Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, April 23, 2018

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Msgr. David Q. Liptak

Q. In Europe, some proposals have been made which could allow lay people to preside at Mass whenever priests are not available. I’m sure this is not anything which the Church would accept. But are these proposals within the realm of possibility? Is Catholic doctrine on this question so flexible?

A. Such proposals are clearly not within the realm of possibility. When I first read about these suggestions, I was immediately reminded of one of our Seminary Professors who used to look up almost half-stunned by impossible theories in doctrine with the expression, “Sir, where did you make your fundamental theology?”

The doctrine relating to the question of who can offer Mass was solemnly set forth by, for example, the Fourth Lateran Ecumenical Council in 1215; see Denzinger-Schönmetzer 802 (the authoritative Greek-Latin index of Church teachings, recognized as a source text and usually abbreviated by scholars as DS; a copy can be found in any major university library). Also see the Letter of Pope Clement VI to Mekhitar, Catholicos of the Armenians and entitled Super Quibusdam, 1351; DS 1084; also the great Ecumenical Council of Trent, Session 23, 1563, Chap. 4; DS 1767-1770; also Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei, 1947.

All of the above citations are summarized simply in the Code of Canon Law, Canon 900, 1, which reads:

“The only minister who, in the Person of Christ, can bring into being the Sacrament of the Eucharist, is a validly ordained priest.”

By Christ’s own will, “there can be no substitute whatsoever for the ministerial priesthood,” as Pope John Paul II reminded us in his monumental encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003):

“[T]he Eucharist celebrated by the priest ‘is a gift which radically transcends the power of the community…. The community that gathers for the celebration of the Eucharist absolutely requires an ordained priest, who presides over it so that it may truly be a eucharistic convocation. On the other hand, the community is by itself incapable of providing an ordained minister.’” (No. 29)

This theology was implemented by the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in its Instruction concerning matters to be observed regarding the Eucharist, Redemptionis Sacramentum, (2004), No. 42. Consider this admonition:

“There is pressing need of a concerted will to avoid all ambiguity in this [aforesaid] matter and to remedy the difficulties of recent years. Accordingly, terms such as ‘celebrating community’ or ‘celebrating assembly’ … and similar terms should not be used injudiciously.” (Ibid.)

This directive has immediate application, of course, to certain strains of extreme “Liberation Theology.”


Q. Is it proper for a lay relative of a first communicant, a relative who happens to be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, to be invited to give First Communion to such a relative – a niece or nephew, for example?

A. The Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), directs that First Holy Communion “should always be administered by a priest and never outside the celebration of Mass.” (No. 87)


Q. Shouldn’t an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion assigned to a convalescent home or to a hospital go directly to his or her assignment, not stopping to talk along the way, even in the parking lot?

A. Of course, a priest or a deacon goes directly from the tabernacle of reservation to those awaiting Communion; this is properly done with prayers along the way. It is not only objectionable in itself, but an occasion of scandal, for anyone who is assigned to bring Communion to the sick to fail to do this directly after receiving the pyx from the tabernacle.

In all cases, the relevant approved ritual for bringing Communion to the sick must be observed. (See Redemptionis Sacramentum No. 133.)