ASK FATHER: Priest took ill at homily, another priest took over

15_10_06_De_defectibus_03First, I must remind readers that, to ask a question – ASK FATHER Question Box – please use the ASK FATHER contact form in the top menu.  Don’t just send questions, even if you have some prior email contact with me.  I can’t do things that way.  Use the contact form.  I generally just delete what I don’t recognize.  And short is good.

That said, this is one I didn’t delete.

From a reader…


Unfortunately, the Monsignor saying mass yesterday fell ill during the homily. […]

The homilist had been in the confessional during the Mass of the Catechumens before coming out to give the homily. He quickly vested and was able to take over and complete the mass, starting with the Credo.

A question was posed later by a curious parishioner as to whether the priest should have started over from the beginning or if it was ok for him to start at the point Monsignor had gotten to… […]

This situation is foreseen in the document De defectibus … Concerning Defects… that might be encountered during Mass.  It is found in the front part of the traditional Missale Romanum.  It was elminated – to our tragedy, disgrace, and woe – for the “reformed” rites after Vatican II.   I suppose they thought that it was too rigid.  In any event, De defectibus describes all sorts of situations that come up in the course of time and says how they ought to be handled.

I suppose one justification for ejecting De defectibus, apart from the antinomian spirit stemming from an overly optimistic view of man in an era of revolution that was sweeping away order in our worship of God, was that rubrics were long considered the stuff of moral theology.  De defectibus also states that if the priest himself does something wrong, he would sin either venially or mortally.  Indeed, the explicit statement of mortal sin for abuses, kept priests in check.  Granted that, in the hands of some of the Jansenistic tendency that could also lead to scrupulousness and a rigidity that many wanted to throw off when the 60s struck, but there was greater order and reverence in our liturgical worship of God and you didn’t have to wonder what strange variation you would encounter from church to church.

In the case wherein the celebrating priest for some reason or another is impeded from continuing Mass before the consecration, De defectibus instructs that Mass should be broken off… not continued at all.

Here is the text:

33. If before the Consecration the priest becomes seriously ill, or faints, or dies, the Mass is discontinued. [That was the situation described.]  If this happens after the consecration of the Body only and before the consecration of the Blood, or after both have been consecrated, the Mass is to be completed by another priest from the place where the first priest stopped, and in case of necessity even by a priest who is not fasting. If the first priest has not died but has become ill and is still able to receive Communion, and there is no other consecrated host at hand, the priest who is completing the Mass should divide the host, give one part to the sick priest and consume the other part himself. [Do you see the intimate unity of priest and Host?] If the priest has died after half-saying the formula for the consecration of the Body, then there is no Consecration and no need for another priest to complete the Mass. If, on the other hand, the priest has died after half- saying the formula for the consecration of the Blood, then another priest is to complete the Mass, repeating the whole formula over the same chalice from the words Simili modo, postquam cenatum est; or he may say the whole formula over another chalice which has been prepared, and consume the first priest’s host and the Blood consecrated by himself, and then the chalice which was left half-consecrated.
34. If anyone fails to consume the whole Sacrament aside from cases of necessity of this kind, he is guilty of very grave sin.

It goes on to describe the infamous “Spider Dilemma”, about which I have written in a jocular fashion before. HERE

But do you see how logical this is?

And, do you see how important it is all considered?

Can you contrast the spirit in these instructions with the attitude often encountered in many modern priests regarding care of the Eucharist?

So, Father should not have continued the Mass.  Mass is a whole.   Alas, in these days of lax and incomplete instruction – no fault of the priests’ in general – and in these days of rampant concelebration, which give the impression that herds of priests are all doing the same time so what’s the difference who says what, we encounter odd solutions to all too human situations.

Holy Church has been at this Mass thing for a looooong time, and she is the greatest expert in humanity that the world has ever known.  These situations do come up.  If you can think of one, it has probably happened… though I am not sure about whether or not we have had the instance of a priest being abducted by aliens after consecrating the Host but before the chalice… etc.   But De defectibus would probably sort it quickly.

De defectibus is really useful!

Reading De defectibus especially through the lens of Pope Benedict’s Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis (which presents us with a reflection on the priest’s ars celebrandi) could be of enormous practical use to seminarians and younger priests today.

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  1. Legisperitus says:

    The clarity in documents like this is like food to the starving.

