QUAERITUR: Sunday obligation and Communion service

From a reader:

Recently a friend of mine went to what he thought was Mass, but actually turned out to be a eucharistic service on a Sunday. He says the ordinary priest was absent but another person (assuming a priest as they were wearing priestly vestments) lead the service. They say there was a Liturgy of the Word and a homily but no Eucharistic Prayer. Rather, the minister (whom we think was a priest) went to the tabernacle and distributed Communion and seemingly the chalice (my friend actually received from the chalice so it was kept in the Tabernacle!).

Is this allowed? Did my friends fulfil their Sunday obligation?

In one sense, no, it did not fulfill the obligation to participate at Mass, since it wasn’t a Mass.

On the other hand, if there was no Mass then, barring the possibility of seeking Mass elsewhere, the person couldn’t fulfill the obligation and therefore didn’t sin.  We are not bound to do the impossible.  If there is no Mass available, there isn’t much to be done… except pray for vocations!

I am guessing from the description that the “minister” may have been a permanent deacon.

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  1. Supertradmum says:

    We have less of a priest shortage than many other countries. It seems to me that there should be back-ups for priests to take over another priest’s ministries in case of emergency. In my diocese, there is going to be a rule that priest will not say more than three Masses on a weekend. When I ask my pastor about this a few weeks ago, he said it was decided by the diocese because of “parity”. In other words, he explained, if some priests only have three Masses, the others wanted the same. This is not my idea of a priestly vocation, which, like mine as a mom, never “turns off”, but remains a call at all times. A vocation is not a “job” or even a “career”, but a full-time commitment to serve others. In a rural area, I can understand this problem of not being able to find a last minute substitute, but not in a urban area. I am convinced that some bishops do not care about the sacramental importance of the priestly ministry, but emphasize the social. Permanent deacons are not priest substitutes and never will be.

  2. nzcatholic says:

    My Mother turned up to church one evening to find that the Priest was sick and one of the lay leaders of the Parish was taking the service.
    A Eucharistic minister took a “communion service”. If I was there I would have just left and gone home to say some prayers myself.
    It even included this “eucharistic minister” as they are termed here in New Zealand giving a sermon!

  3. FrCharles says:

    I’m a little bothered by the term ‘eucharistic service.’ Of course, any formal, common prayer of Christians is eucharistic in the plainest, literal sense of the word as an act of thanksgiving to God. But somehow the use of the term to describe what is a liturgy of the Word with a service of Holy Communion (as in Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest) seems to confuse the situation. Such celebrations should always include some longing for the fullness of Eucharist, and should make the community feel some its responsibility to pray for and foster vocations to the priesthood.

    In the parish in which I last worked, there were frequent altercations in the parish office over the scarcity of Masses to fulfill the desire of the faithful for intentions, even with regular bination on weekdays and trination on weekends. When someone got nasty–especially with the poor children who worked the front desk later in the day–I would sometimes ask if they had any sons. “Did you ever encourage them to think about the preisthood?” I would ask. That usually ended the conversation.

  4. ppb says:

    If the minister was wearing an alb and stole, but no chasuble, then he was most likely a permanent deacon. (Dalmatics are rarely seen these days, it seems; but if the deacon happened to be wearing one, that could be easily confused with a priest’s chasuble.) For a priest to show up at a church on Sunday just to lead a Communion service would be…well, weird in the extreme, to say the least. I’ve never heard of that one before. But a deacon can certainly lead a Communion service in the absence of a priest.

  5. Alice says:

    It’s not just your bishop, it’s Canon Law that states that a priest is not to celebrate Mass more than once a day. In certain cases the bishop may allow a priest to say two or even three Masses on a given day. Almost every priest I know celebrates Mass twice on Sunday and many have to do so three times. A deacon or a EMHC offering a Communion Service when no priest can be found at least allows people to sanctify their Sunday by receiving Our Lord.

  6. MrD says:

    This may not be the forum, but this posting reminds me of an SSPX article I recently read regarding deacons (http://www.sspx.org/miscellaneous/celibacy_for_deacons.htm).

