Have you been told that only the Mass intended for a specific Sunday or holy day of obligation counts for the satisfaction of your obligation to attend Mass on that day? If so, I’m afraid you’ve been told wrong.
Canon 1248 § 1 states that one who “assists” (or “attends” or “participates”, etc.) at a Mass “in a Catholic rite … satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.” Notice, there is no requirement in the law that the Mass be the “correct” Mass for the day, or that it be celebrated licitly (or that it be celebrated in a church, or on a certain type of all altar, concerns that at various times in history impacted satisfaction of the Mass attendance obligation), in order for assistance at that Mass to satisfy one’s Mass attendance obligation. It only has to be Mass “in a Catholic rite”.
Sure, priests are supposed to say the ‘correct’ Mass for the time they are celebrating, but the choice of which Mass to say is a matter of liturgical law, while Mass attendance obligations are a matter of canon law. The faithful have virtually no control over a priest’s choice of Mass, or about how he celebrates it, and so they should not be, and are not, held hostage by a priest’s choice of rites in fulfilling their own attendance obligations. This point was made during the revision of the canon law and the Mass attendance norm was revised with this concern in mind. As a result, the CLSA Comm (1985) 854 said, “Participation in any Eucharistic celebration fulfills the obligation” and, in even more detail, the CLSA New Comm (2000) 1445 says: “The precept [of attending Mass] may be satisfied at any Catholic Mass, i.e., not only when the texts are those of the Sunday or holy day. For example, attendance at a wedding Mass . . . on a Saturday [evening] fulfills the Sunday obligation.” Okay?
So, get to Mass for Sunday (even if it’s not ‘Sunday’s’ Mass), and get to Mass for Immaculate Conception (even if it’s not ‘Immac. Conception’s’ Mass), and you’ll be fine.
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?
The gist of a recent poll is that one in three Americans do not want religious ministers to “sign marriage licenses as representatives of the state” so as to avoid, I guess, a connection between “civil marriage” and “religious marriage”, as if, you know, those are two fundamentally different things. Let me rephrase the poll findings: one in three Americans don’t understand what clergy signing marriage certificates are doing (and aren’t doing!) and so don’t know a good thing when they see it.
The call for ministers to boycott civil wedding certificates proposed under the wrongly-named “Marriage Pledge” (it is actually a Pledge Not to Acknowledge Real Marriages) probably would have gone nowhere except that it found an ally in the journal First Things. Well, that’s their responsibility. Mine is to make sure that as many people as possible see that the Radner-Seitz “Marriage Pledge” rests on a faulty understanding of what makes marriage and, in turn, of what ministers of religion do in certifying that a given marriage took place before them. I am not going to review all of the problems inherent in Radner-Seitz’s proposal, though they are many. Here I address just two points.
In the West (yes, I know Eastern Christianity thinks differently, but that problem is for another day), it has been settled matter among all Christians (though secular elements of the West do not realize that Christian thought has permeated their consciousness, too), it has been, as I say, settled matter in the West that the consent of the parties establishes marriage. If you think that the State made up marriage and confers it on a couple, or if you think that the Church created and bestows marriage on believers, or that God, or Zeus, or the Big Cosmic Other sends this thing called marriage on two people who want it, or if you hold any other theory of marriage whatsoever, besides that the consent of the parties makes marriage—then you need to stop reading this blog post and start studying solid treatises on marriage going back to the ancient Romans in some cases, and virtually everything since the 13th century, secular and religious alike.
I’m serious. If you do not really see that the couple’s consent makes marriage then you don’t understand what’s at stake.
Now, for those who do know that the consent of the parties makes marriage, the fundamental supposition of the Radner-Seitz Pledge—namely, that the State has changed the definition of marriage (which it can’t do and, even by its own count, has not succeeded in doing yet!) and, as a result, ministers who care about real marriage should not confer or cooperate in conferring marriage (as understood by at least some States), that supposition, I say, collapses: The State does not confer marriage on couples, couples confer marriage on each other! All the State does, and for that matter all the Church does, (and, for that matter, all that God does between baptized persons, but that discussion is more complex and is not immediately relevant to a discussion of Church-State cooperation in the matter of marriage), is to recognize what the couple did, namely, they married. If, therefore, a given couple has entered what natural law knows as marriage (a life-long, sexually exclusive, union of one man and one woman, etc.), it is right and even necessary that the State recognize their consent as initiating a marriage irrespective of whether that marriage was entered into before government officials or—and here we get closer to the concerns of Radner-Seitz—before the officials of a religious body.
