QUAERITUR: Easter Sunday Mass during two weeks early

From a reader:

According to a good friend of mine at Notre Dame, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart will be celebrating Easter Mass two weeks before Easter, so that it can be taped and broadcast on NBC on Easter day…

"All the prayers and so forth will be the Easter prayers, and of course there will be an Alleluia (and maybe the sequence).  There will be a choir singing easter music, and several residence halls from the university are invited to attend (because it would look pretty stupid on TV without a packed church for easter) and, I assume, receive communion.  Everyone will be pretending it is easter, so it looks good."

Isn’t this an abuse? Or is there some dispensation for celebrating a real Easter Mass when it’s not Easter?


I really don’t think it would be right to do that.  At all.

In centuries past terrible battles took place in the Church over the date of Easter.   Even today, the West and some Eastern Churches remain divided on the date of Easter.

You can argue that the fact of the Resurrection is more important than the actual calendar date.  But calendars exist for a reason and Easter is central to our Catholic Christian identity.

I think this would be wrong.

I suppose the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments would have to rule on whether EASTER can be anticipated and celebrated during Lent. 

That just doesn’t seem right to me at all.

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  1. Will says:

    Sounds dodgy to me. And I’m sure St. Bede would not approve.

  2. Brendan says:

    Not the A word!

  3. JoyfulMom7 says:

    Is there some reason why they can’t broadcast live on Easter Day?

  4. summorum says:

    Why don’t they just do it live?

    Must everything in out society, including the Mass, be simulation and simulacra?

  5. Irish says:

    Broadcast on NBC? Nationally? Wow.

  6. Exactly, Father. Does a taped Mass also mean commercial breaks? If something said during the homily is controversial, does NBC have editing power? The Hallmark Channel regularly carries the Sunday Mass live from the Basilica at Notre Dame, so the basilica staff and clergy are well equipped to handle time constraints (there’s even a countdown clock on a pillar facing the pulpit, out of camera sight, but there so the celebrant knows how much time is left in the hour Hallmark airs it.

    Separate from the supernatural questions about anticipating Easter, there also seems to be too much that NBC can do to the broadcast to fracture its integrity.

  7. chironomo says:

    Just this past week I taped Masses for the first 4 Sundays of Lent to be re-broadcast on the appropriate Sundays later. It is strange, and it really feels more like a “show” than Mass since there is a woman with “time cards” holding them up for the Priest to let him know when there are two minutes left, 1 minute, 30 seconds…

    We also invite the local Catholic High schoolers and parishioners to attend the tapings, but ask them to bring a “jacket or sweater” to change into to make the crowd look different each “Sunday”. We then re-arrange them in the breaks between “Sundays”. It is weird. It would really be weird to do an Easter Mass on a Wednesday morning in Lent…

  8. PMcGrath says:

    Why don’t they just do it live?

    For the same reason that Yo-Yo Ma and Itzak Perelman pre-recorded their “live” performances during the ObamaFest on 20 Jan — because an event of that level requires that no mistakes go out in the broadcast.

    Also, in case someone shouts out “SAY THE BLACK – DO THE RED” or “WILLIAMSON RULES” during the pre-recording, it can be edited before broadcast.

    But I’m with Father Z on this one — it needs to go live.

  9. Bill says:

    Please, please, please tell me they aren\’t going to have commercial breaks … please, please, please tell me this isn\’t going to be, \”Welcome to The Holy Mass for Easter — sponsored by Bank of America!\”

  10. Matt says:

    I’m not sure this is an abuse. Several years ago, I sang at a mass that was pre-taped and then televised on the local PBS station. The mass was actually celebrated in Advent but was for the Epiphany Mass and the following Sunday. Yes, it seems weird, but if you can’t get a chance to broadcast a mass live, this seems like the best course of action.

  11. AM says:

    It seems pretty clear to me. It would not be a licit Mass because the proper Easter rites are by no means valid choices for, say, Lent V.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t seem like anticipation, to me: more like simulation. After all, it’s not being done in order to do what the Church does, namely to worship God in the most holy Sacrament: it’s being done in order to make a recording and broadcast it later. This is obvious, because the proper Mass of the day would be perfect for doing what the Church does, but wouldn’t serve the alternate essential purpose at all!

