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Two identical obligations require two distinct satisfactions

December 5, 2014

Every couple of years, when a holy day of obligation falls on a Saturday or Monday and is not transferred or dispensed, some wonder whether attendance at an evening Mass on the first day simultaneously satisfies both the obligation for the first day and the obligation for the second. Fr. Zuhlsdorf has just raised the topic again at his blog and argues that attendance at one ‘Super Mass’ (my phrase, not his) is able to satisfy two attendance obligations in a single rite. His post lets me makes some points not only about satisfying Mass obligations but about canon law and diminishment of moral culpability by mistakes.

Preliminary, I note that the question Fr. Z uses to introduce his dual-attendance blog post is NOT about dual attendance, it is rather about what kind of Mass is able to satisfy an attendance obligation. Fr. Z says that he and I disagree on this, but as he never answers the question actually posed, I don’t know whether we disagree. In any case, let me be clear about how I would answer the question: the kind of Mass one attends makes no difference whatsoever in respect of satisfying one’s Mass attendance obligation. If, say, Wednesday is a holy day of obligation, and I attend a funeral or a wedding or an ordination Mass that day, with nary a mention of the holy day, I have satisfied the obligation to attend Mass that day.

Now, to the matter.

Fr. Z writes:Can one Mass satisfy two obligations? I think so. Others don’t. The situation is at least doubtful, so I think we get the benefit of the doubt. At least I don’t remember ever seeing an official clarification about this point from the Pont. Comm. for Legislative Texts of from the Cong. for Divine Worship.”

Let’s unpack this. Carefully.

1. Can one Mass satisfy two obligations?” Sure, provided the obligations are of a different character. For example, a priest can satisfy his obligation to attend Mass on a holy day of obligation by celebrating Mass that day and, in the same Mass, he can satisfy the obligation of offering Mass for an intention for which he has accepted a stipend, why? because the obligation to attend Mass and the obligation to celebrate Mass for a specific intention are different kinds of obligations. Or, suppose a bishop directs (say by a precept, if you want, to make sure the obligation is canonical) a dean to observe a suspect priest in the deanery saying Mass. The dean attends Mass said by the suspect priest on a Sunday morning. The dean satisfies both the precept of observing the suspect priest and of attending Mass on Sunday in a single rite because the obligations in question (observing for abuses and hearing Sunday Mass) are different in character. Canon 1248 calls for attendance at Mass, and attendance is attendance. Two identical obligations require two distinct satisfactions.

2. Can one Mass satisfy two obligations? I think so. Others don’t. The situation is at least doubtful …” Doubtful? Not canonically, it’s not. Disagreement among persons does not amount to “doubt of law” (the condition Fr. Z needs to make the rest of his theory work), else, virtually every canon over which two intelligent people reasonably disagree would be rendered doubtful and, long story made short, would be unenforceable. ‘Doubt of law’ is (again, l.s.m.s.) usually recognized only after a substantial number of qualified experts have adduced weighty arguments for conflicting views. Alas, Fr. Z and I do not make up a substantial number of qualified experts (and throwing in a few bloggers or even an occasional Q&A columnist does not change matters). It is, instead, to major canonical commentaries that one must look to determine whether Canon 1248 § 1 is regarded as laboring under “doubt of law”. Now, granted I am away from most of my tomes just now, but among those several yet at hand, not a single one suggests any “doubt of law” on Canon 1248 in this regard. Not one. Indeed, the GB&I Commentary (at 702), on its way to making a different point, observes that “when a Sunday and another holy day of obligation occur on two successive days, assistance at no more than an evening Mass on the first of two such days does not fulfill the dual obligation” (my emphasis).

3. “…so I think we get the benefit of the doubt.” Benefit of the doubt . . . about what? About the possibility of satisfying two Mass attendance obligations at a single liturgy? No, for the “doubt of law” needed to support such a conclusion has not been demonstrated. But, a “benefit of the doubt” about incurring personal culpability for having failed to satisfy one of the two Mass attendance obligations? Probably, Yes, for anytime the faithful to take action based on the advice of generally trustworthy sources, such action, though it might have been objectively wrong, is not fully imputed to the actor precisely because he tried to find out how to act and acted in accord with the advice given. Fr. Z and I have both spent much time over the years helping the faithful to pick up the pieces after receiving and relying on mistaken advice from ‘experts’; it is common in such circumstances to assuage those involved by noting, quite correctly, that one’s ‘responsibility’ for having followed bad advice is diminished, though the action must cease upon acquisition of better advice.

4. “I don’t remember ever seeing an official clarification about this point from the Pont. Comm. for Legislative Texts of from the Cong. for Divine Worship.” Nor do I. So what? Curial silence is always a suspect source of interpretation, but I venture to suggest there’s been no Roman clarification on this point because virtually no one thinks there is any doubt about whether attendance at one Mass fails to satisfy two Mass attendance obligations. Perhaps someone wants to look through the questions-received sections of Communicationes to see whether a dubium has even been submitted, but I suspect it would be a waste of time.

Well, there are other things* that could be said about dual-attendance problem (Fr. Z did not raise what I recall was his background reason for reading Canon 1248 as he does, so I’ll not address it), and even this dual-attendance question frequently gets confused with ‘kind of liturgy’ questions (Fr. Z confused them above) and ‘time of liturgy’ questions, but here’s not the place to walk thru those as well.

I’ll just say, Sunday and Immaculate Conception are two days on which Catholics are canonically required to attend Mass. The only plausible canonical excuse from attending Mass twice in those two days, namely, “doubt of law” about what satisfies the obligation to attend, has not, in my opinion, been met in this case. Not even close. + + +

* Okay, I’ll mention one more (but that’s it!): there are 10 holy days of obligation in Canon 1246. The US bishops have, with Rome’s okay, arranged it so that almost none of them bind on back-to-back days. Why? Because attending Mass two days in a row is (l.s.m.s.) a serious burden on the faithful. But, if a single evening ‘Super Mass’ on day one would satisfy two attendance obligations, doncha think the bishops (here and around the world!) would have suggested that option long, long ago? But they didn’t; in fact, it’s never crossed their minds—why? because they know that two Mass attendance obligations can’t be satisfied in a single rite.

Update 6 dec 2014: A canon law student sends me word that, in November 1974, the Congregation for the Clergy addressed the possibility of satisfying two Mass attendance obligations in a single rite. The dicastery answered, Negative. The picture looks like “Thirty Five Years of the BLC Newsletter” p. 450, and he indicates it is lifted from an earlier Notitiae. No wonder no one even raised the question under the 1983 Code.

So, that about wraps this one up, eh?

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