Mass in the Catholic Church
Mass in the Catholic Church goes by many names. As fundamentally an action of thanksgiving to God it is called Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. Other terms for it are Lord's Supper, Breaking of Bread, Eucharistic assembly, memorial of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection, holy sacrifice of the Mass, Holy and Divine Liturgy, Sacred Mysteries, Most Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, the holy things (ta hagia; sancta), and finally Holy Mass from the sending forth (missio) of the faithful.
This is the central liturgical rite in the Catholic Church encompassing the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where the bread and wine are consecrated and become the body and blood of Christ. As defined by the Church at the Council of Trent, in the Mass, "The same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, is present and offered in an unbloody manner." The Church describes the Holy Mass as "the source and summit of the Christian life". It teaches that through consecration by an ordained priest the bread and wine become the sacrificial body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ as the sacrifice on Calvary made truly present once again on the altar. The Catholic Church permits only baptised members in the state of grace (Catholics who have recently confessed all mortal sins) to receive Christ in the Eucharist.
Many of the Catholic Church's other sacraments, such as Confirmation, Holy Orders, and Holy Matrimony, are now generally administered within the framework of the Holy Mass, but before the Second Vatican Council were often or even usually administered outside of Mass. The term "Mass" is commonly used of celebration of the Eucharist in the Latin Church, while the various Eastern Rites use terms such as "Divine Liturgy", "Holy Qurbana", and "Badarak", in accordance with each one's tradition. Pope Benedict XVI's 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum authorized under certain conditions continued use of the 1962 form of the Roman Rite as an extraordinary form, while the post-Vatican II form promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969 and revised by Pope John Paul II in 2002 is the ordinary or normal form
The term "Mass" is derived from the concluding words of the Roman Rite Mass in Latin: "Ite, missa est" ("Go; it is the dismissal"). The Late Latin word missa substantively corresponds to the classical Latin word missio. In antiquity, missa simply meant "dismissal". In Christian usage, however, it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word "dismissal" has come to imply a mission.
The Roman Rite Mass is the predominant form used in the Catholic Church and the focus of this article. For information on the theology of the Eucharist and on the Eucharistic liturgy of other Christian denominations, see "Mass (liturgy)", "Eucharist" and "Eucharistic theology". For information on the history and of development of the Mass see Eucharist and Origin of the Eucharist.
History of the Roman Catholic Mass
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Generally it is theorized that the Apostles obeyed the command "do this in memory of me", said during the Last Supper, and performed the liturgy in the houses of Christians. Besides repeating the action of Jesus, using the bread and wine, and saying his words (known as the words of the institution), the rest of the ritual seems to have been rooted in the Jewish Passover Seder, and synagogue services, including singing of hymns (especially the Psalms, often responsively) and reading from the Scriptures (Bible).
Until the 4th century, when the church established a Biblical canon, a manner of things were read during the liturgy besides the Prophets, including papal encyclicals from Pope St. Clement. Many elements of these liturgies began to be fixed in several popular settings, and a book called the Apostolic Constitutions, from the fourth century, shows an outline for the liturgy which is incorporated in almost all Western and Eastern rites. This includes the use of the prayer known as the Sanctus, which is prefaced by a long introduction; it also includes a fairly fixed series of prayers leading up to the consecration.
Vestments worn by the Bishops and Priests at this point were academic robes of the educated class. Later, as fashions changed the styles for the clergy remained the same and were embellished. Following the custom of the synagogue, the liturgy was normally sung. Many places divided the congregation into male and female. At some point both Western and Eastern churches adopted the use of curtains to mask the clergy at the altar at certain points; this curtain became the rood screen and altar rails in western churches, and iconostasis in the Byzantine East, while still being used in Armenian and Syriac Churches.
The earliest church used Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek in the liturgy. Over time, however, the local vernacular languages became the liturgical languages of later centuries. The Greek-speaking empire retained the mainly Greek liturgy. The West used Latin, eventually dropping most Greek usage. Egypt and Armenia used Coptic and classical Armenian, respectively. As Christianity spread to different nations around the Mediterranean, several distinct traditions developed, each with a different liturgical language: the Alexandrine Tradition (Coptic), Syriac Tradition (Syriac), Byzantine Tradition (Greek), Armenian Tradition (Armenian), and the Latin Tradition (Latin).