    And simulating a Mass, or performing an illicit one for such an unspiritual reason, is very very bad news.

  12. Charivari Rob says:

    The academic calendar on the University website notes ‘Easter Holiday’ from April 10-13, so I assume a good portion of the student body will be away on the actual date. So… part of it might be the ‘packed church’ factor. Kind’a’ sad, really.

    Those of you whose dioceses have televised Mass – what do they do in general? I know the Mass is broadcast live here in Boston. I do remember that when I lived elsewhere, about 25 years ago, that diocese prerecorded the Sunday TV Mass. I think they recorded it during the week. In fairness, though, it might have been recording the anticipated Mass Saturday evening for broadcast on Sunday morning.

  13. TomB says:

    Turning Holy Mass into a show. Must be invalid, at the very least. I would not be receiving Communion is such a simulated Mass.

  14. DavidJ says:

    I seem to recall reading that for the cases of televising a Mass that there was some flexibility involved, since the intent is not to say the wrong readings/prayers for the day, but to provide the correct ones on the correct day. Granted, I can’t put my hand on those guidelines, but I seem to recall them coming from Rome.

  15. Erin says:

    There are many people who are unable to attend Mass and will get spiritual benefits and great comfort from watching it on TV. It’s also a great tool for evangelization. Several channels regularly air taped Masses, and it’s not invalid or illicit. The vigil Mass at ND is regularly taped for airing on the Hallmark channel, and it’s very discreet.

    What’s not clear to me, though, is why the Easter Mass has to be done so far in advance. If it has to be recorded more than a day in advance (so, say, it couldn’t be taped after the Vigil for airing the next morning) it seems to me it would be preferable to film it before Lent entirely, to avoid the apparent liturgical abuse of singing the Alleluia during Lent. Then again, I assume the Bishop has given permission for this, so perhaps it’s not really an abuse. Any canon lawyers care to comment?

  16. boredoftheworld says:

    “Also, in case someone shouts out “SAY THE BLACK – DO THE RED” or “WILLIAMSON RULES” during the pre-recording, it can be edited before broadcast.”

    Well that’s just spiffy. Thanks so much for planting that in my brain. At least I still have some duct tape left over from the “serene and kindly gaze” riots because there’s no way I have enough self control to keep from shouting “Williamson Rules!” next Sunday without it.

  17. I have discovered the answer: the USCCB’s 1997 “Guidelines for televising the liturgy” from the Committee on Divine Worship.

    There are a number of models that may be used when the Mass is televised. Each model will be further enhanced if texts for the liturgy to be celebrated — including scripture readings and music — are made available to viewers of the televised Mass, and if local parishes arrange for communion to be taken to the viewers of the televised Mass so that their reception of communion coincides with the end of the televised Mass.


    A third model is that of pre-recording the liturgy for broadcast at a later date. While we understand that some dioceses may not be able to use either of the first two models, using the third model will require greater care to be able to overcome the following limitations of this model:

    1. The liturgy that is pre-recorded is often celebrated outside the liturgical day or season (e.g., taping “Christmas morning Mass” on Monday of the fourth week of Advent).

    2. The assembly is not a community which regularly gathers for the celebration of the liturgy. Often it is a group of people who gather together specifically for the purpose of televising the liturgy.

    3. Time constraints that are placed on the liturgy often control the flow of the liturgy (limiting the number of readings, length of homily, choices of music and other options) rather than allowing the liturgy to flow at an unhurried pace.

    4. Editing the liturgy by cutting out particular elements of the Mass, or by using special effects to enhance the liturgy artificially (e.g., superimposing a crucifix on the host during the elevation, the incorporation of outside images), should not be done.

    5. The studio format and techniques may be distracting for those gathered to celebrate the eucharist in that setting and may make the priest and other ministers appear to be actors rather than leaders of public worship.

    Read the whole thing here: http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/current/tv.shtml.