    Would someone briefly comment on that SSPX view and perhaps their view on NFP? How can they reconcile with the Church with such bold statements like this? How are they not in schism? I understand the nuances and have read the SSPX statements, but how can the Vatican authorize confessions (for those sins reserved to the Pope for absolution) for SSPX priests if they are in schism? If they are not schism, how can they consider much of the Vatican II to be in error? I have to admit that much of the SSPX material is appealing and makes sense when compared to what I get at my parish. How has Vatican II affected the average Catholic’s understanding of theology and relationship with God (through His Church)?

    I am NOT a member of SSPX and have never attended a Latin Mass. However, I am a traditionally-minded Catholic and worry that my current parish is too progressive. I wish for my wife and children to experience a rich and reverent mass, whether it is Novus Ordo or TLM.

  7. RichR says:

    I know of a parish that regularly has lay-led Communion Services….but they are in a major metropolitan area and surely have other parishes having Mass within a reasonable distance. The diocese has a shortage of priests, so they can’t have a Mass at every parish every Sunday.

    In these cases, what should a parish do? It seems to me that they shouldn’t even have these services because they are not allowing people to fulfill their obligation.

  8. LarryPGH says:


    You piqued my interest with your use of the term “permanent deacon” in your response. Offhand, it seems that you might have answered simply “deacon”.

    Is there any distinction here? Would one expect that a transitional deacon not be asked to lead such a service, in the absence of a priest?



  9. Latriagiver says:

    We have one rediculous account of a habitual Communion service performed by a Deacon where I live. It is located in a chapel that the priest visits once a month to consecrate and hear confessions. Otherwise a permenant deacon is the administrator of the parish. The silly things are 2 fold: 1. the chapel is 25 minutes from the nearest Mass. (hardly a inhibitor for todays modern age of transportation) 2. the permenant deacon uses this parish as his own and does not attend Mass, except on the once a month dates. This is more of a complaint than anything, but in discussing this with him once I stated that, “…but it is just Communion service.” His reply was one of shock and awe, “….JUST communion service?” as if it was completely fulfilling. Here is the kicker…. the Deacon lives 1/2 of a mile from my parish, which he does not attend for Mass. (once a funeral) Symptoms of the errors of the times…?

  10. Random Friar says:

    LarryPGH: A deacon is a deacon. “Transitional” and “permanent” descriptions do not affect the diaconate, only describing the clerical path one has assumed.

    It would, in fact, be entirely possible for a transitional deacon to lead a Eucharistic Service. But the numbers of transitional deacons going out for such ministry would be less, given that many of them are in the middle of studies, and thus somewhat anchored to the seminary (save for a summer before ordination, when many do go out for a pastoral summer).

  11. Jerry says:


    The limits under canon 905 apply to a single day. Supertradmum indicated the priests in her diocese were being limited to three Masses per weekend. With a daily Mass and a vigil Mass on Saturday, this allows for only one Mass on Sunday.

  12. danphunter1 says:

    “…I would sometimes ask if they had any sons. “Did you ever encourage them to think about the preisthood?” I would ask.”

    Huzzah to you Father!!!
    Great question!

  13. benedictgal says:

    I discussed something similar in my own blog, only in this case, the matter concerns “communion services” held during the week.


    I do not know if this is germaine to the subject, but, this is a common occurance in some of the parishes in my home diocese when the pastor is away.

  14. benedictgal says:

    In the interest of full disclosure, I do admit to having led a couple in my parish. These occurred during the week. I led them because the folks who had been doing so were doing it incorrectly. Now, having read Redemptionis Sacramentum, I feel like Aaron felt in the aftermath of his making the golden calf. That is why I believe that, rather than have these services during the week in lieu of daily Mass, perhaps we should encourage the faithful to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

  15. FXR2 says:

    I am of the opinion that communion services held on Sunday foster the belief that a communion service in the absence of a priest satisfies your Sunday obligation. I think that if people in a remote area were deprived of the Mass for an extended period of time a communion service could be utilized distribute the Eucharist to the people provided they were in a state of grace. How the people would remain in a state of grace in the absence of a priest is the $64k question.

    We really need to pray for vocations.