These basic traditions gave rise to several distinct rites. The Coptic and Ethiopic rites came from the Alexandrine Tradition. The Chaldean, Malabar, Syriac, Malankar, and Maronite rites developed from the Syriac Tradition. The Greek and Slav variants of the Byzantine liturgy emerged from the Byzantine Tradition. The Armenian rite developed from the Armenian Tradition. The Roman, Ambrosian, and Mozarabic liturgical rites came from the Latin Tradition. These regional variations of the liturgy over time diverged into distinct branches of the Christian liturgical tradition, each retaining fundamental characteristics with external particulars influenced by local customs and traditions.
Standardisation at the Council of Trent (1545–1563)
In the particular Latin Church of the Catholic Church throughout earlier centuries there was much regional variation in the liturgy due to the lack of centralisation that existed in the western church at the time due to the fall of the western empire. This resulted in regional variations of the Latin liturgical rite such as the Celtic rite and Gallican rite, of which today only the Mozarabic rite and Ambrosian rite remain in addition to the normative Roman rite. The liturgical rite was standardized throughout much of the Catholic Church.
Standardization was enforced at the Council of Trent, which suppressed regional variations in favour of the Roman liturgical rite. Most of the particulars of the resulting Tridentine Mass were already in existence in the usage of Rome. Pope Pius V permitted rites in existence for at least 200 years to continue in use; however, in the following centuries almost all rites were abandoned except those of religious orders and the afore-mentioned Ambrosian and Mozarabic liturgical rites.
Roman Rite Mass
The following description of the celebration of Mass is limited to what is now the ordinary or normal form of the Roman Rite, usually in the local vernacular language. This form, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969 and revised by Pope John Paul II in 2002, was introduced at the request of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) in succession to the Tridentine Mass promulgated in 1570 in accordance with decrees of the Council of Trent (1545–46). Use of the 1962 form of the Tridentine Mass is still permitted as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite in the circumstances indicated in the 2007 document Summorum Pontificum. Celebrations in other Latin liturgical rites have been and still are used, as well as Eastern Christian forms of the Divine Liturgy.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC or Catechism) produced in 1994 discusses the importance of the Mass in the Catholic tradition based on the whole history of the Mass and the understanding of it to that time. The United States Catholic Conference edition of the Catechism prefers to call the Mass the "Eucharistic Celebration", after its roots in the celebrational Last Supper. Under this topic in the Subject Index it lists as principal subtopics: commanded by Christ; center of the Church's life; memorial celebration; in the Church from the beginning; participation as Church precept; structure and movement.
The Roman Missal contains the prayers, antiphons and rubrics of the Mass. Earlier editions also contained the Scripture readings, which were then fewer in number. The latest edition of the Roman Missal contains the normal ("ordinary") form of Mass in the Roman Rite and the 1962 edition the Tridentine Mass which, in the circumstances indicated in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, may be celebrated as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.
The Lectionary presents passages from the Bible arranged in the order for reading at each day's Mass. Compared with the scripture readings in the pre-1970 Missal, the modern Lectionary contains a much wider variety of passages, too many to include in the Missal. A Book of the Gospels, also called the Evangeliary, is recommended for the reading from the Gospels, but where this book is not available the Lectionary is used in its place.
Structure of Mass
Part of a series on
|Roman Rite mass|
of the Catholic Church
|A. Introductory rites|
|B. Liturgy of the Word|
|C. Liturgy of the Eucharist|
|D. Concluding rites|
|"Ite, missa est!"|
The Eucharistic celebration is "one single act of worship" but consists of different elements, which always include "the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine, which signifies also our own transformation into the body of Christ; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord's body and blood".
Within the fixed structure of the Roman-Rite Mass outlined below, the "proper" or daily-varying parts are the Scripture readings and responsorial psalm, the antiphons at the entrance and communion processions, and the texts of the three prayers known as the collect, the prayer over the gifts, and the post-communion prayer. These convey themes from the liturgical season, the feast days of titles or events in the life of Christ, the feast days and commemorations of the saints, or for Masses for particular circumstances (e.g., funeral Masses, Masses for the celebration of Confirmation, Masses for peace, to begin the academic year, etc.).