  18. a catechist says:

    My gut reaction is–how sad! Because the Easter Vigil Mass there was truly the liturgical highlight of my 4 years at Notre Dame. Yes, it took half the night, but so what? And it was always packed, so much so you had to arrive at least an hour in advance & usually more. It was there that I fell in love with the “The Exultet”. If they want a full “smells and bells” Mass for Easter, that’s it.
    Of course, if I watch a recorded Mass, it will probably be from the Vatican. Why would someone want to see an American Mass rather than one in Rome? I’m just asking….

  19. AM says:

    David Wallace’s list only makes it clearer. The purpose of these illicit quasi-simulated Masses is not the offering of the holy Sacrifice but the creation of an artefact to be used for a later purpose. Even the USCCB recognizes serious problems with the idea, they just can’t get past “will require some care” to the “must not be done” which really ought to be required.

    Like “using crackers and sody pop for the eucharist will require some care to avoid the limitations imposed by the rubrics”.

  20. Daniel Muller says:

    Thanks to David M. Wallace for digging up the document.

    3. Time constraints that are placed on the liturgy often control the flow of the liturgy (limiting the number of readings, length of homily, choices of music and other options) rather than allowing the liturgy to flow at an unhurried pace.

    But, with due respect to the competent authorities, it does seem that the Committee on Divine Worship is actually jealous of the director’s chair when it uses terminology like that.

    I think that it is too bad that they cannot simply broadcast last year’s Mass. Every Sunday here, the Protestants broadcast the previous Sunday’s services. And the newspaper always has photos from last year’s annual events when it announces this year’s.

  21. Charivari Rob says:

    Thanks for finding that, David.

    Some of the limitations listed under the third model (particulaly #s 2 & 3) apply to live Mass broadcasts, as well.

    For the live broadcast Sunday Mass in Boston, #2 usually isn’t a problem but #3 hangs overhead like the sword of Damocles.

    I believe they usually encourage established groups to come to the studio for particular Sundays. A pastor might bring a dozen or two of his parishioners, for example. Or – a particular group like a choir or the Knights of Columbus or Peter Claver.

    The time constraints… SIGH They have a routine established to fit something of a bare-bones Mass into the 30 minute timeslot. Some priests can handle it without seeming rushed. Some can’t. A big variable is the homily.

    The worst I ever saw was one Sunday morning with a major winter storm that had blown in overnight. We were assembled when the station management told us they needed to cut our timeslot to 15 minutes in order to maintain storm emergency news coverage! The content of said ’emergency coverage’ was the obligatory on-the-spot footage of sanders & plows, the nearly-stock footage of some newsteam member watching waves crash over the seawall in Scituate, and running a ‘zipper’ text crawl listing the area churches that had canceled Sunday School. The greatest service the station could have performed for the community would have been to broadcast the Mass as planned, allowing people to exercise discretion as to travel in bad conditions and still at least watch the Mass. In fact, they should have asked us to stay, divided us into two groups, and had a second Mass later in the morning.

  22. Charles Ryder says:

    This same practice is done in Washington DC at the National Shrine for Easter and Christmas. They tape ahead of time because the local TV market and other TV markets they sell the video to do not have the capacity for live broadcasts. (ie. local PBS stations and the like).

    They film a ‘short version’ with a spoken Gloria and shorter Homily and then re-record a spoken Gloria and shorter Homily. This allows them to produce a 30 min. version and a 60 min. version. Some markets who buy the tape want a shorter or longer Mass depending on how much TV time costs locally.

  23. Joshua says:

    I am scandalised. This makes the liturgy a slave to pragmatics, to technology. The Church used to forbid filming Mass altogether. Now we see that the Mass, the liturgy, takes second place to the filming.

    Why not just air the one from last year on Easter, then rebroadcast the current one later if it cannot be live? Say the Mass is 8 am EST, then you can air it at 3 p,m EST (7 hours to prep), and that would be 12 noon. I mean what would be the problem using last year´s? Anything “lost” is even more lost by a fake Easter Mas

  24. Frank H. says:

    I think some are losing sight of the intended audience, which is certainly those “shut-ins” who, for whatever valid reason, can’t make it to Mass. While not an issue for Easter, for other Sunday Masses they would appreciate, I am quite sure, having the correct readings, etc.

