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More on fulfilling Mass obligations

December 4, 2012

Well, as I’ve said before, there’s nothing like navigating the narrows of canon and liturgical law to get folks clicking. Some follow-ups to my post yesterday on Mass obligations.

First, some have asked for, beyond common sense and my personal charm, a citation in support of my claim that “two obligations means two satisfactions”. Happy to oblige: GB & I Comm. at 702.

Second—and my reply here is longera post over at Catholic Answers Forum thoughtfully disputes my interpretation of Canon 1248 (not me by name, just in substance). Let’s look at it.

The CAF writer grants that a day in canon law is calculated as being the 24-hour period from one midnight to the next midnight (c. 202 § 1), but points to the phrase “unless other provision is expressly made” in that norm. He asserts that because the Sunday obligation can be satisfied on Saturday evening (c. 1248 § 1), and liturgical law calls for Evening Prayer I of Sunday to be celebrated on Saturday evening, and various liturgical directives call for Masses of Anticipation to use the readings, etc., of the day being anticipated, an express alternate provision has been made to the effect that Saturday ends on Saturday evening and, so, a Mass obligation falling on a Saturday cannot be satisfied once Saturday evening starts (1). Ergo, Masses from Saturday evening onward, on holy days of obligation falling on Saturday, cannot be applied to the Saturday obligation, only to the Sunday one.

Thoughtful, but I’m afraid, still wrong. Here’s why.

Let’s walk through the Sunday obligation. Mutatis mutandis, what follows applies to feast days as well.

The Church imposes an obligation to attend Mass-on-Sunday (a phrasing I prefer because so many people take the requirement “to go to Sunday Mass” to mean “to go to Mass as celebrated on Sunday with the Sunday readings etc.”, which is to prejudice the very point in question) and recognizes the 24-hour period known as Sunday as being available for one to fulfill that obligation (2). In that respect, then, not only have we an obligation to attend Mass-on-Sunday, but we have a right to fulfill that obligation within a set 24-hour period (3). Now, just very recently in Church history, the Church has offered us the option of fulfilling our Mass-on-Sunday obligation during some hours on Saturday. We now have extra time in which to fulfill an obligation, but—and here’s the key—having the option of satisfying one’s Mass-on-Sunday obligation on a Saturday in no way deprives us of the right to fulfill our Mass-on-Sunday obligation anytime during the 24 hours of Sunday. Else, the granting of an option with one hand would be to deprive us of a right with the other. Canon law does not work that way (4).

Exceptions to law (and c. 202 § 1 alerts us to the possibility of exceptions to the midnight-to-midnight day in canon law) must not be expanded beyond their terms, per c. 18. That liturgical law calls for Sunday propers to be applied on Saturday evenings (assuming that even counts as an ‘exception’ to law, and I’m not sure it does), would not allow one to parlay said ‘exception’ in liturgical law into an exception in the canon law governing the satisfaction of Mass attendance obligations; they are, indisputably, different laws serving distinct purposes.

We don’t need to, but we can, carry this analysis further.

There are, in fact, two obligations imposed on Catholics with regard to Sunday and holy days, namely, to attend Mass and “to abstain from works and affairs that hinder the worship to be rendered to God” (c. 1247). Now, while the “rest” obligation is more honored in the breach than in the observance these days, nevertheless, it is clearly a part of the Sunday and holy day obligation. Thus, whatever exactly it is, the rest obligation applies on “Sunday”, and therefore, if the analysis I refuted above were correct, that should mean that the rest observance commences on Saturday evening, too, and ceases at some point on late Sunday afternoon, right?

Problem is, I’ve not found a single commentary that moves up the “rest” observance for one day to the afternoon of the preceding day. Because such a claim is based on a faulty assumption (that some days end in their late afternoon), few commentators would likely address the possibility, but one who does so expressly rejects it: CLSA New Comm. 1445 (and see note 5).

Finally (if only to illustrate the domino effect of a canonical points) suppose that the Solemnity of St Joseph (Mar 19) falls on a Saturday in Lent. If a feastday really starts the evening before, may Catholics simply appeal to Canon 1251 and chow down on those burgers on a Lenten Friday evening because the Friday abstinence would have been excused had Joseph’s solemnity come one day earlier that year? I haven’t found any authors who think so.

Well, okay, there’s more that can be said (some historical insights seem especially relevant), but at this point, I submit, my interpretation of Canon 1248 stands.

PS: While we’re here, I might as well say: I think the option of satisfying Mass obligations on preceding days has, frankly, been more trouble than it’s worth. I’d be happy to see it withdrawn [tune out anxiety howls here]. Indeed, if you think I’ve a good pastoral reason for making that suggestion, and that my pastoral suggestion might be needed in response to  yet another canonical problem lurking here’bouts—and my readers are pretty good at connecting such dots—all I can say is, you’d be right. But that topic’s for another day.


(1) His words were “in order to fulfill the obligation for the Immaculate Conception, one must attend Mass from Friday evening to Saturday afternoon (since Sunday begins at evening). Attending Mass on Saturday evening . . . does not fulfill the obligation for the Immaculate Conception. This is not (note the negative) because the readings are different . . . etc. It’s because the day of the Immaculate Conception will have ended. … Mass on Saturday evening is not a Mass on the Immaculate Conception.” (my bolding)

(2) “The precept of hearing Mass …prescribes a personal act for the performance of which a certain time is assigned ad finiendam obligationem . . . [T]he obligation binds only on the Sunday or Feastday itself and once the Sunday or Feastday has passed, the obligation ceases.” Guiniven, Precept of Hearing Mass (1942) at 77, my emphasis.

(3) The Church could, if she wanted to, require the Mass-on-Sunday obligation to be satisfied, say, before 1 pm on Sunday (by implication of 1917 CIC 821 § 1), but she doesn’t; the Church concedes all of Sunday (by implication of c. 931) as the period allowed to fulfill the Mass-on-Sunday attendance obligation.

(4) Recall that the first options for anticipating the Mass-on-Sunday obligation came by way of indults (that is, canonically speaking, they were favors). It is well settled that favors do not deprive one of rights.

(5) A suggestion that days of obligation be defined as starting on the prior evening was expressly made and rejected during the Code revision process  “quia secumferret non solum possibilitatem satisfaciendi vespere praecedenti praecepto missae assistendi, sed etiam obligationem abstinendi eodem vespere ab operibus et negotiis.” Communicationes XII: 359. Think about that: that this suggestion was made at that high level shows, I think, that our CAF writer is trying to think with the Church; it’s just that the view he offers was rejected by others who try to think with the Church, too. In short, he could use his arguments to call for change in the law, I suppose, but not to show what the law currently is.

Update 6 Dec 2012Third look at issue.

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