Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Offering Mass Without a Congregation is a Beautiful Gift for a Priest

I offered Mass alone today ad oriented on the Feast of St Francis Xavier
Mass is primarily about Jesus offering his holy Sacrifice to the Father. In his mercy, he takes us up into that sacrifice.  For this reason, even if a congregation or server is not present, the priest should not feel the slightest hesitation, or feel out of place, to offer the holy Sacrifice alone.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal Chapter IV section C has a special instruction for the occasion of Mass without people, or Sine cum Populo. I have attached it to the end of this post, and you can see it here.

Some people, even professors at the local seminary (at least that is what my seminarians tell me) say it is not right, a priest should never celebrate Mass alone.  I could not disagree more, especially if it could mean that a priest would opt to not celebrate a Mass simply because no one is around.  The value of one Mass in incalculable.  Here are a few quotes on the power of one Mass:
Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s Goodness and asked Our Lord “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “ATTEND ONE MASS.”  
When we have been to Holy Communion, the balm of love envelops the soul as the flower envelops the bee. ~ Saint Jean Vianney 
It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass. ~ St. Pio of Pietrelcina 
Some point out this instruction as a reason why a priest should never celebrate along and that it is wrong:
211. Mass should not be celebrated without a server or the participation of at least one of the faithful, except for some legitimate and reasonable cause.
The very fact that the same instruction the next sentence continues, "In this case the greetings and the blessing at the end of Mass are omitted," means that there are very legitimate reasons for celebrating Mass alone.  Otherwise it would not give an entire instruction on how to do it that follows.

If you are a priest or seminarian reading this, here is your legitimate and reasonable cause: if you would not celebrate Mass that day, if you would go one day without the holy Sacrifice of the Mass it is like going a day without the Sun rising, without eating, without living.  If it means you won't have Mass that day THIS IS YOUR LEGITIMATE REASON.  I don't know how to say that clear enough or loud enough.  Forget whatever else you have heard.  That simply is very poor logic and terribly incorrect according to the life of grace, and especially for your own good as a priest, and for the good of the whole Church and all mankind that benefits from the grace.

This is the mind of the Church which you can read about in the recently clarification of the Holy See on this matter in the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (110) which reads:
“Remembering always that in the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice the work of redemption is constantly being carried out, Priests should celebrate frequently. Indeed, daily celebration is earnestly recommended, because, even if it should not be possible to have the faithful present, the celebration is an act of Christ and of the Church, and in carrying it out, Priests fulfill their principal role.”
If you haven't celebrated Mass alone try it the next time a day goes by and there is no one around.  God will speak to you.  Personally I especially like two moments, the elevation of the host, which because I am alone I can do it much much longer, and the homily - God gives a much better homily than you do if you stop for a good while and listen to him speaking only to you.

It is an opportunity to hear the real celebrant, the principle one, Jesus Christ himself, speak to you as a priest and show you the value of what you do at the altar so that when people are once again around, you will offer the sacrifice with greater love, devotion, attention, and reverence, and it will be more fruitful in the lives of the faithful.  We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
"It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice." Catechism of the Catholic Church 1410
I have learned to set aside, for the benefit of my priesthood, and therefore for the benefit of those I serve, to take a day off a week.  It is my day of prayer, of rest, my day where I imitate Jesus Christ who turned away from the sick, the suffering, the poor, the crowds, and his own apostles, to go to the Father and seek him in private, giving us an example.  I find that if priests don't take a moment to turn away from those clamoring for attention, they will turn away from them permanently and be unavailable, caught in escapism, hide in the rectory, and disengage from the very ones to whom they were sent.

It is especially on my day off that I enjoy saying Mass alone.  I frequently offer the Mass for special needs and occasions entitled, "For the Priest Himself."  Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen offered the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary once a week to compensate for any of his failures in ministry, excesses, defects, faults or imperfections.  For me, this Mass is where I beg God to grant graces to those whom I have failed to serve, or at least to fill up with the merits of Jesus and Mary any deficiencies in my ministry as a priest.

Here is how to celebrate Mass alone, straight from the 4th edition of the GIRM:

Chapter IV-C. Masses without a Congregation


209. This section gives the norms for Mass celebrated by a priest with only one server to assist him and to make the responses.

210. In general this form of Mass follows the rite of Mass with a congregation. The server takes the people's part to the extent possible.

211. Mass should not be celebrated without a server or the participation of at least one of the faithful, except for some legitimate and reasonable cause. In this case the greetings and the blessing at the end of Mass are omitted.

212. The chalice is prepared before Mass, either on a side table near the altar or on the altar itself; the missal is placed on the left side of the altar.

Introductory Rites

213. After he reverences the altar, the priest crosses himself, saying: In the name of the Father, etc. He turns to the server and gives one of the forms of greeting. For the penitential rite the priest stands at the foot of the altar.

214. The priest then goes up to the altar and kisses it, goes to the missal at the left side of the altar, and remains there until the end of the general intercessions.

215. He reads the entrance antiphon and says the Kyrie and the Gloria, in keeping with the rubrics.

216. Then, with hands joined, the priest says: Let us pray. After a suitable pause, he says the opening prayer, with hands outstretched. At the end the server responds: Amen.

Liturgy of the Word

217. After the opening prayer, the server or the priest himself reads the first reading and psalm, the second reading, when it is to be said, and the Alleluiaverse or other chant.

218. The priest remains in the same place, bows and says inaudibly: Almighty God, cleanse my heart. He then reads the gospel and at the conclusion kisses the book, saying: MAy the words of the gospel wipe away our sins. The server says the acclamation.

219. The priest then says the profession of faith with the server, if the rubrics call for it.

220. The general intercessions may be said even in this form of Mass; the priest gives the intentions and the server makes the response.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

221. The antiphon for the preparation of the gifts is omitted. The minister places the corporal, purificator, and chalice on the altar, unless they have already been put there at the beginning of Mass.

222. Preparation of the bread and wine, including the pouring of the water, are carried out as at a Mass with a congregation., with the formularies given in the Order of Mass. After placing the bread and wine on the altar, the priest washes his hands at the side of the altar as the server pours the water.

223. The priest says the prayer over the gifts and the eucharistic prayer, following the rite described for Mass with a congregation.

224. The Lord's Prayer and the embolism, Deliver us, are said as at a Mass with a congregation.

225. After the acclamation concluding the embolism, the priest says the prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, you said. He then adds: The peace of the Lord be with you always, and the server answers: And also with you. The priest may give the sign of peace to the server.

226. Then, while he says the Agnus Dei with the server, the priest breaks the eucharistic bread over the paten. After the Agnus Dei, he places a particle in the chalice, saying inaudibly: May this mingling.

227. After the commingling, the priest says inaudibly the prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, or Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in Your love and mercy. Then he genuflects and takes the eucharistic bread. If the server is to receive communion, the priest turns to him and, holding the eucharistic bread a little above the paten, says: This is the Lamb of God, adding once with the server: Lord I am not worthy. Facing the altar, the priest then receives the body of Christ. If the server is not receiving communion, the priest, after making a genuflection, takes the host and, facing the altar, says once inaudibly: Lord I am not worthy, and eats the body of Christ. The blood of Christ is received in the way described in the Order of Mass with a congregation.

228. Before giving communion to the server, the priest says the communion antiphon.

229. The chalice is washed at the side of the altar and then may be carried by the server to a side table or left on the altar, as at the beginning.

230. After the purification of the chalice, the priest may observe a period of silence. Then he says the prayer after communion.

Concluding Rites

231. The concluding rites are carried out as at Mass with a congregation, but the dismissal formulary is omitted.

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