From a reader…
Is it the case that any Masses that a parish priest says, other than on a Sunday, are “private Masses” and, therefore, it is entirely up to him whether or not he says them?
This is the line taken by the two priests who have taken over the parish my father lives in. It seems that there is the odd day or two in the week (differing from week to week) when a weekday Mass is offered, and it is their view that as such Masses are “private”, and that as under canon law they have no obligation to say Mass each day, then everyone should be happy with whatever pattern of weekday Masses might be offered and think themselves lucky that any “bonus Masses” above the Sunday requirement are offered.
I appreciate that canon law does not require priests to say Mass each day but, in setting out the duties of a parish priest canon law states that, in effect, the Eucharist should be at the heart of parish life, and there is a reference to offering Mass with greater solemnity on Sundays and Feast Days. This clearly suggests that Masses are by no means to be restricted to Sundays, but should be central to parish life. How can this be given effect if weekday Masses are increasingly a rarity?
Do parishioners just have to accept that they now have to give up the habit of daily Mass as the parish priest can do as he wishes? It is not even as if saying Mass takes them very long, as the present incumbents have it all over in well under 15 minutes.
[… and rambling begins….]
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson:
To think of any sort of “obligation” to offer Mass daily strikes me – and surely will strike the hearts of many other priests as odd. It would be similar to a tourist in Rome thinking he had some sort of an obligation to have a cup of espresso every day, or a scoop of gelato, or a beautiful plate of perfectly-cooked pasta. As a priest, those few days since ordination when, either because of illness or necessary travel I have been unable to offer the Holy Sacrifice are sad days in my calendar.
Yet, the law is the law, and just as the faithful are only required to receive Holy Communion once per year, the requirements of the priest with regards to offering Mass are pretty minimal.
Canon 904 recommends, but does not require, that a priest offer the Holy Mass daily. Canon 534 requires that pastors offer Mass on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation for the faithful of his parish (whether or not they’re registered, whether or not they’re Catholic (the Missa pro populo should be offered for ALL the baptized living in the territory of the parish, or if the parish is a personal parish, for all the faithful who fit the parameters set by the bishop for that parish).
Now, particular law may have different requirements, and the priests of a parish should be seeking to meet the needs of the faithful. If they are not doing so, the faithful have every right to appeal to the bishop. It would be difficult to think of how a priest could more provide for the needs of his parish than by offering Mass for them on a daily basis.
A priest may be permitted a day off during the course of the week, and during that day off, it could be reasonable for the priest not to offer a publicly scheduled Mass – perhaps he goes away on his day off, or sleeps in a bit, but it would seem to me that a priest failing to offer regular daily Masses at his parish is, if not in violation of the specifics of the law, certainly negligent in his obligations toward the spiritual welfare of those entrusted to his care. And our interlocutor speaks of two priests at this parish (what a luxury in this day and age!) Two priests should certainly be able to divide their obligations suitably so that at the very minimum, daily Mass is offered at the parish.
If the priests are not approachable, and the bishop is unwilling to address the matter, what recourse do the faithful have? I’m a big fan of the power of shame. If the priests keep the church locked up all day and twenty people show up every day at noon and pray the rosary on the front steps of the church, it won’t take long for that to grab attention. Is there another parish nearby, or a convent or chapel with regular Mass? If a dozen or so parishioners of St. Eleutherius start showing up for daily Mass at St. Exuperantius or the Convent of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin, it won’t take long for priests to begin chattering. If those parishioners then write to the priests at St. Eleutherius and tell them that, since they are receiving regular pastoral attention from the priests at St. Exuperantius and the Seven Dolour nuns, they will, in justice, have to lessen their contributions to St. Eleutherius accordingly to support other needs, attention will be obtained.
If the priests are negligent in their other duties, such as visiting the sick, or prisoners, or the homebound, and a group of parishioners take it upon themselves to make the rounds and visit the sick themselves, attention will be grabbed.