ASK FATHER: Mass without proper gear? Pusillanimous stingy ignorant pride.

From a reader…


can you have catholic mass without candles


307. The candles, which are required at every liturgical service out of reverence and on account of the festivity of the celebration (cf. no. 117), are to be appropriately placed either on or around the altar in a way suited to the design of the altar and the sanctuary so that the whole may be well balanced and not interfere with the faithful’s clear view of what takes place at the altar or what is placed on it.

First, sit a little closer to your keyboard so that you can reach those punctuation keys.

Candles must be used for Mass.  That’s clear.

What’s also clear that is Mass can be celebrated without them.  Absolutely required are the properly ordained priest and valid matter for the Eucharist.  Vestments and candles and so forth are required by the rubrics, but if they are lacking, Mass could still be celebrated validly.

Analogously, even though you sent a mere sentence fragment with no capitalization or punctuation, I understood that you were trying to ask a question.  It didn’t show much respect for orthography or the reader, but even in it’s minimalist form it eked out its message.  Similarly, neglecting to use proper vestments, vessels, candles, etc., could “get the job done” in a minimal sense of what is required, but it shows little respect for our Catholic identity, which is tied up with our rites, or for the congregation, who deserve care and true liturgical worship.

That said, writing an email is one thing, while the Church’s sacred liturgical rites for the most precious thing we have, the Eucharist, is quite another.  The former is not nearly as weighty as the latter.

If in some situation where there are no candles available, or the wind or other conditions are such that it would be impossible to use them, Mass could still be celebrated, and celebrated reverently provided we do our best.  The same goes for certain vestments for Mass or other accoutrement.  Think about a windy deck of a battleship steaming across the Pacific to face the Japanese fleet or in the Channel heading for France.

That doesn’t justify not using candles under normal circumstances.

The refusal to use proper furnishings for Mass, to use candles and proper vestments, etc., is a sign of spiritual immaturity and pride, a pusillanimous stinginess that knows nothing of what is being wrought in the sacred liturgical action.

You can’t use what you don’t have, and you are not bound to the impossible.  But we are bound to do our best. Ultra posse nemo obligatur.

Look how these men did their best. Do you think for a moment that they would have said, “Candles? Nah!”, if they had them and could light them?

Hey! Look! Candles!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. frjimt says:

    One of our priests, recently deceased, Msgr Joe Dooley, had a picture of him celebrating Holy Mass on the front of a jeep during the 2nd World War. Having visited with him while serving with the Bishop, he delighted in recounting the joy of bringing the sacraments to the soldiers in wartime. He would always use candles, even if the wind blew them out!

  2. Some of the most well-celebrated Masses I have ever attended had no candles lit. The elderly priest, who got up very early and traveled to the parish in all kinds of weather to offer daily Mass (and who has since gone on to his reward), was on oxygen and could not be near open flames.

  3. The Egyptian says:

    Always wondered, when in dire circumstances, say in a Nazi pow camp, what were the absolute minimums required say a mass. As far as wine, bread and cups, could it be done with other types of wine or plain bread. Lord knows I don’t want that but what are the “absolute” minimums needed

  4. JonPatrick says:

    On the Church Militant “retreat at sea” the cruise line’s rules prohibited any kind of open flame on the ship, so we had unlit candles for the daily masses which included both ordinary and extraordinary form.

  5. Julia_Augusta says:

    The men in the videos show proper reverence because they believe in the Real Presence. When people get sloppy (not using candles, proper vestments; not kneeling; Communion in the hand), I can’t help but think that they don’t believe in the Real Presence.

  6. Semper Gumby says:

    Military chaplains, shipboard Mass, and, er, open flames recalls the exploits of Fr. O’Callahan onboard the carrier USS Franklin near Okinawa in March 1945.

    The carrier was gravely damaged by a kamikaze attack, on fire, dead in the water, listing, and hot ammunition and aircraft bombs were exploding. Some 800 of the crew were dead. Here is more info from the TFP website:

    “Father O’Callahan retrieved a vial of holy oil and his helmet marked with a large white cross as he made his way through passages filled with flames and smoke to the open area above. On the hangar deck, bombs and rockets, engulfed in a mass of flames, were exploding at a rate of about one per minute.

    “Father continued upward to the flight deck. Here nearly 90 percent of the 1,000-foot apron was aflame. The clear portion was full of burned, mangled, bleeding bodies. He spent a few moments with each of those who were alive, praying, absolving, anointing. Explosions tore apart the steam lines and the boilers shut down. By 9:30 AM, the ship was powerless and listing. Twenty minutes later, a rear service magazine of five-inch shells exploded, raining debris onto the deck.

    “The fury brought disorganization. Key officers were dead, and many chiefs, if alive, were dispersed or trapped. Flames, explosions and noxious smoke smeared faces and uniforms making it almost impossible to recognize anyone from a distance. One thing stood out, however, the white cross on the chaplain’s helmet. It had the power to inspire.

    “When a live, thousand-pound bomb was spotted on the deck, the chaplain stood by for moral support while a team defused it; then he mustered a group of men to drop it overboard. When the fires were pushed back from the forward gun turret and its ready-ammunition magazine, hundreds of five-inch shells stored there had to be jettisoned before they exploded. Father O’Callahan had men form a chain, taking his turn in the line, to pass the hot shells from the magazine to the edge of the ship where they were dumped. He then joined a crew to flood a lower-deck magazine whose ammunition could not be easily unloaded.

    “When the fires on the hangar deck began to subside, Father led a hose crew through a smoke-filled, dark passage to the area. On the flight deck, as the fires receded, six loose, but live, thousand-pound bombs were discovered. The chaplain was there encouraging the men as a hose crew worked to cool the bombs so others could defuse them.”

    For these actions and others Fr. O’Callahan was awarded the Medal of Honor. There is a famous picture of Fr. O’Callahan praying over a wounded sailor on the flight deck. The photos and combat-camera video of the Franklin burning and exploding are impressive.

    Then there are the Four Chaplains. In 1943 in the North Atlantic a U-boat torpedoed a troopship heading to England. A priest, a rabbi, and two preachers were lost as they assisted young troops to abandon ship, all four giving up their life vests.

    One more note, about that last video of Mass for the Marines in the jungles of the Pacific. Depending on the situation, Marine counter-snipers would have to be posted at times to protect the priest from wily Japanese snipers.

    Now, forward to 2006 and an article from USAToday about Iraq:

    “Terrorist groups have prepared instructional manuals and videos to train more snipers. Training materials obtained by U.S. intelligence show that snipers are urged to single out medics, engineers and chaplains for attacks on the theory that those casualties will demoralize entire units. The manuals have been posted on the Internet. U.S. Central Command has verified the authenticity of at least one such training guide.”

    God bless our military chaplains.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

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