QUAERITUR: Mass during space travel

From a reader:

Could you hypothetically foresee Rome allowing Masses to
be celebrated extra-terrestrially? While it might seem more possible on the Moon or a planet, what about zero-gravity where things can’t be poured and other difficulties would arise?

We apply the analogy of Masses said aboard ships.

Initially, only bishops and cardinals were permitted to offer Mass on ships or other moving vehicles. The fear of the ship tilting and rocking, and the danger of spilling the sacred species, or other vagaries of motion, prevented widespread application of this which, in those times when an Atlantic crossing would take weeks, meant that sailors were deprived of Holy Mass, often for a considerable period of time.

In the 20th century, this permission was gradually extended, on a case by case basis, to certain chaplains, making sure that they were aware of the dangers and would take steps to prevent them – by waiting until the seas were relatively calm for Mass, etc.

In space, we have to worry about fluids wandering around.  Thus, the “chalice” would have to be enclosed, a tiny amount of water could be injected at the right moment, and so forth.  I don’t think there is any problem with Hosts.  They can be consecrated even if the ciborum or pyx is not open.  Care will have to be taken to avoid fragments floating away.  Hosts would have to have well sealed edges.  Perhaps even with some neutral coating approved by the Holy See?

I suspect that Mass in space won’t happen until large numbers of people are aboard some crafts.  By then space-going vessels will have some sort of gravity generated in the habitable portions.

And if there are abuses, Father can go out the airlock!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. M. K. says:

    Father Theodore Hesburgh, the former president of Notre Dame, once wrote (in his autobiography, if I recall correctly) that he had worked out a way of saying Mass in zero-gravity conditions, in case he became the first priest in outer space. (I remember he brought this up in the context of writing about how he had said Mass every single day since his ordination – except for Good Fridays, of course, and a couple of times when he was seriously ill or otherwise impeded; the point of the story for him was that, even if he went to outer space, he would find a way to say Mass.)

    Another interesting question, I think, is which bishop one would include in the Canon – perhaps the Bishop of Orlando, since Cape Canaveral is in his diocese? ;-)

  2. Papabile says:

    I think the issue of jurisdiction of the territory is pretty significant here.

  3. The Masked Chicken says:

    Of course, if the space ship were traveling near the speed of light, the Mass could appear to take a really long time. Whole Centuries could go by, so the Church will have to do some REALLY long-range planning.

    Also, bishops would, eventually have to be sent out on generational ships, so they could consecrate new bishops before they died.

    The Chicken

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I think the issue of jurisdiction of the territory is pretty significant here.”

    Until other planets are colonized and have their own bishop, space is, essentially, missionary territory. Who oversees missionary territories?

    The Chicken

  5. Stephen Matthew says:

    There is a reasonably interesting little story about the Catholic Church in outer-space, titled “Ad Limina” which is available as an e-book. It chronicles the first Ad Limina visit by the first native bishop of Mars. It reminded me of a discussion of potential future events in the life of the church with some seminarians, in which it was concluded that monks or hermits would make ideal candidates for interplanetary settlement, since for them there would be no need for the vastly complicated problem of a return trip (sending someone to another planet is actually the easy part). Really the first Martian outpost of humanity should be a monastic community.

  6. The Byzantine Bandit says:

    I take it this means that for a while it’ll be impossible to celebrate a Divine Liturgy in a rite that uses leavened bread? It seems that it would at any rate be prudent to hold off on that until we’re sure the artificial gravity works.

  7. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Really the first Martian outpost of humanity should be a monastic community.”

    With lead walls. Currently, there is no material outside of lead that will protect aginst cosmic rays on the surface of Mars. A paper just cme out on this.


    The Chicken

  8. teomatteo says:

    I thought I read some time ago that the jurisdiction of explorers was the diocese that the explorers left from. If they took off from the azores then portugal. if from Cape Canav. then the Orlando diocese.
    But what about the calendar? Easter couldn’t be figured out with out the equinox/ full moon.?!?!?!

  9. Tim Ferguson says:

    the REAL question is the calendar. If Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and one is beyond the Kuyiper Belt, how would one know?

    As for liturgical music, I think that a recording of the “Mass of Creation” would be appropriate. After all: In space, no one can hear you scream.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  10. WGS says:

    Before you leave for your trip, be sure to read A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
    “The famous 1959 tale of a future world civilization formed after a devastating nuclear war — in the tradition of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World.”

  11. There is a so-so novel called The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell in which a Jesuit is sent as a missionary to another planet. Results varied and there were some … unhappy moments for the Jesuit. There was a sequel.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    Okay. Everyone’s thinking it so I’ll just say it…

    “Extra-terrestrial Form of the Roman Rite” anyone?

  13. This whole question goes to show the consistent genius of the Church that Christ founded…that we 1) can talk about this in all seriousness, 2) we have an answer, and 3) I’m thinking that the jurisdictional questions are a non issue. :)

  14. jeffreyquick says:

    The portion of Canticle for Leibowitz relevant to the present disscussion is the end, where, faced with nuclear war, the Church sends the makings of a heirarchy and thus a self-perpetuating Church to the extraterrestrial colonies.

  15. smithUK says:

    Related to this, I understand that there’s a wonderful book by Ruth Rees “The Rosary in Space and Time” in which she refers to the Earth as the Galilee of the Universe, which is a rather evocative expression I think.
    I also like the fact that one of the ‘problems’ here is that Our Lord chose in his wisdom to redeem use, in part, by a fluid – a state of matter which to my understanding is actually quite unusual in the wider Universe. Substances require quite special conditions of pressure and temperature in order to be in the liquid state. That said, gaseous sacramental species would be far trickier of course.

