ASK FATHER: Minimum to fulfill Mass obligation

From a reader…

So a friend of mine who’s familiar with the old Mass but doesn’t offer it mentioned that you could fulfill your Sunday obligation (in the EF) so long as you arrived by the lifting of the veil and stayed until the Priest’s Communion. I had heard the first part and still go by that for the NO when asked (if no veil used, I just say the collection or offertory). I hadn’t heard the part before about the Priest’s Communion as the upper limit though. Is that the case? Thoughts on application to the NO? If it were true, it would certainly explain that it’s actually the OLD-TIMERS who are the worst about leaving Mass early after Communion. When I’ve asked, I only get excuses about traffic and walkers and how hard it is to get out with the rush – to which I normally reply saying – well how about you pray for a few minutes after Mass has ended rather than risk committing a mortal sin…or something to that effect.

That seems to be founded on the fact that the Sacrifice is not renewed until the destruction of the Eucharistic elements in the priest’s two-fold Communion.  If the Eucharist were confected, but not consumed by the priest, there would be no Mass.  So, that is the point at which Mass has been celebrated.  If you leave before that, you haven’t participated in Mass.  So, the bookends of offertory and priest’s Communion make sense… as a MINIMUM.  I don’t think we should focus on minimums (e.g., what are the fewest words needed in a sacramental form, etc.).  Remember also the distinction of the Mass of the Catechumens (up to the Offertory).  Catechumens had to leave the church before the Offertory, indeed before the Creed.

So, if someone wanted a base-line, bare minimum for fulfilling one’s obligation, offertory to priest’s Communion is reasonable.

It’s minimalist, but logical.

But there is more to be said.

It is useful to review something that Tracey Rowland wrote in Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (US HERE – UK HERE).

The Lercaro—Bugnini inspired liturgical experiments of the last three decades have been based on an overemphasis on baroque sacramental theology and eighteenth-century philosophy, and an obsession with pedagogy. This in turn can be boiled down to a cocktail of scholasticism (the reduction of sacramental theology to considerations of matter and form), the Kantian obsession with pedagogical rationalism (the predominance of ethical values over strictly religious ones), moralism (a notion of Mass attendance as duty parade), and a Jansenist attitude to beauty (it is irrelevant: the only thing that matters is that the words are doctrinally sound and in the vernacular). In other words, one has a cocktail of theological and philosophical ingredients which Ratzinger has spent his entire ecclesial life trying to throw out of the pantry. Anyone wanting to escape the culture of modernity with its lowest-common-denominator mass culture will find it difficult to do so at many contemporary Catholic liturgies based on the Lercaro—Bugnini principles. As Catherine Pickstock has argued, ‘a genuine liturgical reform would either have to overthrow our anti-ritual modernity, or, that being impossible, devise [or perhaps, develop] a liturgy that refused to be enculturated in our modern habits of thought and speech’.  [I think that we already have that.]

The “spirit” of the modern, Novus Ordo, Lercaro-Bugnini “lowest-common denominator” Mass and over-emphasis on the minimum necessary to fulfill one’s Mass obligation have factors in common.

However, I understand wanting to get out of some Masses as quickly as possible, given the ars celebrandi or, rather, nugae celebrandi, perpetrated by in some churches.

If we take seriously Benedict’s teaching that “everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty” (in opposition to the “Kantian attitude that aesthetics is a mere matter of taste which Paul VI – Lercaro – Bugnini promoted), then, over time, the desire for the “minimum necessary” and the “lowest common denominator” in our liturgical worship, and people’s actual participation, would shift.  “Beauty” is an essential element, not an add on.  It’s absence prompts thoughts that are antithetical to what I think is a sine qua non for Catholic identity.

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  1. Austin says:

    I was taught that one’s obligation was minimally fulfilled if one arrived before the end of the Gospel and left directly after the priest’s communion. And that people used, when churches were crowded, to ask others in the narthex whether the Gospel had begun to see whether the mass would “count” and it would be worth staying.

    All anecdote, told by Anglo-Catholic clergy not in communion, without source or authority.

  2. WaywardSailor says:

    As Mother Teresa put it, simply but elegantly, love cannot be lived minimally.

  3. Gaz says:

    The minimum is all of Mass unless unavoidable.

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    “When I’ve asked, I only get excuses about traffic and walkers and how hard it is to get out with the rush – to which I normally reply saying – well how about you pray for a few minutes after Mass has ended rather than risk committing a mortal sin…or something to that effect.”