But, here’s the key: the role of a state official and a religious minister is, as far as the couple entering marriage are concerned, identical—both are merely public, reliable witnesses of the couple’s action; neither the State nor the Church is the actor or the agent or the instigator behind marriage. The crisis that Radner-Seitz see in ‘civil marriage’ (I’ll use their term for now, though it can be misleading, for I agree with them that there is a crisis in ‘civil marriage’) is that the State also thinks it can witness a ‘marriage’ between two persons of the same sex. That error needs urgent correction, of course. But the mere fact that the State thinks it can witness “same-sex marriages” does not disqualify it from witnessing the marriages of people eligible for marriage! A witness (whether State or Church) is a witness, not an actor or an agent—a role reserved by natural law to the couple in marriage. That the American State accepts, besides it own officers, religious ministers certifying that two people entered marriage before them is a welcome and, these days, rather uncommon accommodation to religious practice (!), but, I say again, whether before a lowly justice-of-the-peace in the town clerk’s office or the Cardinal Archbishop in his cathedral, it’s the couple who brought about that marriage, and no one else. The witness(es) from city hall or the cathedral, literally, had nothing to do with it!
Which brings me to point two: as it is the couple who brought about their marriage, the minister’s refusal to confirm for the State that they are married is, first, to deprive the State of information it has a right to have (the just regulation of marriage is a civil responsibility), and second, it is at least to importune the couple with the obligation of a second ceremony if they wish to enjoy the benefits and protection that the State accords married couples. More gravely, though, bifurcating the ‘spiritual marriage’ from the ‘secular marriage’ introduces serious problems in determining which wedding ceremony actually united the couple in marriage—and that’s assuming all couples undergoing one ceremony will undergo two. And for what? A minister’s refusal to certify a couple’s marrying before him does not harm the State, it does not send some bold message of defiance, it does not do much of anything, except deprive a truly married couple of the benefits that would have been accorded—and still are accorded to other couples whose ministers decline Radner-Seitz’s proposal—simply upon the minister’s declaration that what really happened really happened.
Scholion on the phrase: “By the power invested in me by the State of [whatever], I now pronounce you husband and wife.” This line is recently being quoted by some as a sort of ‘gotcha’ to prove that religious ministers are acting as state officials in conferring marriage. Hardly.
First, as would have been apparent had this proposal undergone any serious ecumenical discussion prior to appearing in First Things, Catholic wedding rites feature no such language. This phrasing is, therefore, solely a non-Catholic minister problem.
Second, recalling that the couple’s consent makes marriage, the phrase can (if others insist on using it) easily and rightly be understood to mean that “I, a religious minister, am recognized by the State as being able to verify for it that this man and this women entered marriage, and that they have done exactly that before my eyes” etc. The State does not have the power to marry people, so it cannot confer that power on others; the State does have the power to witness to the marriage of people, and it can confer that power on others. Ministers using this language are simply declaring that they have the power to witness and communicate to others that two people married.
At this point, I don’t think that there’s much to be gained by discussing with Radner-Seitz proponents a list of “what if” and “what then” scenarios regarding where marriage seems headed in America (they have their hunches, I have mine, and our lists likely overlap in many places), not until we get settled about who brings about a marriage between two people eligible for it, and what the role of the witness(es) to that wedding really is. If folks aren’t clear on that, well, … + + +
In his recent interview with Norah O’Donnell on CBS, Chicago Abp. Blase Cupich spoke with a flat affect (complicated by several fits and starts) such that I could not always tell where one thought ended and another began, especially on some controversial topics such as holy Communion for pro-abortion Catholics. But from what I gathered watching the interview a couple of times and from reading written reports on it, Cupich seems not to have answered O’Donnell’s straight-forward question about whether he would withhold holy Communion from notorious pro-abortion Catholic politicos. What the prelate seemed actually to say on the matter, however, made sense to me: namely, that he would not initiate discussions of one’s eligibility for holy Communion at the Communion rail. If that’s really what he said (and if that’s what he meant) such an initial approach is obviously prudent: Cupich is new to Chicago—I can only imagine it takes some time to get up to speed on the politics of that place.
If, on the other hand, Cupich critics are right (and they might be right, who knows yet?), namely, that the chief promoter of ecclesiastical discipline in the particular Church of Chicago (see Canon 392) has no intention of withholding holy Communion from persons who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin (see Canon 915), then, yes, the Church in Chicago has a serious problem on its hands.
In any case, might I suggest waiting a bit longer to find out and praying, in the meantime, that sound decisions are reached by those responsible to make them?
