ASK FATHER: If the diocese cancelled Mass, but Father says Mass anyway, can we attend? Can government forbid it?

From a reader…


Our Gov. In NC has banned gatherings of 100, church and schools alike (but not restaurants, malls, etc). One is subject to Misdemeanor II charges. Our holy priest told a parishioner that he will say mass at 8 am and not ask anyone to leave should they come. Although our Bishop\ has cancelled and given dispensation, is it considered going against magisterium by the priest and or faithful to attend in this scenario? What about separation of church and state?

Thank you Fr Z for your courage and wisdom in these trying and dark times. God bless

The civil government cannot ban religious services.  But they can ban gatherings of over X number of people.  Where I am, it’s now 50!

A church is a public place, and subject to civil codes.  Also, statutes protect churches from, for example, interruption of a service.  It is, in most places, illegal to stand up and disturb a Mass.  If we want that to be respected, we should also respect other laws and statutes.

Priests are not obliged to say Mass every day, but they are strongly encouraged to do so.  This is a time when, more than ever, priests should say Mass even though the diocese cancelled Mass.

And, Fathers, DON’T CONCELEBRATE!  Say your own Mass.

So, what to do?   Here’s what I would do.

Since public, scheduled Masses are officially cancelled by a diocese, the priest has no reason to think that anyone will come at the regular time.   However, someone, not expecting Mass, might want to come in to pray.  Therefore, unlock the church as usual and let people come if they choose to.

Meanwhile, since routine is good, Father may as well say Mass at the time that he has become accustomed to say Mass.  If people wander in and stay, fine.

If need be, the priest can simply plow forward not distribute Communion.   Depends on the circumstances and when people wander in.  We need some more catechesis on that point, too.

Thus, if Father says Mass privately (that is it isn’t scheduled) he doesn’t have to preach.  Why would he?   Just say Mass.  Hence, the rites of Mass itself don’t allow for Father stopping and telling then anything at all, much less that people to leave.  Priests are obliged to follow the rites of Mass.

And, frankly, if he sticks to the rubrics, there is eventually a something that obliges a priest to tell people to leave… at the end: ITE!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Although there’s been no conformed cases in my city, the mayor and county judge are prohibiting gatherings of 500 or more. Fortunately my parish only seats 490.

    I’m grateful for our priest. He called out bishops today for leaving it to President Trump to call for a national day of prayer.

  2. Kathleen10 says:

    God bless you Fr. Z. You’ve become a treasure and you’ve blessed us a 1000 times.

  3. L. says:

    Our Bishop has dispensed us from the obligation to assist at Mass today (Sunday) and publicly scheduled Masses are cancelled. He said we should do something else, such as say a rosary (I wish he’d said, “…another rosary.”) But, as you suggest, our pastor said a private Mass and if people happened to show up at that Mass, he wasn’t going to drive them out. I contrast this with a pastor in another parish in our diocese who said he was going to lock the church doors under the mistaken impression that he was required to do so.

  4. Netmilsmom says:

    Our Masses have been made private and streamed on FB.
    A whole bunch of us just to the parking lot. Some in our cars, some braving the elements, all watching our phones.
    We just went to Mass.

  5. JOYfulmom says:

    Thank you Fr. for answering my question. There was no “public mass” but a private mass at the alter. Fr. did not speak or give a homily. Because it was such an early mass and most had already received news of mass cancellations, there was not a huge crowd. We did receive communion, and I was most grateful! I pray I never take it for granted, and ask pardon for all the times I have! I was filled with such joy and gratitude today. God bless you & all our holy and courageous priest! +JMJ+ pray for us.

  6. ChrisP says:

    Netmilsmom: precisely. In this day and age, all the priest needs to handle this is a camera and a YouTube account. Live stream the Mass on that. Younger folk can help the elderly with connecting if necessary. I wouldn’t use FB as they will shut it down. Even YT might go septic on it so a website (like a blog should do).

  7. JGavin says:

    This seems to me to me , a layman , painfully obvious. We are not obliged to receive communion, but we are obliged to attend the sacrifice. It is the Sacrifice that is all important and to render It present again. It seems that we the laity, and the priests miss the point that the Mass is boundless in its benefits. This of all times, on many levels, we need as many Masses said , whether private or public, that can be said. I paraphrase Thomas a Kempis, that a priest who celebrates Mass rejoices the angels, brings rest for the dead and makes himself a partaker in all that is good. A priest saying his private Mass, physically alone, has the entire host of heaven there as well. Why would any priest on any day miss that opportunity? A burden? yes. A boundless source of joy? even more so. The Confraternity of the Precious Blood had an edition of the Imitation of Christ with all these illustrations of the Mass with angels all around. I believe these illustrations, or the reality of what they portray. Namely the Mass is Heaven on earth. “We who mystically represent the Cherubim, and sing the thrice Holy hymn…”in the Divine Liturgy, Heaven comes to earth. Even with the NO this teaching that it is the all important Sacrifice that did not change did not change.

  8. ST2 says:

    It’s also important to remember we can make a spiritual communion when access to the Mass is cut off. If I recall correctly, Father recently posted that they can be just as beneficial as physically receiving the Eucharist at Mass or even more beneficial.