  25. Mike says:

    I believe this is done at the Los Angeles Cathedral as well. I recall attending Mass there a few years ago during Lent and the celebrant mentioned that such a thing would be done, and everyone was welcome to come (“Be sure to wear your Easter best”).

  26. Emily of the Holy Whapping says:

    I don’t really have much insight into the rubrics beyond what has been said, I just had to note in response to Charivari Rob’s comment:

    “The academic calendar on the University website notes ‘Easter Holiday’ from April 10-13, so I assume a good portion of the student body will be away on the actual date. So… part of it might be the ‘packed church’ factor. Kind’a’ sad, really.”

    That, in fact, there is always a long line waiting to get into all of the Holy Week Masses, to the point where if you want to sit in the pews at Easter Vigil (and not in the chairs in the Lady Chapel or standing), you have to arrive about three hours before the beginning of Mass. They have more to worry about with regards to fire code violations than filling the pews.

  27. PubliusIII says:

    This is so fundamentally wrong- and the way that the most pious and eevangelicallyy oriented with the argument that \”its for the shut ins\” miss it is troubling. . The liturgy occurs in time, it makes holy the hours, the days, the seasons. Even an unobstrusive webcam intrudes upon the rites. All important rites of initiation (baptism, communion, confirmation, marriage, are treated as primarily a photo op. The Orthodox are right to be in general hostile to all of this. It is no suprise, however, that the USCB is on the wrong side of this argument. It is similar to the idea of using plastic flowers, electric votive lights, having confession via email, etc. And by the way, the explosion of media availability of mass has conincided with the collapse of the faith. I am not even convinced that it does much for the Faith.

  28. Gregor says:

    This seems like abuse so we should appeal to the highest authority, the ICEL, to refuse permission to broadcast. ;-) [LOL!]

  29. Marie says:

    For what it\’s worth, the Easter Vigil will be celebrated (on the right day) at the Basilica at Notre Dame, plus there are three Masses on Easter Sunday morning and one additional mass for students at 9 pm. Notre Dame\’s spring break does not coincide with the Easter season, and many students will be on campus that weekend. If indeed there will be a faux Easter Mass filmed in advance for NBC, it will not be replacing the \”real\” Masses.
    And, for whatever else it\’s worth, most of the worshipers at the Basilica masses are not students. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve was packed. Because each dorm has a chapel, with both daily and Sunday Masses in the evenings, most students attend those Masses.

  30. This sounds completely kooky.

    First of all there is no satisfaction of obligation from a taped Mass, or even from observing a far-away live Mass electronically. A recorded version of a Mass in the past would be even less effective, other than helping one to pray maybe. Then oddly, to tape this, a Mass is said on the wrong day, in the wrong season… Aren’t there rigid rules forbidding the Sunday anticipated Mass before 5 PM on Saturdays? Then how can this be logical?

    So if my paragraph is true, then these tapings are really just for show? This sounds like an abuse. They don’t satisfy an obligation, they aren’t live, they aren’t done on the correct day…what is the purpose?

    This may stretch the teaching that all Masses are “outside of time”, past, present, and future, and infinitely efficacious. But purposefully celebrating Mass on the wrong day just isn’t ‘proper’…sorry about the pun.

  31. David Deavel says:

    This is simply wrong.

  32. Dahler says:

    sounds like there needs to be a protest in front of the church while they tape. Bring sackcloth, ashes and rotten fish!

  33. Maureen says:

    Obviously, the shut-ins and other viewers are not actually attending Mass. They are being edified, and they are being given a visual aid to making a spiritual Communion.

    Now, priests are allowed to do various practice Masses for their own edification, without breaking any simulation rules, right? So I suppose this is also a Mass with some unusual features which are permitted for educational reasons. The small amount of selected participants in the actual Mass would also tend to indicate its special educational and pastoral nature, as these folks aren’t there to fulfil any normal obligation but rather to help others.