14. I guess one in three Americans don’t know a good thing when they see it (4 December 2014)
13. Distinguish civil marriage from sacramental? Of course. Divide them? No! (25 November 2014) in re Mark McCall.
12. Rusty Reno, “Marriage Pledge is not an imperative conscience” (24 November 2014), Reno’s retraction of part of his argument.
11. Does a ‘decent interval’ suffice to rehabilitate what is (allegedly) wrong? (23 November 2014) in re Matthew Schmitz.
10. Rusty Reno doubles down (21 November 2014).
9. Ad usum Catholicorum: more problems with Radner-Seitz (19 November 2014).
8. This is not a good time to look at canonical form, but then, when is a good time? (19 November 2014).
7. My red-line notes on Radner-Seitz (18 November 2014).
6. Rusty Reno’s bad penny (18 November 2014).
5. The wrong response to a demand not made (22 October 2014) in re Abp. Charles Chaput.
4. “The Church and Civil Marriage”, a First Things collection of essays, mine at p. 38 (April 2014).
3. Why the Church cannot walk away from ‘marriage’ (1 July 2013) in re Msgr. Charles Pope.
2. A primer on Church teaching regarding “same-sex marriage” (27 March 2013).
Attorney Mark McCall’s essay on New York marriage law offers another defense of the oddly-named “Marriage Pledge” that, I fear, fails to appreciate what the Pledge actually calls for and, worse, misconstrues the fundamental relationship between so-called civil marriage and Christian matrimony. Let me deal with the latter problem first for it goes to a central point of confusion.
Like so many Pledge supporters McCall thinks there is a categorical difference between marriage per the State and marriage per the Christian Church. Says McCall:
The differences between Christian and civil marriage in New York could hardly be more stark. Christian marriage is a lifelong union created by God between a man and a woman; New York civil marriage is a contract between any two eligible people—no bigamy or incest—with terms specified and amended from time to time by the legislature and courts of the state of New York.
Good grief. Where to start? How about with Catholic canon law that expressly recognizes marriage as a contract between legally eligible persons (c. 1058)? No? Okay, we’ll back up.
“Christian marriage” (I assume McCall means sacramental matrimony between two baptized persons) was not, repeat not, “created by God” if by “created” McCall means that God made something new for Christians out of a prior nothing, because that is not what He did; instead “Christian marriage” is the restoration of natural marriage by Jesus Christ to its pristine form and its elevation by Him to the status of a sacrament between baptized persons. “Christian marriage” does not destroy, replace, supplant, etc., natural marriage any more than baptism destroys, replaces, or supplants human nature; rather, “Christian marriage” perfects natural marriage between (and, to be clear, only between) Christian spouses. “Christian marriage” is a specification of natural marriage and not a radical other from it. For most of the world, “marriage” means natural marriage, and Christians married to non-baptized persons are in natural, not sacramental, marriages.
Now, natural marriage (without which there can be no matrimony!) is, among other things, possible only between a man and woman; thus, the occasion of the Pledge’s appearance, namely the rise of “same-sex marriage”, is first and foremost an affront to the natural law of marriage and it is on the grounds of human nature, not theology, that the Church opposes recognition of “same-sex marriage”. But taking seriously the nature of marriage in regard to the man-woman requirement means taking seriously other aspects of natural marriage, too, including the basic right of eligible persons to enter marriage as they see fit (before witnesses, to keep things simple), respecting the State’s power to serve as witness for men and women who choose to marry so, and acknowledging the State’s need to know who else has entered marriage as part of its duty to care for the common good.
Cutting directly to the chase: if a minister accepts as married a man and a woman who solemnized their wedding only before an official of the State, does not that minister necessarily accept the authority of the State to officiate at the so-called “civil marriage” of persons who exercise their natural right to enter marriage that way? And if the minister accepts such couples as truly married (as he should, though McCall avoids considering that scenario) then why on earth ought he suddenly refuse to inform the State that an eligible man and woman came before him and entered marriage?
Opposition to “same-sex marriage” must be grounded primarily on the nature of marriage and not on the theology of matrimony, but even the latter is threatened when, as McCall and others insist, “Christian marriage” is severed from its natural (or as it is sometimes expressed ‘civil’) foundations.
Which brings us to another problem with McCall’s defense of the Pledge, namely, his dismissal of a key objection to the Pledge (specifically, that it hypocritically calls upon the faithful to do something that ministers find objectionable). As dismissed by McCall: “Clergy taking the Marriage Pledge are leaving the distasteful actions to the couple rather than doing that work themselves and getting their hands dirty.” Okay, I’ll concede that Radner-Seitz never said that signing the form was “dirty”.
