ASK FATHER: Communion service on priest’s day off.

From a reader…


I’ve never looked up any documents about “communion services”. Other than the obvious occassions where Holy Communion is distributed outside of Mass (viaticum, Good Friday, etc.), what’s the story with “Communion services”? Are they allowed? We have one weekly on the priest’s day off from the parish. I avoid them.

Yes, they are allowed.

But it is too bad that you have to have them in your parish at all.

A priest should have some time for himself.  However, it is unfortunate that there isn’t a way for another priest to cover a Mass on that day.  I’m sure that the pastor has tried.

You are completely free to avoid them if you wish.

On that note, some people don’t think that a priest should have any time off, ever, because he has to be exactly where you expect him to be when you want him to be there.

I am reminded of the older circular letter…

The Perfect Priest

The results of a computerized survey indicate the perfect priest preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sins but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $50 weekly to the poor. He is 28 years old and has preached 30 years. He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all of his time with senior citizens.

The perfect priest smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls daily on parish families, shut-ins and the hospitalized, and is always in his office when needed.

If your priest does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their priest, too. Then bundle up your priest and send him to the church on the top of the list. In one week, you will receive 1,643 priests and one of them will be perfect. Have faith in this procedure.

One parish broke the chain and got its old priest back in less than three weeks.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I think the public recitation of the rosary or one or more of the Hours by the interested laity would be a much better option than a Communion service.

  2. padredana says:

    I do not believe they are allowed in this particular situation. I believe they are only for cases of “necessity,” and then only on Sundays in places where there is no priest available. Remember, nobody has a right to daily Mass or to daily reception of Holy Communion. I’d also be interested in how far the next parish is. If another parish is within reasonable driving distance there is no reason for a layperson to be “presiding” over a Communion Service. The clericalization of the laity is ALWAYS a bad thing.

  3. Imrahil says:

    On the contrary, I think a Communion service is a very good idea on any day where a priest cannot be had, excluding days that come unter a Sunday obligation (because one can’t trust people to make the difference), and even perhaps (though I’ve never seen that practiced anywhere) on days with an evening Mass for people who wish to be strengthened by Holy Communion for their day’s work. If course, I imagine the latter thing as done possibly by the priest himself, or by a deacon, and not a lengthy service sufficient to stand in for Mass as far as that is concerned, but an affair of some 5 minutes.

    After all, “receiving holy Communion outside Mass” is on the Church’s lawbooks still. It’s what they used to do in the old times; but for me, that’s no reason it shouldn’t be done today.

  4. pjmpjm says:

    One worthy Holy Communion is worth more than the whole visible universe.

    If a Communion service is licit according to canon and liturgical law, and you can receive our Divine Lord, without neglecting the duties of your state in life, and you forego It, to make some kind of a protest against the absence of the priest or against an aspect of the liturgical reform, this does not seem supernaturally wise.

    The value of that protest is, at best, finite and may even not contribute to the building up of the Church at all.

    The value of one worthy Holy Communion is in some way, and even in a number of ways, infinite.

  5. SaintJude6 says:

    As a mom to many, I haven’t had a day off or been unreachable in almost 21 years. I’ll see your middle of the night calls to a sickbed with equally as frequent middle of the night calls to catch vomit and then remove the vomit from all the surfaces it has covered. Unless you’ve spent Thanksgiving night standing outside scraping chunky vomit off of sheets before returning to clean it out of the carpeting and off of the furniture, I don’t want to hear your bellyaching. I spent eighteen months trying to thwart a special needs child from playing in his own poop and smearing it on the walls. And I know plenty of other parents dealing with children who will be caring for disabled children every single day until they die. You signed up to be a spiritual father. That means being reachable, even if you have to cancel your travel plans or day off.