The easiest way to determine the type of form the Mass will take is the positioning of the priest and the language. The Tridentine form is almost universally, though not obligatorily, celebrated with the priest facing ad orientem and must be in Latin, while in the post-Vatican II form the priest generally, though again not obligatorily, faces versus populum and uses the language of the people taking part.
Introit, Procession, and Introductory Rites
The priest enters in procession into the nave with altar servers, and with a deacon if there is one. The deacon may carry the Evangelion (Gospel book), which he will place on the altar; and one altar server, called the crucifer, carries a processional cross at the front of the procession. Other servers may carry blessed candles, incense and a thurible. During this procession, ordinarily, the entrance chant or hymn is sung. If there is no singing at the entrance, the entrance antiphon is recited either by some or all of the faithful or by a lector; otherwise it is said by the priest himself. When the procession arrives at the sanctuary, all bow toward the altar. The priest and other ordained ministers kiss the altar. Then, when the priest arrives at his chair, he leads the assembly in making the Sign of the Cross, saying: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," to which the faithful answer: "Amen." Then the priest "signifies the presence of the Lord to the community gathered there by means of the Greeting. By this Greeting and the response of the faithful, the mystery of the Church gathered together is made manifest." The greetings are derived from the Pauline epistles.
Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Penitential Act, of which the Missal proposes three forms, the first of which is the Confiteor. One form includes tropes acclaiming God's deeds on our behalf, and the priest has some freedom in formulating these. This is concluded with the priest's prayer of absolution, "which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance." It does absolve venial sins, however. "From time to time on Sundays, especially in Easter Time, instead of the customary Penitential Act, the blessing and sprinkling of water may take place as a reminder of Baptism." This ceremony, in which the congregation is cleansed with holy water, is known as the Asperges.
"After the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, Eleison (Lord, have mercy) is always begun, unless it has already been part of the Penitential Act. Since it is a chant by which the faithful acclaim the Lord and implore his mercy, it is usually executed by everyone, that is to say, with the faithful and the choir or cantor taking part in it." The Kyrie may be sung or recited in the vernacular language or in the original Greek. It is the only portion of the Mass in Greek instead of Latin or Latinised Hebrew.
"The Gloria in Excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. ...It is sung or said on Sundays outside Advent and Lent, and also on Solemnities and Feasts, and at particular celebrations of a more solemn character." The Gloria is omitted at requiem Masses (funerals and Masses for the dead) on ordinary feast-days of saints, weekdays, and Votive Masses. It is also optional, in line with the perceived degree of solemnity of the occasion, at Ritual Masses such as those celebrated for Marriage ("Nuptial Mass"), Confirmation or Religious Profession, at Masses on the Anniversary of Marriage or Religious Profession, and at Masses for Various Needs and Occasions.
"Next the Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds expression."
Liturgy of the Word
On Sundays and solemnities, three Scripture readings are given. On other days there are only two. If there are three readings, the first is from the Old Testament (a term wider than Hebrew Scriptures, since it includes the Deuterocanonical Books), or the Acts of the Apostles during Eastertide. The first reading is followed by a Responsorial Psalm, a complete Psalm or a sizeable portion of one. A cantor, choir or lector leads, and the congregation sings or recites a refrain. "That the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more readily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the various seasons of the year or for the various categories of Saints. These may be used in place of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung." The second reading is from the New Testament, typically from one of the Pauline epistles. The reader begins most reading with the introductory statement "a reading from the Book of..." or "a reading from the Letter to...," and concludes each reading by proclaiming that the reading is "the word of the Lord,"; the congregation responds by saying "Thanks be to God." The lector will usually be a scheduled volunteer from among the congregation; when two non-Gospel readings are given, they may be given by two different lectors or by one, according to local preference.
The final reading and high point of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Gospel. This is preceded by the singing of the Gospel Acclamation, typically an Alleluia with a verse of Scripture, which may be omitted if not sung. Alleluia is replaced during Lent by a different acclamation of praise. All stand while the Gospel is chanted or read by a deacon or, if none is available, by a priest. The reading is traditionally introduced with the phrase "a reading from the Holy Gospel according to" followed by the evangelist's name. To conclude the Gospel reading, the priest or deacon proclaims: "The Gospel of the Lord" and the faithful respond, "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ." The priest or deacon then kisses the book. If a deacon participates, he reads the Gospel. If a deacon is not present, the celebrating priest or a concelebrant, if there is one, proclaims it.