  16. Alice says:

    Twenty-five minutes IS a long way from the nearest Mass if you have no transportation. Not everyone can drive or has a working vehicle. I’ve also known more than one family who had weeks where they had enough gas to get their vehicle to the gas station as soon as Dad got his next pay check. These families were large, so finding a ride for everyone would have been difficult, if not impossible. Luckily these people lived within walking distance of a church with a resident pastor, but if they hadn’t, a Communion service would have been much better than not being able to do anything special for Sunday. It goes without saying that these families would have known the difference between Mass and a Communion service and tried to get to Mass when it was possible.

  17. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Keeping the chalice filled with the Precious Blood in the tabernacle is not allowed, but in addition, it is just weird. I wonder if this church was even a Catholic Church?

    In rural dioceses, we do not have the luxury of finding priest substitutes when we are gone. Even if we get ahold of a priest to ask them to substitute, it is by no means guaranteed that they will consent. In some cases the priest does not feel like the pastor or parish, having had a previously bad experience helping out. In other cases, there are Spanish speaking or other ethnic groups, and the priest does not feel comfortable with that. In my diocese, it is said that we did not worry about these problems when we had the old German descent priests trained at the Josephinum seminary in Ohio. Those Germans never had the “I don’t do windows attitude” and even in retirement gladly helped out wherever they could, but they have all since been called to glory.

  18. Latriagiver says:


    Indeed your exception of poverty could be reason enough of a “grave reason” to have a communion service. In such a remote area where walking to the chapel is the only method of recieving Our Lord, I could see an exception. But in my judgment, I estimated God’s goodness and the generosity of others carpooling, donations, and the like in order to get the 20 or so people who cannot drive 25 minutes, but who do drive 5 minutes to the chapel, to make the nearest Mass. I highly doubt that good and faithful Catholics would forgo going to Mass over a 25 minute drive. I would ride in the trunk of someones car or jump in the back of a pickup to make it to Mass given that circumstance. As I eluded with the statement from the Deacon, “JUST a communion service!!!??” The current practice of this chapel has allowed exactly what the Redemptionis Sacramentum was trying to prevent. That a Communion service is just as good as Mass. Unfortunately, this idea has even penetrated the mind of the Deacon, who lives 1/2 mile from a parish with a Sunday Mass….and yet, choses his commnion service.

  19. Geoffrey says:

    This happened to me once. I was attending the Saturday Vigil Mass and the priest never showed up, so a deacon led a Communion Service with the Liturgy of the Word. I was going to leave but my family didn’t want to. I knew this wouldn’t “count” as the very same parish would have a few Sunday Masses the next day, as would other parishes in the area. Sadly, no such announcement was made and I overheard the deacon tell a parishioner that “it counted”. Very sad. I went to Mass the next day.

  20. DavidJ says:


    Remember, for venial sins, a sincere act of contrition is sufficient for venial sins. That is not to dismiss or diminish the need for the Sacrament and its resulting graces, but it’s not an impossible task to stay out of mortal sin with God’s grace!

  21. Seraphic Spouse says:

    I’ve led Communion Services. I wore an alb (garment of the baptized, I was taught), but now I wish I had taken even more care to stress that I was in no way different from any member of the congregation. And certainly I had to encourage Catholics who saw female me and stopped dead in the doorway of the makeshift hospital chapel to come in. What I am definitely glad of, as I reassess my role as a lay leader, is that I stressed this was not Mass, gave a reflection on the importance of the priesthood and the Mass and encouraged hearers to ask their sons to listen for a vocation to the priesthood. I also emphasized the absence of the priest by laying his vestments on the “presider’s chair” and sitting only where I always sat when he was there.

    Today as I reassess what I was doing, I hope very much that I did not myself confuse the faithful about the impossibility of “women’s ordination.

  22. Random Friar says:

    I know certain bishops have proactively discouraged Communion Services unless necessary, especially during the week. One would have to ask permission of that bishop first, and he would take into account the pastoral needs (distance between parishes, etc).

    My feeling is that we need to change the format of the Communion Services. If you were to ask Joe and Judy Catholic what the difference between a Mass and a Communion Service is, they would probably say “Father’s not there.” The focus is on what we materially get, it seems, rather than on the spiritual richness that the One August Sacrifice affords.