    [Thanks for your kind sentiments of support. Meanwhile, you signed up to be a natural parent. Your spiritual fathers scrape the vomit of your sins from you. They feed you spiritual food, which doesn’t just pop automatically into their heads. Christ the High Priest went apart to pray. His priests need to clear their heads and ready themselves to give people that spiritual food to which you lay your claim. You have to prepare food and clean up after. Priests have to do the same. We do that so we can take care of you and help you get to heaven on the day you die.]

  6. ChesterFrank says:

    You mention communion services in a parish where the parish priest needs the occasional day off, and there is no priest to say the Mass. What about parishes where there is no parish priest, but instead has only a “parish life director” and where Mass is not said every Sunday because there is not a priest? That is the situation in some of the parts of the country. Not only was communion distributed outside of a proper Mass, but the routine Mass was (proposed) being replaced by those “communion services.” There has been the occasional pundit in these diocese that have suggested that the priest shortage was self-inflicted by the parish counsels. Yes, the diocese has been called Liberal in the past.

  7. Gaz says:

    We won’t be having daily Masses in the parish church 26-29 December. However, daily Mass will continue in the Poor Clares’ monastery. There are 12 Masses in the parish for 4th Advent/Christmas. Yes, Father is importing a little help for this effort but there are no complaints here of sacerdotal slackness in this single-priest parish.

  8. Tom says:

    Sounds like a good occasion to start restoring the Divine Office to its rightful place as an essential part of the public liturgy of the Church — and one that may be led without any scruples by a layperson. I really don’t get why we try to reinvent the wheel when the Church’s multimillennial tradition (in fact, one predating the New Covenant and rooted in the original Qahal Yahweh and the synagogue services) stands at our ready disposal.

  9. hwriggles4 says:

    In several dioceses, there is usually one week out of the year where all the priests have to meet for a convocation, a retreat, a mandatory series of meetings, etc. These meetings are normally scheduled through a series of weekdays, and many priests are not available for Daily Mass. Normally, a pulpit announcement is made and the parish bulletin has a few sentences saying that due to these mandatory meetings, Daily Mass will not be on XXX days this week, but there will be a communion service. This way, Catholics know ahead of time.

  10. Imrahil says:

    Excuse me for coming over as personal; I’m actually just attacking the statement, believe me or not.,

    There are any number of reasons for the shortage in priests we are experiencing.

    But the prevalence of the attitude as exemplified, here, by what the dear SaintJude6 wrote, and among the more observant part of the Churchfolk alas, is for sure one of them.

    (Hint: A man who has a hard job to do will find it thrice as hard if he isn’t even allowed to whine about it.)

  11. Imrahil says:

    Dear ChesterFrank,

    that is a different situation. If a parish has no pastor at all, then, if the situation appears permanent, it should be dissolved and the people should just drive to nearby parishes. If it appears temporary, it will probably continue in juridical existence, but at least for the Sunday Masses, the people should just drive to nearby parishes likewise.

  12. jhayes says:

    Padredana writes *I do not believe they are allowed in this particular situation. I believe they are only for cases of “necessity,” and then only on Sundays in places where there is no priest available.

    There are two different services – one for weekdays, the other for Sundays. The USCCB statement on “Weekday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest” says:

    The proper ritual for the Liturgy of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion is found in Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. The specialized provisions of Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest are not appropriate to weekday celebrations.

  13. Peter Ignotus says:

    Redemptionis Sacramentum (nn. 165-166) takes a pretty dim view of weekday communion services.

  14. APX says:

    The issue of Communion Services outside of Mass is addressed Redemtionis Sacramentum.

    IMHO, Communion Services Outside of Mass should be rare and only in case of real necessity. For example, when there’s no Sunday Mass within a reasonable distance (ie: Rural areas), and even then rare. Why? Because the reason we have this problem is because there is a lack of vocations to the Priesthood and based on my own personal experiences, given the lack of appreciation for and understanding of the Mass and the Priesthood, Catholics are coming to think that it’s no big deal because Jane or Joe Blow from the congregation can just “preside” over a Liturgy of the Word with Communion Service. “We don’t priests. We can do it ourselves.” *eye roll*.

