per week, they may never fully recuperate. The “need” for it to be daily is not absolute, but it not merely a “preference”.

    Secondly, when you are negotiating a very complex schedule for a family involved in many activities (as most of us do who have many children), it is far, far more likely that a family will make mass several days a week if mass is there every day, (and, preferably, at the same time. A daily plan of life tries to put certain core things at the same time every day, and that includes prayer and mass to the extent possible, not just getting up and eating at the same time. It is much harder to make a plan of life work if the timing changes every day: habits don’t work that way, and the core activities of a plan of life should become habit. Habits form much better if you can peg the activity to the same time every day, or at least most days.

    I know of parishes that have the mass time hopscotch around every day, early in the morning, mid morning, lunch time, dinner time, and after dinner time – except that some days there is no mass, but it changes all the time. Who the heck can keep all that straight and PLAN for it? In my experience, it works better to plan to hit mass 3 times a week at 8:00 am, and know in advance that we simply won’t make it 2 weekdays, and just accept that, than it is to try to create a family schedule that includes mass hopscotched all over the place. In practice we just won’t actually hit those masses anyway.

    On the other hand, saying mass for those in the nursing home or other groups that cannot make it to the parish church is also very worthy. Fr. Caputvero doesn’t tell whether he does these same “extracurricular” masses every week, but it I would guess not ALL of them.

    So, I would suggest what might be a reasonable accommodation to deal with competing “needs”. Set a schedule of daily mass times that is the same time every day – for at least 3 weekdays of the week. Two days a week say one of the extracurricular masses instead of the regular parish mass – but make it fixed, put it in the bulletin AND (where this is possible) make sure that those who want to go to daily mass can go to that extracurricular mass offsite (surely this is allowed at the nursing home, or it should be). And try to make at least one of those 2 days Saturday, because almost everybody else’s Saturday schedule is different from their weekdays anyway, there is no expectation of the “same pattern” as for the weekday. Try to make those offsite masses at the same time, or nearly so, as the regular parish daily masses, so even if a person or family has to drive to a different place to make mass, they can (mostly) do it at the same time. Then, Fr. gets the 6th day off, of course. For example:
    M – offsite
    T-parish
    W-parish
    Th-parish
    F-priest is off, no mass
    Sat-offsite

    Or change out Monday and Friday. Or whatever. This meets the need to have most of a regular pattern while still fitting in most of the extracurricular masses. The solid block of 3 days in a row with a set pattern of mass at the same time at the same location will be infinitely better (for habit forming) than breaking it up. Then, for those oddball extracurricular masses that simply don’t fit any pattern – let those be the few times Fr. binates. Hopefully not too often, maybe twice a month?

    Naturally, there will be intrusions into this pattern: Fr. is ill, or is on vacation, or has duties elsewhere. But reasonable parishioners understand that, if it’s not every other week.

    My overall point is that even if a lay person does not “need” to make it to mass every day, the availability of mass (nearly) every day, on a highly regular and predictable pattern, will be vastly beneficial to the object of forming good habits. And good habits are the bedrock of the life of virtue.

  15. Mike in VA says:

    It is true that priests are not obligated to celebrate Mass daily; rather they are uniquely allowed to celebrate Mass daily.

  16. Fr AJ says:

    I said 8 Masses for All Saints, mainly for the convenience of the people who claim to only be able to attend at certain times – which is what some of this discussion touches on – and let me tell you, it’s a good way to begin to burn out your priest or at least make him resentful of the demands of his parishioners.

  17. Ages says:

    In working with my priest, I too have learned that clergy burnout is a real thing.

    “But this is what he signed up for!”

    There is a lot more to being a priest than saying the mass. Nobody sees everything a priest has to do, and on top of that, he has his own salvation to attend to. (For every demon that laymen face, our clergy face dozens.)

    Nobody is required to attend mass daily. It is a blessed luxury. There are plenty of private devotions that can be said daily—try saying the divine office or the rosary or some other devotion at home when Father needs a break. And there are plenty of saints who attained holiness without going to daily mass.

    That’s not to say it’s not a great thing when it’s available. (And it should be.) But every priest is different, and nobody should be deriding Father if he is truly doing his best.

    Pray for more priests, rather than expecting your priest to be Superman.