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Venue of a Mass Without a Congregation

Date: April 25, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Venue of a Mass Without a Congregation

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: The Mass must be celebrated in a sacred place, unless in a particular necessity it may be celebrated outside a sacred place. If a priest celebrates Mass without a congregation, may he celebrate it in the sacristy, instead of celebrating it in the church?

A: Canon law says the following:

“The Time and Place of the Celebration of the Eucharist

“Can. 931 The celebration and distribution of the Eucharist can be done at any day and hour except those which the liturgical norms exclude.

“Can. 932 §1. The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in a sacred place unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise; in such a case the celebration must be done in a decent place.

Ҥ2. The eucharistic sacrifice must be carried out on a dedicated or blessed altar; outside a sacred place a suitable table can be used, always with a cloth and a corporal.

“Can. 933 For a just cause and with the express permission of the local ordinary, a priest is permitted to celebrate the Eucharist in the place of worship of some Church or ecclesial community which does not have full communion with the Catholic Church so long as there is no scandal.”

The most important canon for our answer is 932 §1-2. The reason for celebrating the Mass outside of a sacred place and on a table rather than an altar is “necessity.”

I mention both these criteria because there are some old sacristies which have alcoves with altars, and these could be considered as sacred spaces and hence suitable for celebrating Mass without a congregation even if no longer habitually used. The same could be said for old side altars or chapels.

First, we must remember that “necessity” is not “convenience,” and thus there must be some substantial and objective reason for not celebrating Mass in a sacred place and on a blessed altar.

Necessity, however, is a somewhat broad term and subject to interpretation, and there could be numerous possible objective reasons for celebrating without a congregation in a decent place such as a sacristy.

For example, if prolonged adoration is being held in a parish, and a priest had to celebrate an unscheduled Mass before traveling, he would probably be justified in celebrating in the sacristy so as not to interfere with the turns of adoration.

Also, in an economically distressed parish, a Mass without a congregation in the sacristy might be justified so as to avoid using expensive heating and illumination in the main church.

If a priest were to foresee a frequent necessity to celebrate without a congregation outside of the church proper, it would be best to request permission from the bishop to at least set up a proper non-fixed altar in a decent setting for this purpose.

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