    Do not rashly judge. You don’t know why some people have to leave. Sometimes, people have to leave for health reasons, such as a severe asthma attack, or some such.

    The Chicken

  5. un-ionized says:

    In December of 2014 canonist Ed Peters wrote an article about it on his blog which I go by. The Mass is an integral whole, not a sum of parts. There isn’t a scoring system of percentages that count or don’t count.

    I am often sick so I set out from home intending to go to Mass. Sometimes I make it all the way through, sometimes I make it through the Gospel lesson, sometimes I realize in the narthex beforehand that it’s a no go for that day. The real trick is to leave without making a fuss, for example if I can get out when everybody else is standing for something that is a plus. Once I made a reverse processional during the procession, very bad form.

    When I can make it through Mass and even take Communion it is great.

  6. Papabile says:

    Many of the manualists also would say the if one arrived after the first consecration, one could complete ones obligation by staying through the first consecration at the next Mass.

    The Offertory through the Priests Communion was their pretty standard answer, though some claimed Sanctus through the Priest’s Communion.

  7. Inaestimabile Donum

    a) The Mass
    1. 1. “The two parts which in a sense go to make up the Mass, namely the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist Liturgy, are so closely connected that they form but one single act of worship.”(10) A person should not approach the table of the Bread of the Lord without having first been at the table of His Word.(11) Sacred Scripture is therefore of the highest importance in the celebration of Mass.

    I was told by a very traditional priest, God rest his soul, that if you get to Mass after the readings that you must go to another Mass, and you should not approach for Holy Communion. Then he said, “The Pope’s words, not mine”

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Folks… the Church is a generous mother, and that’s why canon law takes a generous interpretation of the laws and obligations. And it always has.

    I’m somebody who, having my druthers, would not only be early for Mass but would readily show up at two or three. But I’m also somebody who, on occasion, has experienced emergencies and grave obligations that made me attend Mass minimally. Therefore, I do not complain about the Church being generous or try to bind excessive burdens on people.

    Yes, of course the Mass is a whole. But the legal interpretation through the ages, and in various Rites, has been that if the faithful have to hurry in late or leave early, that’s okay within reason.

    Also, although the Mass is a whole such that a priest must always complete it, it’s not such a whole that the Latin Rite does not permit, and indeed command, another priest to take over and finish Mass if a priest dies or is taken ill after getting into Mass a certain ways. And although it should be completed as soon as possible, that “soon as possible” could be days or months, in the days before modern communication and travel times.

    So no, one should not love minimally or attend Mass minimally. But it can be done, with no dishonor or sin, if there is a serious reason. If people are leaving church early for frivolous reasons, that is between them and God (and the pastor, whose business it is), but not so much us people in the pews. If people are doing it every week, they often have the same serious reason every week. (Old people are often making a break for the bathroom, and young people are often stuck in jobs that require them to work on Sundays.)

    If you want to discourage it happening, encourage a more religious style of celebrating Mass (and a really good choir or organist – very few people leave early if they want to listen to an anthem at the end).

  9. Matt Robare says:

    Just use public transportation, like I do. The only way to get to Mass on time will be to get there half-an-hour early and you won’t be able to go home for 20 minutes afterwards.

  10. O. Possum says:

    So when I’m at a Novus Ordo mass and they have the speaker after communion but before the dismissal going on and on to their captive audience about some fundraiser, it is permitted to walk out?

  11. mcferran says:

    I recall the first time I attended a Sunday mass before I was received into full communion (from Anglicanism). I didn’t understand why some people were leaving the church immediately after having received Communion. This was a phenomenon I had never seen as an Anglican. I expected people to stay until the end of the last verse of the recessional hymn (and I mean the last verse printed in the hymnal).

  12. Ages says:

    For what it’s worth: for the Byzantine rite, I have read in several manuals for self-examination the question to the effect of, “Have I left the church before the dismissal and veneration of the cross?” Implying it is sinful to do so and should be confessed. (Even if it’s for a good reason; it falls under a sort of involuntary sin category.)

    That said, I’ve been to parishes where up to half the people leave after communion. Sad.

  13. Gerhard says:

    Is it OK to leave before the final blessing? The reason I ask is that a goodly number of priests INSIST upon including a “happy birthday” and “any anniversaries” and “any visitors here for the first time” alter-call (sic) BEFORE the final blessing and they want to LOCK US IN until they have finished their cringe-worthy kindergarten lark.