At least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, a homily, a sermon that draws upon some aspect of the readings or of the liturgy, is then given. Ordinarily the priest celebrant himself gives the homily, but he may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, a bishop or priest who is present but cannot concelebrate may give the homily. On days other than Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, the homily, though not obligatory, is recommended.
On Sundays and solemnities, all then profess their Christian faith by reciting or singing the Nicene Creed or, especially from Easter to Pentecost, the Apostles' Creed, which is particularly associated with baptism and is often used in Masses for children.
The Liturgy of the Word concludes with the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful. The priest begins it with a brief introduction, then a deacon, a cantor, or another lay person announces some intentions for prayer, to which the congregation responds with a short invocation such as "Lord hear our prayer." The priest concludes with a longer prayer.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
The linen corporal is spread over the center of the altar, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the ceremonial placing on it of bread and wine. These may be brought to the altar in a procession, especially if Mass is celebrated with a large congregation. The unleavened, wheat bread (in the tradition of the Latin Church) is placed on a paten, and the wine (from grapes) is put in a chalice and mixed with a little water, As the priest places each on the corporal, he says a silent prayer over each individually, which, if this rite is unaccompanied by singing, he is permitted to say aloud, in which case the congregation responds to each prayer with: "Blessed be God forever." Then the priest washes his hands, "a rite in which the desire for interior purification finds expression."
The congregation, which has been seated during this preparatory rite, rises, and the priest gives an exhortation to pray: "Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father." The congregation responds: "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his holy Church." The priest then pronounces the variable prayer over the gifts.
The Eucharistic Prayer, "the centre and high point of the entire celebration", then begins with a dialogue between priest and the faithful. This dialogue opens with the normal liturgical greeting, "The Lord be with you", but in view of the special solemnity of the rite now beginning, the priest then exhorts the faithful: "Lift up your hearts." The faithful respond with: "We lift them up to the Lord." The priest then introduces the great theme of "Eucharist", a word originating in the Greek word for giving thanks: "Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God." The faithful join in this sentiment, saying: "It is right and just."
The priest continues with one of many thematic Eucharistic Prayer prefaces, which lead to the Sanctus acclamation: "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest."
In some countries, including the United States, the faithful kneel immediately after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus. If a person is unable to kneel, he makes a profound bow after the Consecration – the Institution Narrative that recalls Jesus' words and actions at his Last Supper: "Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is my body which will be given up for you. ...Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me." In many places, a consecrated bell is rung after the elevation of each element. The tradition of raising the host and chalice high after the Consecration has its origin in the ad orientem celebration of the Mass, and is done so that the people may more readily see the Host. It is also customary on solemnities and other days for the altar servers to offer incense to the Host and chalice during the elevation. The priest then announces: "The mystery of faith," and the faithful respond with an acclamation, using one of three prescribed formulae.
The Eucharistic Prayer includes the Epiclesis (which since early Christian times the Eastern churches have seen as the climax of the Consecration), praying that the Holy Spirit might transform the elements of bread and wine and thereby the people into one body in Christ. The whole portion of the Antiphon recalling Christ's passion, death, and resurrection, is called the Anamnesis.
Intercessions for both the living and the souls in Purgatory follow. When there are priests concelebrating the Mass they join the main celebrant in the central prayers, up to the intercessions, which they may divide among themselves.
The Antiphon ends with an emphatic doxology for which the priest elevates the paten with the Host and the deacon (if there is one) elevates the chalice, and the priest(s) proclaim of Christ that "through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever," to which the faithful sing or chant the great Amen. This Amen is the faithful's assent to all that God has wrought through the consecration and re-presention of the sacrifice of Christ.
Both the doxology and Great Amen are preferably sung or chanted. This is in line with the Instruction on Music in the Liturgy which says: "One cannot find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than a whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song. Therefore the active participation of the whole people, which is shown in singing, is to be carefully promoted. ...It should first of all include acclamations, responses to the greetings of the priest and ministers and to the prayers of litany form, and also antiphons and psalms, refrains or repeated responses, hymns and canticles."