    Now, if Mass is impossible, something certain things may and should be done, and I will not fault those who carry out this service with due reverence, but it should never cause confusion among the faithful.

  23. priests wife says:

    Perhaps the friend didn’t get there right on time, so he didn’t know if the ‘minister’ was a deacon- so, there are two options, the minister was ‘playing priest’ as a lay person or he was a deacon. I think for pastoral reasons, this should have been made clear at the beginning of the service and right before he started distributing the Eucharist.

  24. priests wife says:

    “benedictgal”- Liturgy of the Hours during the week when a priest is not available- YES! There are so many wonderful, serious prayers that lay people can do- especially during the week. I know lots of faithful want to receive everyday- but I really can’t understand a weekday communion service- that’s just me

  25. Gail F says:

    Latriagiver: I think what part of the country you live in determines how long of a drive you consider “reasonable.” In Texas, people dont’ think twice of heading out an hour or more. Around where I live, 25 minutes is NOT considered “close.” Many people around here — myself included, I must add — stick to 10 minutes or so whenever possible.

    My parish has a communion service once a week. We have daily mass except on that day. I don’t see the point of a communion service when there are daily masses at plenty of other parishes — far closer than 25 minutes away — and I see very little point at all in having one on most days in most places. I’ve heard of some services that are pretty much the same as mass — with a homily and everything — but without the Eucharistic prayer. I think they could be well done but I haven’t been to one that was. As one of the posters above said, a communion service should have something to do with how we long for the Eucharist and have to have this instead; not just “hey, it’s that pastor’s day off!”

  26. ErnieB says:

    Alice @ 11:28 am
    “It’s not just your bishop, it’s Canon Law that states that a priest is not to celebrate Mass more than once a day.”
    Please cite your reference. Otherwise one can only read into your statement that you are making a generalization.
    In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a “Communion Service” is not an acceptable practice unless approved by our Bishop. That is not to say that they do not occur. If a priest is not available then the faithful are encouraged to attend Mass at an adjoining parish (Sundays)(the obligation is not removed) or recite the LOH (Weekdays) and pray for an increase in vocations.
    I believe most of us look for some quick solutions from within our Parish or Diocese or the Church as a whole, but truth be told, these things take time. Priestly vocations are on the rise and our prayers will help foster them. Perhaps God, and I’m just musing, is strengthening our patience and perseverance….He is a great mystery and surely doesn’t work in our limited way of thinking.
    Ernie B

  27. MrD says:

    Priest’s wife… you might be able to shed some light on the SSPX article I reference above. It makes interesting claims regarding the married clergy.

  28. Alice says:

    Canon 905, ErnieB.

  29. Random Friar says:

    Alice is right. Canon 905 sub 2 also allows for 2 on dailies, or 3 times on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation, for just cause. The de facto is that bishops will often dispense because a priest is going at it alone. Sometimes without just cause, IMHO (again, a Mass is available, and would not unduly inconvenience the faithful).

  30. Geoffrey says:

    Seraphic Spouse:

    You are the exact opposite of some female extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist presiding over weekday Communion Services in my diocese. Kudos to you! If it needs to be done, that’s the way to do it! You should write a manual! :-)

  31. ErnieB says:

    Alice @ 3:07 pm
    Random Friar @ 3:39 pm

    Thanks much….It helps greatly to start with the reference and then “dig into the meat of it” from there. I appreciate your help and value your comments.
    God bless,
    Ernie B

  32. PghCath says:

    I love the idea of parishes offering the Liturgy of the Hours instead of communion services. For one thing, it would emphasize that receiving the Eucharist is not the only reason for going to church. Second, so many people have no idea what the Liturgy of the Hours is. I know that I learned about it on my own from internet articles, not my parish or religious education classes.

  33. Communion services sow confusion. Also, they are too often a playground for the women’s ordination crowd, or for those who dislike the distinction between clergy and laity. If I come for Mass and see that it’s going to be a Communion service instead, I leave.

    By the way, FXR2: the Catholics of Japan were without a priest for two centuries! They had only two Sacraments: Baptism and Matrimony, because these Sacraments may be administered by a layman. What a trial! It is possible for the faith to survive without priests, but it would be a very foolish thing to want to be without priests, or to like not having priests around.