    So it’s not the Easter Mass maybe, so much as an educational Mass that looks a lot like Easter Mass.

  34. Maureen says:

    But I’m not a canon lawyer or priest even on the Internet, so that’s just a hairy guess.

  35. Paul Madrid says:

    Votive Masses of the mysteries of the Lord or in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of the Angels or of any given Saint or of all the Saints may be said for the sake of the faithful’s devotion on weekdays in Ordinary Time, even if an optional memorial occurs. It is not, however, allowed to celebrate as Votive Masses, those that refer to mysteries related to events in the life of the Lord or of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the exception of the Mass of the Immaculate Conception, since their celebration is an integral part of the unfolding of the liturgical year.

    General Instruction of the Roman Missal ¶ 375.

    Thus this practice, if true (and I pray that it is not), is explicitly forbidden by the GIRM.

  36. variously curious says:

    Will attending this Mass satisfy the East obligation? Or will these people who participate have to go to Mass on Easter morning also?

  37. When I was in high school in the 70s, a fellow classmate told me matter-of-factly that Father soandso, our unmoored parish priest, told her that if she wanted to go to ‘Sunday’ Mass on Tuesday, that was fine. It wasn’t really about what day you went at all, just that you went at some point.

    The properly catechized will recognize this as nonsensical – Sunday Mass should be on Sunday, the obligation is for Sunday, the day and season are meaningful, the Mass on a Tuesday is not the same as the Feast on a Sunday, etc. [When us old-timers tell you that we have been through a lot, we mean it]

    This discussion brought back this old memory. Why does Father’s posting remind me of the way-out craziness?

  38. Paul Madrid says:

    Variously curious: the obligation to attend mass on Easter is the same obligation to attend mass on Sunday. So, unless this Mass is celebrated the evening before Easter Sunday or Easter Sunday itself, it does not satisfy the Sunday obligation occuring on Easter.

  39. C. says:

    The practice even though “approved” by NCCB committee instruction from 1997 appears to be a grave abuse which is completely forbidden by higher authority. I would not participate in such a travesty in any way.

  40. Michael Thoma says:

    Sounds like a terrible idea to me. Why not tape the real Mass of the Resurrection? or have each local affiliate broadcast from a nearby Cathedral or parish? Why not reBroadcast the Mass from Vatican City? How about broadcasting the various Masses/Divine Liturgies throughout the world? Shut-ins can watch EWTN, why not have NBC broadcast the EWTN stream for one hour?

    Faux-liturgies = faux prayers = faux worship = heterodoxy

    This should be banned before it ever begins. The more I think about it, the more it disgusts me.

    Especially the priests who tell their parishioners to “wear their Easter best”.. ew.. these priests are not looking for the salvation of souls, but more into showmanship and prestige that a television broadcast brings. This act is practically the same as ultra-liberal (nose-bleed) High Church Anglican parishes which celebrate all the “smells and bells” but are theologically heretical and heterodox – they don’t believe the words they are praying, they are merely play acting.

    On top of this ridiculousness, who wants to take a bet that the celebrant will begin with “Happy Easter everyone”, instead of invoking the Most Blessed Trinity?

  41. TJH says:

    I have had the experiance of being a “shut-in”, and I was very greatful that I was able to watch the Mass on TV. I As someone who is use to attending Mass daily, being able to at least see it on TV and make a spiritual communion was a great comfort to me. I know that here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia the Sunday Mass is taped quite a bit a head of the sunday it will be aired. They have been providing this Mass for many years now. I think I is a wonderful pastoral act on the part of our Bishop (who ever it was who began it) as a way to minister to the sick and home bound.

    Fr. Z.
    Thank you for all you are doing. I have been reading your blog for more than a year, but this is the first time I have posted a comment. You are in my prayers.