  2. APX says:

    This kind of stuff is precisely why I gave a copy of De Defectibus to a newly ordained priest in the Ordinariate this year as part of an Ordination gift.

  3. Joy65 says:

    I am just asking this hypothetical question(s) for my own knowledge. I’ve never encountered this happening.
    1.) What if there is ONLY one priest and no other ordained priest at a Mass and during the Mass the priest is taken seriously ill? Let’s say this is during consecration, he hasn’t said “This is My Body” yet. I understand that the hosts and wine have NOT been consecrated and no Mass can continue, right? [There has not been a consecration. That’s where it ends.]
    2.) Same scenario with one priest (no other priest there ) but Father HAS consecrated both the Body and Blood and then goes down very ill. What do the people at Mass do? Does anybody go to the altar and take care of Our Lord’s Body and Blood or do the people have to wait until another priest can be found to properly take care of our Lord. This could be hours because of the local of our church. [Given the situation, someone would have to put the Host in the tabernacle and, probably, consume the Precious Blood. There is only a tiny sliver of wiggle room for reserving a tiny amount of the Precious Blood, and it doesn’t apply here. In general, the Precious Blood of Our Lord is NOT to be reserved. If, however, perhaps a priest could get there within, say, 24 hours, then… maybe.] Is communion given by Extra Ordinary Ministers of Communion and then the people leave or should the Mass be discontinued, the Body & Blood guarded until another priest can be found, and the people told to go to another Mass?

    [This is a situation in which the Eucharist has been confected, but Mass has not been celebrated. For Mass to have been celebrated, the PRIEST must consume both species. However, let’s not get trapped in the mania that everyone has to have Communion every time they enter a church.]

  4. tho says:

    Holy Church is the greatest expert in humanity that the world has ever known. Knowing that, how can we account for the abuses that seem to be an everyday occurence. [I should think the answer to that is so obvious that it hardly needs to be repeated.] The church has forced the Novus Ordo on us knowing that it lends itself to abuses. Forgetting about the banality and that at times there are more people on the Altar than in the pews. It seems as if the Pope and his Bishops are purposely trying to turn us away from a Godly life. Maybe the devil who tormented Job is after us. [D’YA THINK?!?]

    [Look. The Devil hates the Church, whose members are human beings with wounded natures. Do the math.]

  5. Charivari Rob says:

    If it was eliminated, then what directives are in effect?

    Or does “eliminated” mean “separated from the rest of the missal”?

    [Well… it was not “eliminated”, because, as it turns out the 1962 Missal was not abrogated as many claimed. The 1962 Missal is a current missal. But it was effectively eliminated. It was excluded from the editions of the Novus Ordo. Silence = elimination. ]

  6. ASPM Sem says:

    What if this happens at a NO Mass with concelebrants? If the main celebrant gets ill, is it illicit to have a concelebrant continue the Mass? [Different situation entirely. In this case, I suppose a concelebrant would continue the same Mass.]

  7. JimP says:

    If a Sunday Mass were discontinued when the priest became incapacitated, would those in attendance have satisfied their obligation, or would their obligation be abrogated?

    [Again, the people present no longer have any obligation.]

  8. Matt Robare says:

    I am confident that an advanced alien species capable of traveling through the universe would be intelligent enough to hold off on abducting Father until after Mass.

    [In some cases, the aliens might be doing the congregation a favor.]

  9. gretta says:

    For the people who have come to that Mass, if the Mass they are attending is incomplete, must they then attend a later Mass or has their obligation been fulfilled since it was cut short due to circumstances beyond their control? This would be particularly important for people in rural areas who do not have another parish church anywhere near them.

    [Once again… NO, the people no longer have the obligation, as I explained.]

  10. oldCatholigirl says:

    Perhaps I’m just being obtuse (wouldn’t be the first time), but wouldn’t it have been OK if the second priest said a new Mass (from the beginning)? That way, the congregation would have fulfilled its Sunday obligation–if, indeed, this occurred at a Sunday Mass.

    [First, that was my point above. Also, the obligation is not an issue in this case: their obligation is null because of the circumstances.]

  11. wolfeken says:

    “What if this happens at a NO Mass with concelebrants? If the main celebrant gets ill, is it illicit to have a concelebrant continue the Mass? [Different situation entirely. In this case, I suppose a concelebrant would continue the same Mass.]”