  14. papaefidelis says:

    A related question: When should I leave the church after Mass? a.) As soon as I respond “Thanks be to God/Deo gratias” and genuflect reverently; b.) After the priest reverences the altar; c.) After the third verse of “On Eagle’s Wings”, as Father FINALLY begins moving toward the altar; d.) After Father reaches the door and starts the handshaking and the jokes; e.) after the song FINALLY ends; f.) after the church clears out; g.) after I get infuriated during the seventeen minutes of interminable announcements that I could CLEARLY read in the bulletin and don’t pertain to me one wit, followed by the frumpy auntie called up to talk about the parish’s ashtray drive for poor smokers in Trashcanistan…..

  15. Hidden One says:

    I have nothing to add to the canonical minimum discussion, but since other commenters have been asking or commenting on other aspects of leaving Mass Mass early, here is my $.02 CAD.

    St. Alphonsus Liguori strongly recommended staying at least 15 minutes after Mass to make a good thanksgiving. All other things permitting, it seems like a good idea to stay at least that long. And, if the end of the Mass included inappropriate announcements and whatnot, inappropriate hymnody, and much lay and/or clerical chit-chat in the nave, it may take much of that time for both exterior and interior quiet to return to the soul. It does not seem good to leave a church angry, especially after or at the end of Mass. Alas, I write all of this from plenty of experience.

  16. slainewe says:

    There are soldiers who hold back from the first charge of battle, and retreat as soon as they can do so without being shot for desertion. May the Lord give me the grace not to be one of them.

  17. Thomas Sweeney says:

    Going back in my hazy memory, Sister said, if you are later than the Introit, and leave before the Post-Communion, you missed Mass.

  18. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    As un-ionized kindly notes, I think the whole “how much may I miss” approach is wrong. May I be so bold as to link to the piece he referenced? Thx ever, edp.

  19. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    Dear mcferran,

    The first one to leave Mass early was Judas. Check the Gospels. At least he showed up on time. Don’t you want to be better than Judas?

  20. Dave N. says:

    If a student were to ask me on the first of class what the bare minimum amount of work necessary to pass the course would be, my response would come in the form of a question: “Why are you even here?”

  21. Alice says:

    The rule I learned from the pre-Vatican II catechetical texts that my parents taught me out of was a bit more involved. To fulfill one’s Sunday obligation, one must be present for at least part of the Mass of the Catechumens until the priest’s Communion, but that in case of necessity one might “make up” at another Mass as long as one stayed from the Offertory to the priest’s Communion at the same Mass. Practically speaking, this meant that if you got to Mass before the end of the Gospel and stayed until the priest’s Communion, you’d fulfilled your obligation. If you missed the Mass of the Catechumens at the first Mass, but got there before the Offertory, you could then stay for the first part of the next Mass and “make up.” If, however, you got to the “last chance” Mass after the Gospel, you’d missed Mass that week. This is, of course, the bare minimum to avoid mortal sin. You could still be committing a venial sin by missing parts of the Mass if you’re doing it out of laziness.

  22. KateD says:


    You forgot:

    h) After praying the Leonine prayer over the top of the post Mass raucous laughter and loud chatter in the sanctuary.

  23. TuAutem says:

    That’s a great quote semperficatholic, but it pertains to receiving communion (for which hearing the readings is therefore a necessary-but-not-sufficient precondition) as opposed to fulfilling one’s Sunday obligation.

  24. robtbrown says:

    I’m not advocating this, but someone can arrive late to mass and read the penitential texts, the Epistle, and the Gospel. That is not possible with the double consecrations.

    I don’t think the time to leave should be determined by singing. Unless someone is legitimately pressed (e.g., catching a plane, a sick family member at home), no thought should be given to leaving until after the priest leaves.

  25. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “Dave N” just gave a terrible answer to a perfectly fair question.

  26. AnthonyJ says:

    At one parish that I went to they used to have a guest speaker every Sunday after Holy Communion. Sometimes they would go on and on for up to 20 minutes about one cause or the other. I would stay till the final blessing, although I felt like a hostage to these speakers. I finally started going to a different parish because of this.

  27. Panterina says:

    This is like asking “what is the minimum I have to do to show that I love my spouse?” There is no minimum, you always try to do more, out of love.

    If you start taking or even thinking of a minimalist approach, then you are heading for disaster.

