By Father Thom Hennen
How many times may a person receive holy Communion in a day? How many times may a priest celebrate Mass in a day?
The first question comes up frequently. The Code of Canon Law states: “A person who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist can receive it a second time on the same day only within the
eucharistic celebration in which the person participates” (Can. 917). Those who could have sworn it was only once a day were correct according to the 1917 Code, but this changed with the 1983 Code. There is no provision for a third time, however, viaticum (final Communion) may be administered at any time in danger of death (Can. 921).
As to the second question, Canon Law states: “A priest is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day except in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day” (Can. 905 §1). However, the second part of this same canon states: “If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation.” An example of “where the law permits” a priest to offer more than one Mass would be All Souls’ Day, when a priest may say up to three Masses (even if it falls on a weekday) — one for a particular intention, another for all the faithful departed and a third for the intention of the pope.
In the Diocese of Davenport, the “local ordinary” (i.e. bishop) has granted the faculty to priests to celebrate Mass twice on a weekday, if there is pastoral need and three times on Sundays and holy days. Our priest wellness document further states: “The ideal to strive for is one Mass Monday-Friday with a Vigil on Saturday evening and two Sunday Masses.” This is pretty standard in most parishes across the diocese, though it can vary slightly depending on the need. What can complicate this ideal, especially on the weekdays, are funerals, nursing home Masses, school Masses and weddings on Saturday.
What is probably surprising to many about this is that the ideal is for a priest to celebrate only one Mass per day. Additional Masses are by exception in the law. This is not only or principally out of concern for the priest but also out of reverence for the proper celebration of the Eucharist.
As we face the reality of fewer priests and likely more parish clustering and consolidation, this will inevitably affect Mass times. There is an old joke that if a pastor had to choose between changing Mass times in his parish or nuclear holocaust, he would really have to think about it. It is always hard to change. We are creatures of habit and our spiritual habits are especially important and dear to us.
At the same time, I wonder if we haven’t become a little too casual and, frankly, entitled when it comes to our preferred Mass times. I think of those places in the world where the Church is still actively persecuted or where even fewer priests serve more remote areas. Catholics in these places may have to quietly gather for the Sunday Eucharist whenever it is possible and in some places the priest may only come to a village monthly or less often. It certainly puts things in perspective as we might grumble about a half-hour time change or having to go to the “other parish” a few miles down the road. Perhaps necessity will actually bind us more closely together and give us a deeper appreciation for the Eucharist.
(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and Vicar General for the Diocese of Davenport. Send questions to email@example.com)