    Or a volunteer from the audience, as really almost anything goes with the novus ordo. [Well… no, as you well know.]

    This post illustrates the stark contrast between the traditional Latin Mass (even the relatively recent 1962 missal) and the novus ordo. One has rubrics for everything, the other has general principles that you can often take or leave.

    It is why folks should be suspicious of those who say the two missals can somehow meet in the middle for some sort of compromise liturgy that will solve all our problems.

  12. jaykay says:

    Matt Robare: “I am confident that an advanced alien species capable of traveling through the universe would be intelligent enough to hold off on abducting Father until after Mass.”

    Hmmm… an alien species, eh? Perhaps from the 5th declension… ooops, 5th dimension, sorry! But assuming such did visit, and being 5th declension… dang, dimension, sorry… they’d probably, although not necessarily, be feminine… so then they’d be veeeery empathetic, and would rush to assist Father cos, cos… Vatican 2! And Teilhard.

    There, sorted.

  13. CarpeNoctem says:

    I’m shooting from the hip here without my library around me to confirm these things, so please correct me if I am wrong.

    I celebrate both the NO and EF and yes, I as a concelebrant once “took over” a Mass when another priest fell ill after preaching but before the consecration. I was at the time of this occurrence, aware of the instructions of de Defectibus, but I am confident in an analysis that concludes that concelebration in the NO it is a totally ‘different’ thing from what the older instruction addresses.

    In the case of a Mass with Concelebrants, it did not seem that, as a concelebrant, the same necessity to ‘start over’ were present. My reasoning for continuing is that 1) theoretically the Mass was as much “mine” as it was the other priests’. 2) I knew my actions would certainly not be invalid… perhaps irregular, but not in any way invalid. Finally, 3) as my intentions were good and my conscience perceived likelihood of ‘probability’ over ‘doubt’ of the appropriateness the action I took, (an opinion which was later confirmed by the opinion of someone wiser and holier than I… although we both admit to being open to correction should there be an authoritative answer to be had), I thus proceeded to continue the Mass after the immediate emergency of taking care of the ill priest was taken care of.

    This is sort of an aside, and I should have probably confirmed this before opining here, but in the dark recesses of the rubrics (and I am almost sure this was in the context of the NO… maybe it is found in the Ceremonial of Bishops???) I seem to remember there is a situation where a bishop can “preside” at the Liturgy of the Word while another priest “celebrates” the Mass (err… “Liturgy of the Eucharist”)… which demonstrates that the integrity of the ‘leadership’ roles between the ‘first’ and ‘second’ part of the NO Mass need not be absolute. (I know that in the older ceremonies there were instructions about how a priest celebrates when he does so in the presence of a higher prelate, which I wonder, might be a precursor to this contemporary rubrical anomaly? I seem to remember there is a “iube domne” before the prelate before going to offer the sacrifice in much the same way the deacon would do so before proclaiming the gospel?)

    Anyway, I found all of this interesting for the side reason that this is also another reason NOT to use the term “preside” or “presider” to talk about what the priest does when he ‘celebrates’ Mass, meaning ‘confects the Eucharist’. Having provisions for a bishop to “preside” while a priest “celebrates” makes the impoverished term “presider” that some liturgy-fascists insist on using for the garden variety single-priest operation you see every Sunday… well.. imprecise. What I do when I ‘celebrate’ Mass is indeed different than what sister does when she ‘presides’ at a Communion Service or over the Liturgy of the Hours or whatever… the word “presider” is not a parallel to the ministerial function of a priest in the full glory of ‘celebrating’ Mass. But in any case, this strange distinction would also seem to imply that the bifurcation of ministries (‘presiding’ and ‘celebrating’) at such a Mass is possible in the specific context given here (bishop presiding, priest celebrating), and while not specifically forseen or even necessarily recommended, could make perfectly good sense in the emergency context presented here (of a concelebrant ‘taking over’).

    And all of this being said, and even in the NO… if the priest were NOT a concelebrant and the celebrant was unable to continue a Mass before the consecration, the ‘new’ priest coming on the scene would certainly have to start over from the beginning.

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  16. dcntodd says:

    I am confused. A assume the homilist was hearing confessions since he was in the confessional? Or was he avoiding the guitar band? Is that recommended, or even allowed? I was always under the impression that confession shouldn’t take place during Mass or Adoration.

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