No, Mass Is Not “Canceled”

No, Mass Is Not “Canceled” March 20, 2020
Priest Celebrating Mass
Priest Celebrating Mass (CC0 Josh Applegate on Unsplash)

I’ve seen several posts indicating Masses are canceled due to coronavirus. That is simply not true. Public Masses have been suspended so priests are saying Masses without a congregation, but that is different from Mass being canceled.

I have unfortunately seen this error even from dioceses. One diocese had in big letters, “All Masses will be canceled throughout the diocese of [redacted] from Tuesday March 17…” This was odd as the next line was about how they would be live-streaming Masses from a parish and the cathedral, thus indicating Masses were celebrated without a congregation

All that is suspended is the congregation, not Mass. Plus suspended is a temporary lifting of one aspect, not a permanent removal of Mass as “canceled” might imply.

I think this distinction is important because it points to the value of the Mass in itself, not just for the community. Mass has an infinite value in itself. One line of St. John Paul II always struck me regarding Mass, especially when celebrating without a congregation: “The Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 8) Every Mass has infinite value as it is Jesus’ sacrifice represented. Thus, a Mass celebrated without a congregation is still valuable for the whole Church.

As every Mass is “celebrated on the altar of the world,” every Mass has the entire Church present in some way. Thus even if you cannot be at Mass physically, as a baptized believer in union with the Pope, you are present in some way. When you can’t attend Mass for whatever reason, the Church encourages participating virtually. The documents I read were older so suggested radio or TV, but I think online livestreams of Mass also apply they just weren’t foreseen when the documents were written decades ago. (I’m livestreaming Mass from my community’s chapel Tuesday to Sunday at noon during the COVID-19 shutdown.)

Many priests celebrate Mass without a congregation with some frequency. Each priest should try to say Mass daily, and for vacation, or his day off each week, a priest often does not have a congregation, but it helps him spiritually to still celebrate Mass. The Church has long held the value of a Mass with little to no congregation. I have celebrated Mass every day as a priest, which means on occasion it was a private Mass. Right now, my primary responsibility is to write a doctoral thesis in moral theology. I’m down with several nearby parishes as an alternate if they need help with Masses, but that means that I did not have a Mass with a congregation every day even before the shutdown. When I did not have some scheduled Mass like that, I would still say Mass either concelebrating with other priests (as my community does on our weekly community day and during vacation), or on my own.

Mass is re-living or re-presenting the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are called to live the whole Mass and not just treat it an extended intro to Communion. In Mass, we go through the whole paschal mystery. The end of the Eucharistic prayer, also known as the doxology, reminds us of the purpose of the Mass: “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.”

Let’s unite ourselves spiritually to all the Masses being celebrated during this pandemic. Jesus is asking all of us to grow in faith, to make many spiritual Communions, to hunger more for the Eucharist.

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