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All together recite or sing the "Lord's Prayer" ("Pater Noster" or "Our Father"). The priest introduces it with a short phrase and follows it up with the embolism: "Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." The faithful then add the doxology: "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever."
Next comes the rite of peace (pax). After praying: "Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. Who live and reign for ever and ever," the priest wishes the faithful the peace of Christ: "The peace of the Lord be with you always." The deacon or, in his absence, the priest may then invite those present to offer each other the sign of peace. The form of the sign of peace varies according to local custom for a respectful greeting (for instance, a handshake or a bow between strangers, or a kiss/hug between family members).
The priest breaks the host and places a piece in the main chalice; this is known as the rite of fraction and commingling. Covering this action the "Lamb of God" ("Agnus Dei" in Latin) is sung or recited,
If extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are required, they may come forward at this time, and approach the altar itself after the priest has received Communion. The priest then presents the Eucharistic Bread to the congregation, saying: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb." Then all repeat: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed," which is a reference in the Gospel of Matthew to where a Roman centurion manifests exemplary faith in Jesus to heal his servant, saying that Jesus' word alone was sufficient. The priest then receives Communion and, with the help of the deacon and concelebrants and, if necessary, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, distributes Communion to the faithful.
According to the Catholic Church doctrine receiving the Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin is a sacrilege and only those who are in a state of grace, that is, without any mortal sin, can receive it. Based on 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 it affirms the following: "Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession."
"The faithful communicate either kneeling or standing, as has been determined by the norms of the Conference of Bishops. However, when they communicate standing, it is recommended that before receiving the Sacrament they make an appropriate sign of reverence, to be determined by in the same norms." (In the United States, Communion can be received either standing [by local indult] or by kneeling [the universal norm]. If received standing, the communicant bows profoundly before receiving.)
Then the distributing minister says "The body of Christ" or "The blood of Christ", or "The body and blood of Christ" if both are distributed together (by intinction). The communicant responds: "Amen." In most countries the communicant may receive the consecrated Host either on the tongue or in the hand, at the communicant's own discretion. If in the hand they should step aside and reverently consume the Host immediately.
While Communion is distributed, singing by all of an appropriate approved chant or hymn is recommended, to emphasize the essentially "communitarian" nature of the body of Christ. If there is no singing, a short antiphon may be recited either or by a lector. Otherwise, the priest himself recites it just before distributing Communion.
"The sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte after Communion or after Mass, insofar as possible at the credence table." Then the priest concludes the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the Prayer after Communion, for which the faithful are invited to stand.
After the Prayer after Communion, announcements may be made. The Missal says these should be brief. The priest then gives the usual liturgical greeting and imparts his blessing. The liturgy concludes with a dialogue between the priest and the assembly. The deacon, or in his absence, the priest himself then dismisses the faithful. The 2011 edition of the Missal adds new versions of the dismissal.
The faithful respond: "Thanks be to God." The priest and other ministers then venerate the altar with a kiss, form a procession, and exit the sanctuary, preferably to a recessional hymn or chant from the Graduale, sung by all.
The faithful then depart, or stay to pray for a while, light votives at various shrines in the church, etc. In some countries, including the United States, the priest customarily stands outside the church door to greet the faithful individually as they exit.
Time of celebration of Mass
Since the Second Vatican Council, the time for fulfilling the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation now begins on the evening of the day before, and most parish churches do celebrate the Sunday Mass also on Saturday evening. By long tradition and liturgical law, Mass is not celebrated at any time on Good Friday, but rather the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord (with hosts consecrated at the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday). Nor may Mass on Holy Saturday be celebrated before the Easter Vigil (the beginning of the celebration of Easter Sunday, which is customarily begun only after sunset, completing the Easter Triduum which began on Thursday).
Priests are required to celebrate Mass frequently and are earnestly recommended to do so daily. However, "apart from those cases in which the law allows him to celebrate or concelebrate the Eucharist a number of times on the same day, a priest may not celebrate more than once a day," and "a priest may not celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice without the participation of at least one of the faithful, unless there is a good and reasonable cause for doing so."
Priests are required by their posts to celebrate Mass at least on Sundays, for the faithful in their pastoral care. The bishop of a diocese and the pastor of a parish are required to celebrate or arrange for another priest to celebrate on every Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation, a Mass "pro populo" – that is, for the faithful entrusted to his care.