  34. Peggy R says:

    The bishop of Belleville, Bp. Braxton, issued regulations for when and how such services in the absence of a priest on Sunday could occur. This was one of the first things he did after his arrival here. Laity were leading various “communion services” in rural parishes when the priest was not present without any diocesan approval or knowledge. Additionally, the laity were not properly formed for such service to a parish. Bp. Braxton has been leading the diocese in praying for and encouraging vocations. He has also brought in several African clergy to help man the parishes. So, he’s sought to meet the needs of the faithful in accordance with the law and norms of the church in the meantime, while he seeks to expand the ranks of clergy serving the faithful in the future. Praying for and encouraging vocations is a big thing for our diocese.

  35. FXR2 says:

    Father, the people need to be aware that they have no obligation to attend Mass if they have to walk hours to attend Mass. A communion service is not Mass in any event. It does not satisfy ones obligation to attend Mass.

    I was on vacation in rural Pennsylvania when I attempted to attend Mass in the nearest town approximately 20 miles from our lodgings. I obtained the Mass times from a church bulletin from the previous year. When we arrived there was a communion service being conducted by the Sister who was the parish administrator. I put my wife and six children back into the suburban and off we went to the next town another 25 miles away where we arrived at Mass just as the gospel was being delivered.

    I do not believe communion services conducted on a Sunday are appropriate because they do not satisfy ones obligation to attend Mass. Any other day of the week could be appropriate in my mind. Having a communion service on Sunday only leads to confusion.

    We truly need to poray fro vocations!


  36. Sixupman says:

    In my own Uk diocese I have the distinct impression that the bishop is planning replacement of priests with deacons, ackowledging the lack of seminarians. He has parishes, mine included which I do not now attend, where the clergy promote a greater ue of lay and deacons, openly criticies the pope and Magisterium, etc., etc.

    I am extremely suspicious.

  37. Mark of the Vine says:

    A friend of mine “celebrates” these “communion services” on a regular basis. There is a severe lack of priests here in Portugal, so her priest, on the Sundays he is unable to make all the rounds, sends her to one or another parish to “celebrate”. She even gives a “homily” after the reading. This can only confuse people, I imagine, given that they will see this as a sort of admission of women to the priesthood.

  38. Latriagiver says:

    I am disappointed in these thoughts that 25 minutes is too far to go to Mass. Would any of you stand at risk of mortal sin citing the feeling that 25 minutes is just too far to drive barring some real Grave reason. I cannot imagine standing in front of my God, who knows my heart and capabilities, who would accept that and dismiss it as a grave reason. ‘Peter, Do you Love me.’ It is a neccessity. Like driving 25 min to the grocery store, or to work. Again, I restate, someones feeling that 25 minutes is too far of an inconvienience is not a “grave reason.” If you think it is….then I would like to hear your threshold of what is an appropriate time that you would go out of your way to attend Mass. If not 25 min….20? 15? 10? Where does the risk of mortal sin start and end?

  39. Seraphic: I also emphasized the absence of the priest by laying his vestments on the “presider’s chair” and sitting only where I always sat when he was there.

    Good idea about the vestments on the empty chair.

  40. Fr. Basil says:

    \\This may not be the forum, but this posting reminds me of an SSPX article I recently read regarding deacons (http://www.sspx.org/miscellaneous/celibacy_for_deacon\\

    SSPX is clearly picking and choosing which of the Canons of Nicea I they are observing, as this council also promulgated a canon forbidding kneeling on Sundays–yet they do so.

  41. MrD says:

    Thank you Fr. Basil. Any insight as to how they reconcile their views with the Church? It appears to me that if they are not schismatic, they are dangerously flirting with schism.

    Also, how can Feeney-ite organizations remain within the Church?

  42. MrD says:

    Let me clarify… if they hold and promote these things, why does the Vatican implicitly authorize their confessions?

  43. brassplayer says:

    It is a neccessity. Like driving 25 min to the grocery store, or to work.

    While I understand the point this person is making, I’m wondering just how many people really need to drive 25 minutes to get to the grocery store???

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