  16. eulogos says:

    Jurisdictional questions will never be a non-issue where human beings are involved.
    Susan Peterson

  17. Scott W. says:

    The fear of the ship tilting and rocking, and the danger of spilling the sacred species, or other vagaries of motion, prevented widespread application of this which, in those times when an Atlantic crossing would take weeks, meant that sailors were deprived of Holy Mass, often for a considerable period of time.

    You mean no one has invented a chalice with a gyroscope balancer?

  18. Tradster says:

    Um, wouldn’t this be a non-issue because during the journey everyone would be in suspended hibernation?

    Which is not too unlike half the pewsitters at the typical Sunday N.O. Mass.

  19. Johnno says:

    Just put portions of wine into capsules, consecrate them, and swallow those, no? Could not the same be done for the bread? Would that be a violation somehow given the capsules themselves be made of other material that is also to be digested?

  20. Johnno says:

    “Of course, if the space ship were traveling near the speed of light, the Mass could appear to take a really long time.”

    If you’re referring to Relativity, Einstein is pretty much bunk. Time is absolute and doesn’t change in relation to speed. Relativity exists as a magician’s trick to explain away experiments that show the Earth is motionless in space. Thus the equations were fudged so that space and time change in relation to each other so secular scientists could ignore the Church’s authority.

  21. Tradster opined: “Um, wouldn’t this be a non-issue because during the journey everyone would be in suspended hibernation?”

    1. Yeah in regards to half of the pewwarmers waiting for the Haugen ditty to start…
    2. We’d be in the ‘heavens’. Catholic means ‘universal’, right? We’d be most certainly ‘in the universe’ apart from terra firma…so, in reality, the universe can already be considered under the limitless jurisdiction of the Father.


  22. JMody says:

    Well, there has already been airborne Mass. On Sunday, May 8th, 1936, Fr. Paul Schulte said Mass over the North Atlantic on board the Hindenburg.

    Here’s a blog post with Harold Dick’s photo of the service, with papal dispensation, no less:

    [A Mass with permission of the Pope and, I might add, without lighted candles!]

  23. basilorat says:

    Under the old Code of Canon Law 1917, you were absolutely correct.

    Bishop William Borders (later Archbishop of Baltimore) went to Rome and bragged to Pope Paul VI that he was the bishop of the moon, and he was! Under the old Code, the bishop of mission lands depended on where the explorers originated. Since the Cape Canaveral was in the Orlando Diocese and since the space ship that carried Neil Armstrong to the moon originated from there, Bishop Borders is the bishop of the moon. It was mentioned in his obituary.

  24. lawoski says:

    Two somewhat related items:
    1) The reader who posed the question is correct. Pouring wine on the moon, where gravity is one-sixth of that on earth, is not a problem. During the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin conducted a communion service (Presbyterian) on the moon and drank the wine from a chalice.
    2) Catholic astronauts on the space shuttle orbiting earth received communion in space. On one flight, described in the following link, three Catholic astronauts were in orbit. One was an EMHC who carried the consecrated Hosts into orbit in a gold pix and distributed communion to the other two.

    I think that situation truly fits the definition of “extraordinary” where the distribution of communion by an EMHC was appropriate.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  25. MichaelKavanagh says:

    Just think though…
    To facilitate the safety factors of zero G and trying to move around in it without floating off…

    communion would need to be received on the tounge, preferably while kneeling at some stabilising fixture, like a rail perhaps as to keep the heads at a relatively uniform height for efficient distribution while minimizing the chance our Lord goes adrift.

  26. joeclark77 says:

    Has anyone considered the implications of human settlements on planets where one or more of wheat, grapes, and olives cannot be grown? Would Communion in only one species (as a permanent state of affairs) be acceptable? Would some other sort of oil be acceptable for Confirmation and Holy Orders?

    I am also worried about Protestants beating us in the race to colonize space because a Catholic colony ship will need to be of a certain size sufficient to carry enough bread, wine, oil, and bishops to ensure the sacraments and an unbroken line of apostolic succession until such time as the new colony is able to produce its own crops (including its first crop of seminarians). By contrast Protestant spacefarers only need the Bible, and their Bible, having approximately 10% fewer books, is considerably more lightweight. Every Newton of thrust counts.

  27. 78,000 people have already applied for a one-way ticket to Mars, according to this article: http://rt.com/news/apply-mars-one-mission-088/ If this is really happening, I hope priests go with them, too.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

    [Actually, I hope THESE priests go with them!]

  28. chorusofangels says:

    those people in space can always attend mass that’s broadcasted on the internet/TV and then take spiritual communion…

  29. David Zampino says:

    The ending of “A Canticle for Leibowitz” came to my mind as well. It certainly is an interesting question . . .

    The noted Science Fiction author, Michael Flynn, himself a Catholic, penned a fascinating novel a few years ago called “Eifelheim” set in Germany in the Middle Ages in which extra-terrestrial life lands in his village in the middle of nowhere. The philosophical questions posed were quite interesting. I highly recommend it.

    [I’ll add it to my Kindle Wish List.]

  30. RafkasRoad says:

    Another title that may be of interest is

    ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’
    by Larry Niven and Jerry Pourmelle.


    Aussie Marounite.

  31. Mark Scott Abeln says:

    It nearly impossible to constantly order an orbiting oratory towards the orient.


  32. One word: fistula.

  33. Oh, and another idea: Iconostasis/Rood Screen.

  34. Pingback: CU Weekly 229: Mass. In. Spaaaaaace! | The Catholic UndergroundThe Catholic Underground

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