For Latin Rite priests, there are a few general exceptions to the limitation to celebrate only one Mass a day. By tradition, they may celebrate Mass three times on Christmas Day (the Midnight Mass or "Mass of the Angels", the Dawn Mass or "Shepherd's Mass", and the Day Mass or "Mass of the Divine Word", each of which has its own readings and chants).
On All Souls' Day they may also, on the basis of a privilege to all priests by Pope Benedict XV in August 1915, celebrate Mass three times; only one of the three Masses may be for the personal intentions of the priest, while the other two Masses must be for all the faithful departed and for the intentions of the Pope. A priest who has concelebrated the Chrism Mass, which may be held on the morning of Holy Thursday, may also celebrate or concelebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper that evening. A priest may celebrate or concelebrate both the Mass of the Easter Vigil and Mass of Easter Sunday (the Easter Vigil "should not begin before nightfall; it should end before daybreak on Sunday"; and may therefore take place at midnight or in the early hours of Easter morning). Finally, a priest who has concelebrated Mass at a meeting of priests or during a pastoral visitation by a bishop or a bishop's delegate, may celebrate a second Mass for the benefit of the laity.
In addition to these general permissions, the Local Ordinary may, for a good reason, permit priests to celebrate twice (they are then said to "binate") on weekdays, and three times ("trinate" or "trination") on Sundays and Holy Days (canon 905 §2). Examples would be if a parish priest were to need to celebrate the usual, scheduled daily Mass of a parish and a funeral later in the morning, or three Masses to accommodate all of the parishioners in a very populous parish on Sundays. In particularly difficult circumstances, the Pope can grant the diocesan bishop permission to give his priests faculties to trinate on weekdays and quadrinate on Sundays.
In many countries, the bishop's power to permit priests to celebrate two or three Masses on one day is widely used, and it is common for priests assigned to parish ministry to celebrate at least two Masses on any given Sunday, and two Masses on several other days of the week. Permission for four Masses on one day has been obtained in order to cope with large numbers of Catholics either in mission lands or where the ranks of priests are diminishing. This sometimes also happens in the case of historic churches which are unusually small compared to their number of parishioners, but which have not been replaced due to their historic character.
Summary table regarding priests with pastoral responsibilities
|Situation||Masses permitted||Masses required*|
|Sunday, for just reasons**||2||1|
|All Souls' Day||3||1|
|Weekday with permission of Local Ordinary||2||0|
|Sunday or Holy Day with permission of Local Ordinary||3||1|
|Weekday with permission of the Pope through Local Ordinary||3||0|
|Sunday or Holy Day with permission of the Pope through Local Ordinary||4||1|
* By any priest of a parish for the people; that is to say, individual priests are not required to say Masses on these days per se, but a Mass in each parish or oratory must be available for the people.
** According to the pastor's own judgment.
*** By longstanding custom, this includes the First Mass of Christmas "during the night", even if it begins somewhat earlier than midnight.
Duration of the celebration
The length of time that it takes to celebrate Mass varies considerably. While the Roman Rite liturgy is shorter than other liturgical rites, it may on solemn occasions – even apart from exceptional circumstances such as the Easter Vigil or an event such as ordinations – take over an hour and a half. The length of the homily is an obvious factor that contributes to the overall length. (On Wednesday 7 March 2018, during his weekly general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, continuing his catechesis on the liturgy, Pope Francis advised the clergy that homilies ought to last “no more than 10 minutes”). Other factors are the number of people receiving Communion and the number and length of the chants and other singing.
For most of the second millennium, before the twentieth century brought changes beginning with Pope Pius X's encouragement of frequent Communion, the usual Mass was said exactly the same way whether people other than a server were present or not. No homily was given, and most often only the priest himself received Communion. Moral theologians gave their opinions on how much time the priest should dedicate to celebrating a Mass, a matter on which canon law and the Roman Missal were silent. One said that an hour should not be considered too long. Several others that, in order to avoid tedium, Mass should last no more than half an hour; and in order to be said with due reverence, it should last no less than twenty minutes. Another theologian, who gave half an hour as the minimum time, considered that Mass could not be said in less than a quarter of an hour, an opinion supported by others, including Saint Alphonsus Liguori who said that any priest who finished Mass in less than that time could scarcely be excused from mortal sin.