Instead, here’s what Radner-Seitz said: “To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage. Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties … We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates.” Now, c’mon, if that does not mean that, in Radner-Seitz’s view, a minister’s signing of “government-provided marriage certificates” is unacceptably to “implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage”, then I confess I don’t know what it means. But neither, I suspect, would anyone else.
So, Radner-Seitz, men of obvious principle, have declared that they can no longer in conscience (my term, but surely a fair description of the character of their call) sign any “government-provided marriage certificates” and they have invited others (presumably, others who care about the fate of marriage) to join in their refusal to “implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage” by signing said forms, only to immediately invite laity to sign those very same forms themselves!
I say it again, Good grief. + + +
PS: Responding piecemeal to the rash of poor thinking surrounding the Radner-Seitz Pledge is not a good use of my, or my readers’, time. I will therefore try to write an overview essay of points that, I think, must be understood by any who would effectively defend natural marriage and with it Christian matrimony against the assaults being levied by a world going mad. Deo volente. Given how little time I have to carve out for such a project, it will probably be too wordy.
Matthew Schmitz of First Things has offered some brief rebuttals to opponents of the Marriage Pledge. As probably the Pledge’s primary public critic (perhaps I exaggerate my influence), I see my objections to the Pledge (beginning here) only partially addressed by Schmitz and in one aspect, at least, Schmitz raises a straw-man objection to Pledge opponents’ views. Let’s deal with that first.
Schmitz dismisses any objections to the Pledge that he considers based on “clericalism”. Granted some are making a “clericalism” argument against the Pledge, but I am not: the term means too many things to too many people to be of practical use here. Still, Schmitz regards as “clericalism” any objections to the Pledge based on the hypocrisy that (I and others argue) it countenances when advising ministers to refuse to sign State marriage registrations forms to certify marriages to the State but allowing rank-and-file believers to sign those forms to certify marriages to the State. Now, if Schmitz wants to deny that such a call is hypocritical, fine, let him deny it, and the argument can proceed; but it is not sufficient for him to label such objections as mere “clericalism” and then dismiss said clericalism as being the ‘silliest of the silly’ objections, and as ‘amusing’ to boot, and so not worth refuting.
The one new twist I see in Schmitz’s defense of the Pledge is that all it really calls for is a kind of ‘decent interval’ between the religious wedding rite and the civil registration of the marriage as if, you know, allowing a few hours (or days? weeks? months? years?) to pass suffices to proof religious rites against contamination by certain states’ disastrous notion of marriage. Sorry, but a form still means what a form still says and if (I say if) it is inappropriate for a minister to sign it because doing so endorses “same-sex marriage” (or is in any other way an evil act) then it is inappropriate for the faithful to sign it for exactly the same reason. As for the myriad of practical and legal problems that will arise as soon as people begin allowing Schmitz’s ‘decent interval’ to morph into extended gaps between religious wedding rites and civil recognition of marriage, well, let’s just say, Schmitz is probably not a lawyer.
More fundamentally, however, Schmitz et al do not address—and indeed seem not even to be aware of!—some serious questions that the Pledge provokes for (a) ecumenical relations, important in themselves, but vital when considered in light of (b) understanding the nature and defending the doctrine of marriage. I have raised this concern before, but maybe a practical question might help Protestant ministers considering signing the Marriage Pledge: a couple comes into your pastorate, claims to be married, and presents a civil document for a j.o.p. wedding (from a state that uses those same forms to certify “same-sex marriage”). Do you recognize them as married, or not? Note, we Catholics would certainly recognize as married Protestants (and Jews, and Hindus, and Muslims, etc.) who come to our parishes and present only a signed j.o.p. license (even from a state that recognizes “same-sex marriage”) precisely because we regard the marriage contract and the matrimonial sacrament as inseparable (Canon 1055.2)! Is it not obvious that the Pledge inescapably involves understanding clearly what marriage is under natural law, and according to Christian doctrine, and as acknowledged between separated brethren? Schmitz et al seem unaware of these prior concerns.
Instead of alluding to these questions, all Schmitz seems to be able to muster is an invocation of the estimable Catholic thinkers George Weigel and Abp. Charles Chaput with a jibe to (Catholic?) Pledge opponents about whether they know what these men hold. Well, I can’t speak for other Pledge opponents, but this Catholic opponent of the Pledge certainly knows what these two prominent voices (along with that of Msgr Charles Pope) have urged, and I have directly and expressly responded to Weigel in 2012 here, Pope in 2013 here, and Chaput in 2014 here .
Maybe Schmitz did not know that. + + +