  28. gracie says:

    I suspect many people leave early because unconsciously they can’t take the banality anymore. Some of the Masses I attend are so dreadful that l ask God if He’d consider crediting the time I’m stuck there against the Purgatorial time I’ll be putting in after I die (assuming I make it to Purgatory). It’s a way of enduring the unendurable (like the priest last Sunday who said that “unlike previous Popes, Pope Francis has given up the trappings of pomp and prestige”). Tell me that doesn’t want to make you vomit.

  29. Iustinis says:

    So, does this mean I am able to arrive late, and leave early, the horrendously, and offensively celebrated Novus Ordo I go to for daily Mass (Features include, nuns who openly support women’s ordinations handing out Holy Communion, priests who don’t know how to put on vestments, priests who put on half the vestments, bowing toward the people instead of genuflecting toward the Tabernacle, elevating the un-consecrated hosts and putting them down as soon as they are consecrated, as well as much more)? If so, when must I arrive, and can I leave immediately after Holy Communion?

    [I think you should try to answer your own question, keeping in mind that God cannot be deceived.]

  30. Daniel W says:

    I agree with Dr Peters that Dave N’s reply is terrible.

    Canon law is clear. We need to participate at Mass.

    This obligation is important, but it is not the only obligation people have on Sundays.
    As Ed Peters illustrates, other obligations can take precedence over punctual arrival.

    I stopped taking my family to a parish where the priest harped on about late-comers and early-leavers. Tracey Rowland’s comparison with the Kantian obsession with fulfilling duty (as opposed to lovingly being faithful to a commitment) is spot on, it not an inspiring approach.

    Thank you for reminding me of her work (she is on the International Theological Commission) and keeping quoting her excellent work.

  31. un-ionized says:

    One thing that attracted me to my former parish was how nobody left Mass early. Now, five years later, dozens hustle out of there, still chewing, staring at their little screens. I think they are just anxious and in a hurry. Church is one more appointment on the little screen that rules their lives. If we would only stop and consider what a toll anxiety takes.

  32. The Masked Chicken says:

    “If you start taking or even thinking of a minimalist approach, then you are heading for disaster.”

    I wish people would quit talking in absolutes. Certain people, by virtue of a medical condition, might be dispensed from attending Mass at all, but out of sheer love of God might haul themselves to Mass where, staying even the minimum is more of a sacrifice than someone who stays to the end, but is distracted by the low-cut dress of the woman in front of them.

    I’m with St. Paul (Galatians 6: 2 – 5):
    “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
    For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
    But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.
    For each man will have to bear his own load.”

    The Chicken

  33. Catharine in Aurora says:

    For the life of me, I cannot fathom why anyone would take this kind of approach to Mass, even a botched-up Novus Ordo. Any Mass is worshiping the living God in spirit and truth–why would you want to ration your exposure to grace? To worshiping the living God in spirit and truth?
    We had a simply horrible situation in our parish in IL while my late husband was still alive–priest would omit major parts of the Mass including the Nicene creed, do paraphrases of the remainder, taught heresy from the pulpit (denied the real presence and said there was no need for sacramental confession since we are all going to be saved anyway). My late husband, who was somewhat disabled, refused to go anywhere else for Mass.
    What we did was, I took him to the ENTIRE mass at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, and then went again alone to a Traditional Latin Mass the next day, on Sunday. I did this for over 15 years. I remain extremely grateful that I had this opportunity.
    Even a poorly-offered Mass has very great merit indeed.
    We should be extremely thankful that in this day and age we still have the opportunity to attend Mass in either form, at all. If the priest, music, etc., leave something to be desired, we should be praying and offering for them.

  34. frahobbit says:

    I would want to always be there for the whole Mass. But there are times that uncontrollable things happen. It’s good to be freed from anxiety, in those cases.
    So an example for me, if I’m visiting out of the state, go to a church I’ve always been to, to find the hour was changed, and now I’ve only been to part of Mass. Mistakes happen despite planning.
    I am not as free to just stay, because I am due back at the host’s home, or I have to catch the train back to my home state. So knowing whether I am obliged to go to another Mass is very important.

  35. Daniel W says:

    The obligation to participate at Holy Mass has two aspects. The positive law, expounded in canon law, and natural law.

    The ecclesial positive law has been deliberately simplified so that ANY duration of participation at ANY (Catholic) celebration of the Eucharist suffices, (including on the evening preceding). Nevertheless, we are also to ensure that ANYTHING we plan does not unduly detract from the day’s worship and joy, so avoid arranging obligations that jeopardise the primary form of worship, which is the Eucharist. This is because the divine law obligation to sanctify the day is broader than the canonical law of Mass attendance.

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