A Mass celebrated in connection with a particular rite, such as an ordination, a wedding, or a profession of religious vows, may use texts provided in the "Ritual Masses" section of the Roman Missal. The rite in question is, most often, a sacrament, but the section has special texts not only for Masses within which Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy orders, and Matrimony are celebrated, but also for Masses with religious profession, the dedication of a church, and several other rites.Penance is the only sacrament not celebrated within a Eucharistic framework and for which therefore no Ritual Mass is provided.
The Ritual Mass texts may not be used, except perhaps partially, when the rite is celebrated during especially important liturgical seasons or on high ranking feasts.
A Nuptial Mass is a Ritual Mass within which the sacrament of matrimony is celebrated. If one of a couple being married in a Catholic church is not a Catholic, the rite of matrimony outside Mass is to be followed. However, if the non-Catholic has been validly baptized, then, in exceptional cases and provided the bishop of the diocese gives permission, it may be considered suitable to celebrate the marriage within Mass, except that, according to the general law, Communion is not given to the non-Catholic (Rite of Marriage, 8). The Nuptial Mass contains special prayers for the couple and, in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, may be offered at any time of the liturgical year, except during the Paschal Triduum.
In the United States, the term "Red Mass" used traditionally of a Eucharistic celebration for members of the legal profession has more recently given rise to annual "Blue Masses" for police officers and others engaged in public safety, as well as "White" or "Rose" Masses for doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals.
A "Red Mass" is a Mass celebrated annually in the Catholic Church for judges, lawyers, law school professors, law students, and government officials. The Mass requests guidance from the Holy Spirit for all who apply justice, and offers the opportunity to reflect on what Catholics believe is the God-given power and responsibility of all in the legal profession.
A "Blue Mass" is a Mass celebrated annually in the Catholic Church for those employed in the "public safety field" (i.e., police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, 911 operators and EMS personnel). The color blue relates to the blue-colored uniforms predominantly used by these services. The service honors those who have died in the line of duty and those currently serving as first responders. The Mass is an opportunity for the community to show gratitude to first responders and their families.
The tradition of the White Mass in the United States finds its origins in the development of the national Catholic Medical Association in the early 1930s. The White Mass, so named by the color worn by those in the healing profession of medicine, is held in recognition of the dedicated work of healthcare professionals and to ask God's blessing upon patient, doctor, nurse, and caregiver. The Archdiocese of St. Louis celebrates a 'White Mass' every year for those involved in healthcare. The Mass is associated with St. Luke, the patron of physicians and surgeons, whose feast day is October 18. The Archdiocese of Atlanta also celebrates a White Mass honoring health care professionals, as does Creighton University. St. Patrick's Cathedral in Norwich, Connecticut, held its twenty-fifth White Mass in 2015. The speaker at the brunch following the Mass was Lt. Commander Seth Flagg M.D. of the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment.
In Lewiston, Maine, the White Mass is held in February to coincide with the World Day of Prayer for the Sick, instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1992 as "a special time of prayer and sharing, ...and of reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister the face of Christ". It is celebrated on February 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Since 1992 the John Carroll Society has sponsored a Rose Mass in the Archdiocese of Washington, to acknowledge medical, dental, nursing, and allied workers and volunteers and the many health care institutions in the Archdiocese of Washington. It takes place annually on the fourth Sunday of Lent (“Laetare Sunday”), a Sunday when the vestments worn by the celebrant may be rose-colored. The color rose was chosen as the rose has come to symbolize “life,” The Lansing Guild of the Catholic Medical Association hosts a Rose Mass in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The first "Gold Mass" – for scientists – was scheduled to be held on November 15, 2016, in the chapel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The sponsor is the Society of Catholic Scientists, which was incorporated in the summer of 2016 in the territory of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The color gold was chosen because (1) it represents the alchemy of science and (2) it is the color that is worn – at graduation ceremonies – on the hood of those who are being awarded bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees in the academic discipline of science. The date of November 15 was chosen because it is the feast day of St. Albert the Great, a Dominican doctor of the Church who is the patron of scientists.
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