ASK FATHER: Mass for the Space Force in the Extraterrestrial Form

This comes from a reader…


On a somewhat lighter note, what liturgical changes do you think would have to be made for chaplains of a hypothetical Space Force to celebrate Mass in the Extraterrestrial Form? In particular, the Precious Blood seems particularly difficult to consecrate safely in zero-gravity environments, and some of the more traditional vestments might experience issues as well. I’m curious to know if The Manual has contingencies for this sort of situation.

What people come up with!

I should at this point add that I, Fr. Z, am also a character in a sci-fi series.  We fight critters which want to kill, even eat, the human race.   SpaceHawks!

First, ad orientem worship becomes an interesting question.   Of course, when the priest is at the altar, he is facing liturgical East even if he is whizzing about.

I suppose that Roman Vestments would be more practical, since they have less fabric to float around.  They should probably be a little stiff, so they won’t wave about.

It seems to me that we have to find a way to keep the Host on the paten.   For that, I would use a variant of the sacred vessel called an asterisk which covered the Host (held it down) during Papal Solemn Mass.   Let’s say that the sacred vessels are magnetized steel which has been gilded.  The asterisk will keep a host in place.  A ciborium has a cover.  A chalice could have a cover as well.  There is already a sacred vessel, a metal tube, called a fistula that can be used to consume the Precious Blood.

Questions remain.  For example, do Communicants have to be on the same plane and with the same basic “vector” as the priest?   Can they be, relatively speaking, “upside down”.   How does kneeling work?  Velcro on knees?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Daddio says:

    There’s really no excuse for not kneeling in space…
    When to begin Vespers, if there’s no sunset?
    How to keep the flaps on the bishop’s mitre from floating about like wings?

  2. JeromeThomas says:

    On one hand, if the priest is at the same orientation as the congregation, it makes sense for the priest to also be on the same vector as the congregation. On the other hand, space is at a premium in…well, in space, and the congregation might have to line the walls of the chapel for practical reasons if nothing else. And as a plus, handrails would be necessary so that the congregation can stay in one spot while receiving Communion. None of this ‘gradual sanctuary’ stuff in space.

    I had no idea there was such a thing as a fistula or an asterisk, but reading them it seems that they’re designed for just this situation, where there is a risk of contamination or spill. The Missa Nautica rubrics might also have to be brushed off.

  3. Gaetano says:

    As regards what vector to orient the celebrant and congregation, we already know that “the enemy’s gate is down.”

  4. Shonkin says:

    The fistula is all well and good. But with or without the fistula, the purification would be very difficult and prone to accidental spills, and I cannot imagine any situation where a centrifuge would do any good.
    Mass in free fall would be fraught with problems. But space stations (unlike the current International Space Station) should be rotating in order to protect long-term occupants from the effects of extended weightlessness. Mass in a rotating station would be easier and less hazardous, especially if the station were large enough so that Coriolis forces would be slight.
    I also think Jerome Thomas is on the right track with the Missa Nautica suggestion.
    One other thing: What would be done about the possible need for a sacrarium?

  5. Uxixu says:

    Dear Reverend Father, I would beg to disagree on materials of sacred vessels and urge out of reverence only the most precious materials are suitable to touch the sacred species, though certainly nothing wrong with a steel plate or the like inserted at the base of the chalice. Gilded should only be used sparingly for very poor settlements. Glass, etc should remain abrogated, perhaps with an anathema attached to discourage use (though one would hope as the hippie generation goes to the eternal reward, this becomes a non-issue).

    Imagine the additions to the De Defectibus. I would posit on the requirement for at least a certain level of low gravity for the Holy Sacrifice to be permitted so that new vessels are not needed with indults to be granted by the appropriate authority for worlds below that. At least while traveling, this would be analogous to rough seas, but barring science fiction, spinning habitat sections should make this feasible at least periodically.