  9. Fr_Andrew says:

    One more reason for ad orientem worship … plausible deniability.

  10. KateD says:

    This global cancelation of the Mass is kinda huge. And while it’s lovely that the Mass is available
    on TV, and on the internet for those sick and confined, it’s like I said to the NO Parish bouncers who tried to bar my family’s entrance to attending Mass in the Church one fine Sunday morning, suggesting families with kids should sit in the hall and watch it on tv, “No thank you. They get enough screen time at home. Besides my kids need to be in the Presence of the Lord, so they know Him and recognize Him should He ever call on them”.

    In considering this massive global withdrawal of the Light that is brought to the world via the Mass and the graces daily received by laity present during the sacrifice of the Mass and then via the reception of the Eucharist, the image of water that rushes out just before a tidal wave is brought to mind. If this is the out rushing of grace, what powerful force is about to rush in? Would it be equal and opposite? Or infinitely larger?

    Have the doors of Mercy been firmly slammed shut? Is a tidal wave of Divine Justice about to break?

    ….Forget the toilet paper, do we have blessed bees wax candles? (Okay tp and candles….).

  11. Ms. M-S says:

    Our local church has cancelled Wednesday Adoration, but the church is still there and the tabernacle is still there so I’m going to show up at the church anyway and go in if the doors are open.

  12. nnn says:

    Public gatherings here are limited to 50, so even with 8 Holy Masses on Sunday it’s impossible for everyone to go; dispensation has been given to all those unable to attend. The 3 daily Holy Masses on weekdays are still on schedule. But I was pleasantly surprised to see the decision to keep our church open all day for private prayer – it normally opens & closes 30 min before/after Holy Mass. Also, our young TLM priest set up a few hours of confessions every day. Deo gratias!

  13. JonPatrick says:

    We still have Masses in the Diocese of Portland ME (which covers the whole state of Maine) for now but all other gatherings have been canceled as well as the closing of adoration chapels. Neighboring New Brunswick has cancelled all Masses. Our pastor spoke about this in his homily over the weekend mentioning how churches in Poland were adding Masses not canceling them so it is obvious how he feels about the matter.

  14. Mike says:

    Is it my imagination, or is it that the more liberal dioceses are tending to cancel Masses and the less liberal dioceses are tending to go on with Mass?

  15. Cafea Fruor says:

    What about moving Masses outdoors and having people stand 6′ away from each other? Would that violate the no-large-gatherings orders?

    Or what about having MORE Masses to thin out the crowd?

  16. gio says:

    Here in the Philippines in my archdiocese, the archbishop has dispensed the faithful from the obligation to attend Mass while priests are to continue celebrating in private. I’m posting on Facebook a suggestion that since the masses are private, the priests might as well start clebrating ad orientem since versus populum makes no sense without a ‘populum’.

  17. Big Don says:

    I was just reading about Cerveteri, Italy, outside Rome, where the local police interrupted a Sunday Mass, dismissed the priest who was celebrating the Mass, then went up to the altar ordering the faithful to clear out.

  18. Pingback: MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  19. L. says:

    Update on my diocese: “All churches and schools in the diocese are to be ‘sanitized’ and locked against any gathering or use.” This tells me that in a time of pandemic disease, access even to the sacrament of reconciliation is not important . I guess since most parish churches do not have or do not use confessionals (which provide a physical separation between Priest and penitent) but instead have a “reconciliation room” for face-to-face confabs which would permit the transmission of disease, at least, I guess can see why no provision has been made for it. However, one might begin to wonder what is important.

  20. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    I was under the impression that priest had to do a Mass ever day?

  21. Ferretti says:

    In those places where the churches are closed but malls and restaurants are open, perhaps priests could say Mass at the malls and/or restaurants?

  22. The Masked Chicken says:

    You can add my diocese to the list who have suspended public Masses. I, still, think hearing confessions standing outside of the rectory window should be permitted :)

    The Chicken

  23. iamlucky13 says:

    Our state also has a limit on gatherings over 50 people, and public Masses are cancelled.

    The archbishop and many priests found ways to stream Masses.*

    The archbishop also recommended Church’s remain open as much as possible on Sunday’s and other time when there are normally people present, and that confession continue to be made available, while observing the state restrictions that public events much make efforts to keep people 6′ apart as much as possible.

    After watching Mass online, I went to a parish that advertised adoration in place of Mass. Father offered, and I took advantage of the opportunity for confession, despite how strongly I dislike face-to-face confession (the confessional did not allow the mandated 6′). When it was time for adoration to end, Father noted that he was going to say his daily Mass, and he was not required to kick anyone out, so none of us should feel we had to leave.

    * Don’t do vertical videos without first considering the content and the likely viewing methods of your audience. If in doubt, remember that it is easier for those using handheld devices to rotate their screen to landscape than for those using stationary devices to rotate their TV, monitor, etc to portrait.

  24. khouri says:

    In my diocese it is amazing how many “private” Masses (which I feel goes against the nature of the Sacrifice) are now being celebrated ad orientem. They are also being live streamed with an appropriate explanation.

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