A Pastoral Note on the Celebration of the Word with Communion during Weekdays

Beginning with the understanding that “no Christian community can be built up unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 6), we must ensure that proper care is taken to guarantee the primacy of the celebration of the Mass in the life of each parish community. As I have already stated in my Pastoral Letter on the Shortage of Priests in the Diocese of St. Paul: “we are Eucharistic communities” (p. 4). This demands ongoing catechesis on the importance of the celebration of the Eucharist.

“The Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus which he instituted to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until his return in glory. Thus he entrusted to his Church this memorial of his death and Resurrection. It is a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet, in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church #271). No other celebration can equal the importance and efficacy of the celebration of the Mass.

The Sunday Celebration of the Word has been practiced in our Diocese for several years now, in order to preserve the importance of the gathering of the Sunday assembly. While these celebrations often include the distribution of Communion, they are not to be confused with the Mass itself. Care has been taken so that the faithful understand the difference between these two celebrations so as not to simply think of the Sunday Celebration of the Word as a “lay Mass.” For the Sunday Celebration of the Word “should not take away but rather increase the desire of the faithful to take part in the celebration of the Eucharist, and should make them more eager to be present at the celebration of the Eucharist” (Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, #22). The importance of the Sunday gathering was stressed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who said: “By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ’s resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day; with good reason this, then, bears the name of the Lord’s day or Sunday” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #106). Since the Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion, as permitted by the Code of Canon Law (can. 1248 §2) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 2183), was intended to preserve the primacy of Sunday as the Lord’s day in the absence of a priest, care should be taken to avoid celebrations of this nature during the week as an attempt to replace or fill the void of the absence of weekday Masses.

Priests should make every effort to make the Mass available to the faithful every day as much as possible. While priests should celebrate Mass daily exceptions could be made for days off, travel or other legitimate reasons.

If in some parishes the priest celebrates Mass several times a week in various nursing homes, hospitals and schools, then in these cases the faithful ought to be invited to attend these celebrations rather than insisting that the priest celebrate a second Mass at the church, or even celebrating a Liturgy of the Word on their own. This same practice should also be followed in regards to funeral and wedding Masses when the regular weekday Mass has been replaced by these celebrations. The faithful ought to be invited to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist whenever and wherever it is celebrated in the parish.

When the faithful wish to gather on weekdays during which no Mass is offered, the primary liturgical celebration to be celebrated, as recommended by the Church (Sacrosanctum Concilium #100; Catechism of the Catholic Church #1174-1178), is the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly Morning and Evening Prayer (cf. Sunday Celebrations of the Word and Hours 273- 304). This practice ought to be encouraged even on days when the Mass is available in the parish, through use of the Liturgy of the Hours (cf. vol. 1-4) or Christian Prayer. The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, however, does not include the reception of Communion. “Sacramental Communion is the climax of participation in the [Eucharistic] celebration. Communion must always be related to the Mass and is given outside Mass only when there is a good reason preventing the person from taking part in the Mass in the normal way.” (Ordo 2012, pastoral note 12e). Communion outside of Mass is usually reserved to the sick, shut-ins, those who care for them and for Sunday Celebrations of the Word. Exceptions may be made during the celebration of Marriages and Funerals in the absence of a priest with the prior permission of the pastor. If the priest is away for an extended period of time, it may be possible with the prior permission of the pastor to celebrate a weekday celebration of the Word within the nursing home or hospital for those unable to gather for the Sunday celebration. When Communion is to be received outside of Mass, “the rite always includes the greeting, the penitential act, the scripture readings, the Lord’s Prayer, the sign of peace, Communion followed by a period of silence, the prayer and the final blessing” (Ordo 2012, pastoral note 12e).

Lay leaders of prayer may be appointed for a definite period of time to lead these celebrations. They ought to have adequate formation and be people whose lives are consistent with the Gospel. They should be publically installed, preferably before the Sunday Assembly, according to the rite of installation given for lay leaders of prayer in the Celebrations of Installation and Recognition issued by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest #30; Celebrations of Installation and Recognition n. 287; Code of Canon Law can. 230 §2-3).

“The faithful are to understand that the Eucharistic sacrifice cannot take place in the absence of a priest and that the Eucharistic communion which they may receive in the celebrations without a priest is closely connected with the sacrifice of the Mass. On that basis the faithful can be invited to recall how necessary it is to pray that God will `give the Church more priests and keep them faithful in his love and service`” (Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, #23).

Therefore I encourage every parish community to continue to pray for vocations in our Diocese so that we can all faithfully celebrate the Eucharist every day in all of our parishes, as I stated in my Pastoral Letter on the Shortage of Priests in the Diocese of St. Paul, dated September 1, 2004.

In order to better promote a culture of vocations within our Diocese and parishes, a prayer for vocations should be added in every parish, particularly on Sundays, at the Universal Prayer of the Faithful, to increase the awareness of our universal call to holiness and of our need for God’s grace as we live out our various vocations of priesthood, religious life, marriage and of single life.

I end here by adding a prayer that can be reproduced and distributed on prayer cards in your parishes:

Heavenly Father,

Bless your Church and most especially your Church in the Diocese of St. Paul with an abundance of holy and zealous priests, deacons, religious and seminarians. Give those you have called to the married state and those you have chosen to live as single persons in the world the special graces that their lives require. Form us all in the likeness of your Son so that in him, with him and through him we may love you more deeply and serve you more faithfully always and everywhere with the virgin mother Mary, we ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Amen! From the celebration of the Eucharist, we receive the grace we need to be faithful disciples of the Lord according to the way of life to which we have been called. May we never lack Eucharistic celebrations and priests in our Diocese.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!

Fraternally yours,

+ Luc Bouchard
Bishop of St. Paul