    Instead I think such services should be replaced by Prayers of Supplication for more priestly vocations. There was a story about a little church in France that was without a priest and thus there was no Mass, no Eucharist, no priest to absolve their sins. The people grieving this loss used to gather around an old tattered Corporal (since It was used to set the consecrated Host on) and beg for God to send them a priest. After several years, there prayers were answered.

  15. frjim4321 says:

    The notion of receiving communion outside of its liturgical context has always seemed like a bit of an abomination to me except in the case of sickness; although I remember a time when it was commonplace to arrange a communion call around a recipient’s beauty shop appointment. It would seem that when there is no priest available on a Sunday there should be some accommodation for those who would otherwise be participating in the weekend Eucharist.

    We don’t have mass here on my day off, but there are four other churches plus a 2 nursing homes well within 10 miles, so the needs are being served.

  16. Imrahil says:

    Reverend Father Jim,

    I should say with all due respect there is a mountain of difference between “not the ideal situation, even, if possible, perhaps to replaced by something better, but better than nothing” and an “abomination”.

    Reception of Holy Communion outside the context of Mass is, as without any doubt attested by Church tradition, even for the non-sick, the former. Church law makes the distinction sufficiently clear in saying that it’s only allowed for the first Communion of the day, whereas in Mass you can communicate a second time; this means that it is allowed, and the distinction is made. It is also, in my view, enough of a distinction.

    Neither was it, e. g., an “abomination” to pray Terce, Sext and None immediately afterwards some time in the morning, or (to take a rather heavier example from pre-1911 times which in my view really did need changing) to say the Mass for St. Sylvester Gozzolini priest, founder of an order and Confessor, double, on the Final Sunday of the Liturgical Year because this feast outranked the Sunday.

  17. Mary Jane says:

    At our FSSP parish there are several communion services each week; they are held at very early times of the morning (before 6am), so I always figured those attending might be people who have to be at work prior to the parish’s first mass of the day.

    SaintJude6, I wanted to offer some words of encouragement. I too am a mom, to 5 (soon to be 6) little ones (our oldest is just 6). Motherhood (and Fatherhood) can be chaotic and messy, and it’s definitely a 24/7 job with little time off and even fewer vacations. Of course, it is also a beautiful and rewarding job. As my grandparents told me recently, God has entrusted his most precious treasures (souls) to us to raise for Him. Parents taking a little time away for themselves, if at all possible, is so necessary for recharging though. Even if it’s just an hour to go get coffee and read, or go pray at the church, or if even an hour is not possible, taking a walk around the neighborhood. We all need time to recharge. Some days, until all the kids are in bed and asleep, a walk to the mailbox and back might have been all the alone/quiet time I got that day. But in general we can all take better care of those entrusted to us if we ourselves are rested. Even Christ fled the multitudes. ;-) Priests too need time to recharge. I’m sure if it came down to a (no brainer) decision between being at a sick bed administering Last Rites vs taking the day off to be at the ball game, any priest would choose to cancel their day off plans and be at the sick bed administering Last Rites. But anyway, I just wanted to offer encouragement. Prayers for you and your family! Hang in there, the reward will be so worth it. :) A blessed Advent to you and your loved ones.

  18. Fr AJ says:

    I stopped taking a day off because of parishioners complaining we didn’t have Mass 7 days per week across the 3 parishes I have. When I did take a day off I would not allow communion services since there is no obligation to receive Holy Communion on weekdays. I have 20 Masses from now through Christmas and no time off after Christmas so I understand and am sympathetic to people who insist on Mass or multiple Masses each day but it does wear your priest down.

  19. Imrahil says:

    Reverend Fr AJ,

    but why didn’t you allow communion services on your day off?

    “There is no obligation to receive Holy Communion on weekdays” is, forgive me, frankly no reason. There’s lots and lots of things that aren’t obligatory and are still good or even helpful. And as you are speaking of “allowing”, I assume you were asked and said no, not that it never came up.

