ASK FATHER: Coming late to Mass and reception of Holy Communion

From a reader….


If one is late for Mass because of an unexpected occurrence (line for confession was longer than expected, traffic, etc.), is he permitted to receive Communion? Is there a point in the Mass at which a potential communicant cannot receive? Is there varied opinion about this between OF and EF parishes?

I expect that there will be varied opinions along the general lines of Novus Ordo dominance and Traditional dominance.  I suspect that people (priest and lay onlookers) at the former sort of parish, Novus Ordo, will be more censorious if they think about it at all. They may be the same people heading to the parking lot having just barely received Our Eucharistic Lord.

Of course, I’m talking about 30% who still believe what the Church teaches about the Eucharist.  The rest think that when you sing the song and get the white thing in your hand … well… that’s really nice and people should feel good so everyone should go!   And you MUST go!  ROW BY ROW!   Anything not forbidden is obligatory, after all.

At a more traditional place, where teaching has been sound and where people really believe, I suspect there will be less of a hang up about who is receiving and when, for reasons that will unfold, below.

Let’s make distinctions.

First, attendance at Mass is not absolutely necessary for the reception of Communion.

Consider that Communion is brought to the sick, outside of Mass. Also, it is possible to receive outside of Mass even directly after Mass has been celebrated, as is the case when the choir receives afterward (that’s fairly common at a TLM), or in this time of Wuhan Devil lunacy, some who desire not to be forced to receive Our Lord on their unconsecrated hands, are given the choice to receive after Mass… segregated, as it were.

Lastly, there is the example of Good Friday: the liturgy is not a Mass.

Next, while we can receive outside of Mass, it is better to receive during Mass. And during a Mass where you have been an active participant for the whole of the Mass, not just part.

Manualists (bless them) designated a certain segment of Mass when one had to be present so as to fulfill the Sunday obligation. That was generally either from the Gospel to the conclusion of Communion or else (more commonly) “from chalice veil to chalice veil”, that is, from the beginning of the Offertory (RING goes the bell when the chalice veil is removed) to when the priest veils the chalice again after the ablutions. That’s a bare and minimalistic view of participation for the sake of obligation. ‘Tis enough. T’will serve, as Mercutio would put it.

But we should not fall into the trap of thinking that, just because the minimum suffices, we are doing well. We should participate at the whole of the Mass from entrance procession to recessional. In making one’s confession, attrition (sorrow for sin because of fear of Hell) is sufficient to receive absolution, but contrition (sorrow because of offending our loving God) is better.

It could be that, arriving late though no fault of your own, could be a test to find another Mass at another church or wait for the next Mass on the schedule if there is one, perhaps praying in church in the meantime in reparation for the sins of bishops and elected officials.

Your question touches on a lot of different points for reflection about the state of the Church and our sacred worship – and therefore our Catholic identity – today.  We ARE our rites!   What we do shapes us.  Who we are shapes the rites.

Which should have logical priority?

If those who have pretty much caved into the world shape the rites, the sense of transcendence and transformative mystery will soon be obscured by the human elements (e.g., the demand some have to see the priest grin at them over the altar).

The Eucharist (both the Eucharistic species and the celebration of the Eucharist, Mass) is the “source and summit” of who we are as Catholics.

How we celebrated Mass and how we receive the species is of fundamental importance.

Save The Liturgy – Save The World

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I would add, as Fr. Z has pointed out before, reception of holy communion at Mass is not required. But attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is.

  2. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    For those who believe one absolutely must receive communion at every Mass (a very 20th century concept, even if one does not have mortal sin on the soul), consider this:
    JFK, 60 years ago this week, attended Mass in Georgetown the morning of his inauguration. Did he receive communion? No. He knew that his breakfast earlier that day was too close to Mass. The president-elect of the United States, shortly before his inauguration! Of course this was before Vatican II and the entitlement culture concerning communion. Something to ponder.

  3. Titus says:

    I have a family history about this question. I grew up in a somewhat odd milieu: my people had been Very. Displeased. about what was done to the liturgy and their habits of piety in the late 1960s, but were subsequently induced to Get With The Program, resulting in a curious mashup of old and new attitudes about things.

    So we were always told that if we arrived at Mass after the gospel, we couldn’t receive Holy Communion. (And given the difficulties we five children presented, sometimes that happened.) No one apparently ever thought to connect “arriving after the gospel” to the question of “have we fulfilled our Sunday obligation,” it was simply a question of “can you receive.”

    The whole thing was like a translation done by someone who only knows half the words, or something out of one of those Star Trek episodes where the aliens have an elaborate vision of human society based on radio dramas: not only had we forgotten the point of the inquiry and the really necessary reason for it, we had forgotten that we had forgotten.

  4. Rob83 says:

    The question of whether one may receive if late to a Mass is a distinct question from whether one has been present for enough of the Mass to fulfill a Sunday obligation, especially when considering the question on days where no obligation exists.

    At a daily Mass without obligation, somebody coming in even just before communion could receive if properly disposed, and I have seen the priest even on weekdays do the rite for celebration of communion outside of Mass right after Mass.

    I think it can be argued that arriving too late on a Sunday to fulfill the obligation means one should not receive unless they have the intention of fulfilling the obligation later in the day since if they do not, they may not be properly disposed due to intent to not fulfill the Sunday obligation.

    In any case, preparation for communion is a neglected area of teaching in modern times, even sometimes in places where people take seriously the need to be in a state of grace to receive. It is possible to get into a minimalist mindset where preparation is reduced to “not in a state of mortal sin, haven’t eaten or drank since getting in the car, good to go”.

  5. chuckharold says:

    In the time of my youth, the general rule of thumb was that you had met your “Sunday obligation” if you arrived before the end of the sermon and left after receiving communion. We got many sermons telling us that Mass wasn’t over at communion time, but alas. Get communion and head for the door.

  6. Everyone should read this

    Inaestimabile Donum
    Instruction Concerning Worship Of The Eucharistic Mystery

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