    Think of the hierarchy needs. Senior Metropolitan bishop (for large colony worlds) as a sort of Primate for a world? “Archbishop Mundus?” “Orbis?” “Planeta?” Or perhaps each world needs its own Patriarch? A new sort of “Super Patriarch” to cover clusters of worlds? Going back to the realities of space and the unlikely ability to get any sort of FTL means they will be far away which means doctrinal conformity would be needed.

    Completely ignoring the possibility of aliens and whether they would be as flawed as humanity and in need of salvation…

  6. PanOrganista says:

    Though the Missa Nautica was a dry Mass. I suppose, having said that, thst a dry Mass, or Liturgy of the Presanctified could be an option, too.

    Another problem would be keeping the biretta on.

  7. cengime says:

    Remember the 1960s when everybody assumed that space stations would be rotating wheels like in 2001: A Space Odyssey so that there would be artificial gravity?

    Many architects since then have already been hard at work adapting traditional church architecture to a circular form. Why don’t we simply take some of these perfectly good, existing churches, and launch them into space? I have seen quite a few that look ready for liftoff.

  8. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    A closed system chalice would be needed in the absence of artificial gravity. A ciborium would contain a host. A compressible aperture would allow “Injection” of H2O by liturgical syringe into a closed chalice. A mono-flow fistula would allow for communication by priest to complete the sacrifice…the risk for accidental profanation would be too high to justify both species laity reception… or more old lady cup bearers…

  9. Dismas says:

    A great diversion from trudging through the morass of current insanity!

    To begin with, we have to establish the size and location of this Space Force. While space is not quite an ocean, the Space Force would be most analogous with the US Navy. If I have done my math correctly, the ratio of chaplains to personnel is about 1:400. The ISS is crewed by only 6 people, which is also its maximum capacity, and is nowhere near enough to warrant a dedicated chaplain.

    This is the difficult part. Getting to space is hideously expensive, dangerous, and impractical. Living in space is an engineer’s nightmare, and that’s before trying to make the ship spin. Lastly, when dealing with distances in outer space, everything is really, really far apart. Supposing that there is an economic reason to fully colonize Earth Orbit or the Asteroid Belt, what could we expect? Well, most cargo craft won’t need many crewmen, quite likely none at all, to carry goods across the void. With that in mind, a significant population in space would be on relatively immobile space stations. As I see it, in nearly all cases, permanent Space Force habitats are under spin gravity as a necessity for prolonged human survival. Personnel movement would be in specialized passenger transport ships. Either way, both would be massive, with habitat rings of 200m diameter minimum spinning at a maximum of 3 RPM.

    So, chances are that there wouldn’t be much call for a microgravity Mass.

    A Space Elevator Base would be in geosynchronous orbit, and being tethered to the ground would, certainly keep all times and schedules with its ground base. Ad orientum questions get ugly here.

    For Lagrangian bases, I can only suppose that the launching spaceport’s time, or the time of the patron state would inform the crew of their own time. Calendars are still pretty similar. Out in the Belt, who knows?

  10. jbk says:

    Our elder brothers may have already thought some of these issues through. An Orthodox Jew I worked with once told me there’s part of the Talmud where some of the rabbis discuss how you’d go about celebrating certain festivals if you happened to find yourself on the moon.

  11. HvonBlumenthal says:

    What about missionary activity? How would you go about converting the extraterrestrial heathen? Assuming that an extraterrestrial intelligent being is not hominid but, rather, resembles a puddle.

  12. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    Well, I recall Dr. Phlox of the Enterprise saying he’d been to Mass at St. Peter’s. Perhaps he managed to speak to His Holiness Pope Leo XXIII to establish some norms for such celebrations?

  13. Dismas says:

    @HvonBlumenthal – Missionaries will find a way, should we ever establish contact.

    Between Relativity, signal attenuation, and the obscene chances against the habitability of a given planet or system, I doubt that we will ever meet intelligent alien life.

    Perhaps it is out there. Perhaps not. Perhaps it remains in a primordial state of grace. I won’t hold my breath.

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