    I am sympathetic to people who insist on Mass or multiple Masses each day but it does wear your priest down.

    Well, I am not a priest. Still I have a feeling that it would wear a priest considerably less down just to distribute Holy Communion rather than offering the actual Holy Sacrifice. So, in situations where Catholics, as good Catholics, do greatly value the Mass, but when the rubber hits the pavement, what they actually want is Holy Communion, Communion services could be of value for just this situation, couldn’t they?

  20. Moro says:

    This question comes up more and more because dioceses are forced to do more with less. I would like to add a suggestion that I hope the priest readers of this blog take note of. I have noticed that in historically Catholic countries like Spain and Italy, daily mass tends to happen in the evening after people get out of work.

    Whereas in most of the United States in the suburbs, the parish has a 9AM daily mass. What working person could possibly make it to a 9AM mass? That’s a serious question. I have nothing against mass for stay at home moms and retirees but the reality is that everyone one who can’t make a 9AM mass are the ones on the front lines in the office, the public schools, universities, halls of government, banks, labs, the hospital, etc. where the cultural and spiritual battles of our day are being fought out. They need the grace of the daily mass and sacraments more than anyone to help them be faithful throughout the day.

    Retirees have the entire day free to go to mass. The rest of us, only when they are not at work. So I suggest priests get rid of these inconvenient masses and offer mass at 6:30 or 7 AM or 5:30, 6, 6:30, 7, or 7:30pm because you can reach more people with the exact same number of masses. If you add in confession before or after, that’s even better.

    If you have to do more with fewer priests, these sort of changes will help you reach more people and will benefit the whole church immensely.

  21. Cincinnati Priest says:

    First, for convenience, here are the links to the relevant documents, which should be read to understand more about the issue
    and [cf. ##165-7, as noted above]

    What is missing from this discussion, particularly, for example in comments by post-er pjmpjm, is that the Communion service divorces two things which should remain united, whenever possible: (1) the reception of the holy Eucharist in the context of the holy sacrifice of Christ (no priest, no sacrifice); and the feeding of the Bread of Life from the hands of the priest (whose hands were consecrated specifically for that purpose). These should only be separated when absolutely necessary, as Redemptionis Sacramentum very clearly notes.

    In practice, in countless dioceses, Communion services have arisen more often than not for sheer convenience. For example, “I like my little parish clique, and I go to Mass the other 4 days a week there with my friends, so on Father’s day off, I’d rather go there than drive 5 minutes down the road to another parish that has the holy sacrifice of the Mass.” (This happens in Cincinnati very frequently, where parishes are very geographically close).

    Even the USCCB makes it clear that if another Mass is reasonably available nearby, a Communion service shouldn’t be held. To his credit, our ordinary has communicated this to his priests.

    Quite frankly, many Communion services were implemented in the era (1970s into the 1980s) when there was a push to get women involved (since the “mean old Church” wouldn’t “let” women be priests), or the laity more involved (in the blurring of the distinction between the priestly and lay states). So there was an agenda involved. R.S. addresses this issue. If you count, you will notice that the vast majority of Communion services are led by laywomen. In Cincinnati, there are countless Communion services with Masses at the same time within a 10-minute drive.

    An unfortunate, if unintended, consequence of the widespread use of Communion services is that people minimize the importance of the *sacrifice* of the Mass, which doesn’t happen if there is no priest. People often don’t recognize the difference, as witnessed by people calling a Communion service “Sister Suzy’s Mass.”

    Regarding the suggestion to have evening Masses for working people, there are two a few with that. First, in an era of priest shortage, priests tend to work very long days, including evening meetings with (working) people who can’t work during the day and can only meet in the evenings; second, it precludes the possibility of a long fast before Mass (if we ever returned to the custom of 3-hour fast before Mass, which we should); third, there is really no tradition of celebrating evening Masses which aren’t vigils. It’s allowed, but not ideal.

    Simplest solution as noted: get rid of weekday Communion services all together, replace with the Liturgy of the Hours.

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