  42. Peter says:

    In this diocese we are forced to tape all the masses for the month at one time. They are done simply and with a small group. It is mainly in order to provide some sense of connection with the homebound of the diocese. It seems quite different to have a fully “produced” mass with a basillica full of people and elaborate choir . . . I would think the extraordinary requirement of taping a mass at a different time would demand a rather muted celebration with a relatively small number of people involved in the taping.

  43. Michael Thoma says:


    Would your Spiritual Communion have been any less had the Mass been aired 1 hour after it was taped live or shown completely live?


    Why would taping all the Masses at once provide a sense of connection with the homebound? It seems to me that EWTN has ‘cornered the market’ on this, why not simply get the rights to reair their broadcast? Or even record the Mass daily?

  44. Phillip Platz says:

    Where does this put the idea that “every Sunday is like a mini Easter” ? So long as it’s on a Sunday, shouldn’t this not be a problem?

    Though I suppose not ringing bells or singing the alleluia are certain considerations to take into affect which won’t be…

  45. Elaine says:

    I dunno what to think about this. Pre-taped Sunday “Masses for Shut-Ins” or similar programs are common in many dioceses. Their main purpose is to serve as a spiritual comfort to people who really cannot attend a regular parish Mass. I have also heard of instances in which the Sunday liturgy is celebrated on another day of the week — for example, I knew a priest who offered Sunday Mass at a federal prison camp every Thursday, as that was the only day he was available (he had several parish Masses on Saturday and Sunday). So there is precedent for this.

    OTOH, trying to have a full Easter liturgy in the middle of Lent might be kind of jarring — kind of like having a couple get married during a funeral Mass, or having a Christmas party on the Fourth of July. I wonder if the Mass couldn’t be done on a Sunday BEFORE Lent, as Phillip suggests.

  46. Gregor says:

    This is simply preposterous and violates everything the sacred liturgy is, turning it into a falsehood. The fact that this apparently isn’t obvious to so many otherwise pious and orthodox readers shows how desperately necessary correct liturgical catechesis is.

  47. Greg Smisek says:

    Paul Madrid missed the preceding paragraph of the GIRM:

    “374. In cases of serious need or pastoral advantage, at the direction of the diocesan Bishop or with his permission, an appropriate Mass may be celebrated on any day except solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, days within the Octave of Easter, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day), Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week.”

    The aforementioned NCCB/USCCB guidelines don’t make law, but rather explain the situation: “The bishop of a diocese in which a televised Mass is produced has the responsibility to see that liturgical law is carefully observed, especially regarding the liturgical feasts and seasons, the use of approved liturgical texts and translations of Scripture, proper vesture, and ministers fulfilling their proper roles in the liturgy.”

    So I would presume that the use of the Easter Sunday texts for the pre-recorded Mass at Notre Dame on a Lenten weekday is “at the direction of the diocesan Bishop or with his permission.”

  48. C. says:

    an appropriate Mass may be celebrated on any day

    62a. The Alleluia is sung in every season other than Lent.

  49. Patronus says:

    It is my understanding that GIRM #375 tempers #374.

    #374 speaks of when standard votive Masses, ritual Masses, and Masses for Various Needs/Occasions may occur. Masses that would contradict #375 seem not to be envisioned.

    However, what has not yet been discussed is the canonical ability of a Bishop to dispense from liturgical law.

  50. Melanie says:

    This not a “show” to edit and take out bloopers….

  51. irishgirl says:

    This sounds really strange….

    NBC always does the Midnight Mass for Christmas at St. Peter’s Basilica…but I was real ‘ticked off’ this last time, when the affiliate [non-cable station] switched away from it at 1 am for a local program! Right at Communion time! I fired off a quick email to the station the next day!

  52. Paul Madrid says:

    Greg, that’s a decent argument. The only thing I would be careful about is that it seems that, in the context, ¶ 374 seems to deal with ¶¶ 372–373. Those paragraphs do not contain a provision as to when Ritual Masses and Masses for Various Needs can be celebrated and they come immediately before ¶ 374, wheras ¶ 375 already gives its own requirements for when votive masses can be celebrated.

  53. Paul Madrid says:

    I now see that Patronus already gave a version of my rebuttal.

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