Q. How many Masses is a priest permitted to celebrate each day?
A.. The Code of Canon Law takes up this question; see Canons 904 sqq. Canon 905, ¶2, allows the local Ordinary (i.e., the priest’s bishop) to offer Mass twice on the same day; the presumption is that pastoral need calls for this. Furthermore, the local Ordinary can allow a priest to celebrate three times on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation, again to meet pastoral needs.
Aside from the above, only one Mass daily by any priest should be the norm. Two exceptions granted by the Church by liturgical law are: (1) three Masses allowed on Christmas and (2) three Masses allowed on All Souls’ Day. (Ordinarily, the three Masses on Christmas should be celebrated in accordance with the rubrics of the Sacramentary and Lectionary; i.e., at midnight, at dawn, and during the day; also at the vigil. The latest rubrics allow “any priest” to offer these three (plus the vigil Mass) provided that he follow the sequence and time indicated in the Roman Missal. On All Souls’ Day, each of the three Masses allowed must be offered for the intentions indicated in the rubrics for All Souls’ Day; the first, for a particular intention; the second for all the faithful departed; the third for the intentions of the Holy Father. (Pope Benedict XV cited these requirements in furthering a tradition; they obtain to the present day.)
Celebrating two Masses is known as “bination”; offering three Masses is called “trination.” Both descriptives are Latin derivatives.
Most priests in our country are ordinarily called upon to binate on Sundays and Days of Precept; usually there are not enough priests to do otherwise. Trination is less common on Sundays and special Holy Days, but many priests have no alternative but to utilize such a privilege in accordance with his bishop’s desires. As a younger priest I spent many years binating and several years in trinating. (My third Mass, during the time of the Vietnam War, was a field Mass for a ready reserve Marine unit.)
When teaching all the above in a Seminary course in Sacramental theology, I used to respond to the “How many Masses?” question from a theologism steeped in personal practice. The real inquiry, I used to say in class, is not “How many Masses is a priest allowed to say on a Sunday?” but rather, “How many Masses can a priest say well?” Trination (even bination) makes serious demands on the celebrant: physical, emotional and spiritual. So that multiple Masses cannot be offered routinely; the issue here is too sacred, almost too taxing.
Finally, from a theological viewpoint, the reason for bination and/or trination must always be that of service to the faithful. For one to use the privilege of, say, bination, one must always proceed from a pa