Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest

February 17th, 2010, Promulgated by Dr. K

In a post earlier today, we mentioned that Church of the Assumption held a “Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest” in place of its 4 PM Saturday vigil Mass (not the first time they have had one of these). You may view the video online. When I watched the video, I asked myself, “Is this appropriate and necessary?” Not knowing much about the norms surrounding such services, I didn’t think further about the topic. A post just now from a reader inquiring about these Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest (SCAP) pressed me into looking at what the Church has to say about such services.

First, you may want to watch the video here.

A layperson speaks at the beginning explaining why Assumption is having a SCAP instead of a priest-led Mass. Here is what she says:
“[The priest who would normally preside was]…stranded in Atlanta yesterday. God-willing, he is getting on a plane shortly down there, but he was in an extremely long line trying to get things changed. Deacon Bob will be leading this service. We will be having Holy Communion and we have followed diocesan procedures in situations where we… emergency situations such as this where we can not have a priest to celebrate Mass.”

Let’s take a look at the source for such a religious service, the “Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.” Here are passages of interest that appear to have not been considered by Church of the Assumption prior to holding this priest-less service:

The very first condition under which such a SCAP service is permitted is “18. Whenever and wherever Mass cannot be celebrated on Sunday, the first thing to be ascertained is whether the faithful can go to a church in a place nearby to participate there in the eucharistic mystery. At the present time this solution is to be recommended and to be retained where it is in effect; but it demands that the faithful, rightly imbued with a fuller understanding of the Sunday assembly, respond with good will to a new situation.”

It appears that if there is another Mass being offered nearby, then such a service would prove unnecessary. St. Joseph in Penfield, which according to Mapquest is a mere eight minutes away from Church of the Assumption, has a Mass at 5 PM on Saturday. This would allow the people of Assumption who wanted to attend a Saturday vigil Mass plenty of time to go over to St. Joseph. There are also St. John of Rochester, Church of the Resurrection, St. Jerome, and St. Louis within reasonable driving distances of ten minutes or less.

Additionally, the following issue is also present:

“21. It is imperative that the faithful be taught to see the substitutional character of these celebrations, which should not be regarded as the optimal solution to new difficulties nor as a surrender to mere convenience. Therefore a gathering or assembly of this kind can never be held on a Sunday in places where Mass has already been celebrated or is to be celebrated or was celebrated on the preceding Saturday evening, even if the Mass is celebrated in a different language. Nor is it right to have more than one assembly of this kind on any given Sunday.”

If one watches the other Assumption videos for this past weekend, it can be seen that they had Masses the following day… three of them in fact. The document states that a SCAP service may not be celebrated if there is to be a Mass celebrated there.

I find it hard to believe that not only was it impossible for Fr. Palumbos or Fr. Loncle to offer this liturgy, but that the Assumption leadership was unable to locate a fill-in priest for one Mass. St. Joseph, which is again only eight minutes away, has four priests in residence. Surely one of these men could have offered Mass at Assumption. These SCAP services are intended for emergency situations when there is no priest available to offer Mass, not just out of convenience for the people who attend.

Simply put, a Communion Service is not a worthy substitute for the Holy Mass. These services present one a great potential for disaster, as such services could be abused so as to give the laity a chance to “lead” worship on a regular basis (hint: Women’s Ordination Conference members playing priest). I encourage all to be on watch for this, especially in the Diocese of Rochester.

If one thinks that they have satisfied their Sunday obligation by attending this service at Assumption, read the following from Ecclesiae de Mysterio:

“For the same reasons, it should be emphasised for the benefit of those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the eucharistic Sacrifice and that the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy days is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass.

Now, I am no canonist, but based on this passage, it sounds as though the people who attended did not satisfy their Sunday obligation to attend Holy Mass.

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8 Responses to “Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest”

  1. Why do you think it fulfills the Sunday obligation? Mass is offered the following day at the same parish. Other Masses are offered within a very short time of the cancelled Mass and within a very short distance of the Church.

    Attending Mass is not an impossibility under any of those conditions.

    These communion services are for places where there is no other Mass for extensive times (days or weeks) and great distances.

    This is clearly an abuse. Someone wanted to play "priest"

  2. Dr. K says:

    I agree that this is an abuse given the circumstances and wide availability of Masses in the area. I've read through a lot of old Assumption bulletins, and I remember seeing a S.C.A.P. service mentioned before. Thus, this does not appear to be isolated.

    Yes, you are right about these services not fulfilling one's Sunday obligation. Ecclesiae de Mysterio says:

    "For the same reasons, it should be emphasised for the benefit of those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the eucharistic Sacrifice and that the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy days is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass."

    Thus, these people, it appears, failed to fulfill their obligation to attend Mass on Sunday given that Mass was celebrated there the following day, and was widely available in the area.

    ~Dr. K

  3. RochChaCha says:

    OMG……this is awful. What the heck is the cantor doing at the beginning of mass telling the parishoners how to sing the Alleluia? That was just ridiculous, not to mention how silly she sounded. And who is this person giving the reflection? I noticed that the ordained deacon did not even both starting the homily and then handing off the reflection, just grabbed the poor old lady by the ears, blessed her, and she started with the homily. This church is getting bolder by the minute. Guess we have to wait almost three more years for our new Bishop to put the smackdown on these parishes who love to outright disobey church law.

  4. Dr. K says:

    Indeed, Rochacha. There is a reason why we focus on certain parishes more than others here at Cleansing Fire.

    I also would like to offer a correction; Assumption has three priests on staff, not two as was stated in the lay preaching article.

    ~Dr. K

  5. You can simply avoid all of this by going to either the Tridentine Latin Mass at St. Stanislaus or Our Lady of Victory. Save your faith by driving the extra few minutes to either of these churches.

  6. Bernie says:

    I tried to watch the video but I could not stand singing lesson the cantor gave before the start of the service. (I'm sure she's a lovely person, talented and dedicated but…) I would have been out of there in a minute.

    Dr. K, you are right on in your assessment. There was absolutely no justification for a communion service. It was a "teaching moment", lost. Worse, it instilled in the parishioners the exact opposite of what the regulations were meant to avoid –substituting a communion service for a Sunday Mass.

    The pastor really should offer an apology in the bulletin and spell out where the staff –with the best of intentions– went wrong. I bet he doesn't, though, and I bet instead he offers an overflowing "thank you" to all involved for covering for him.

    In charity,let's hope those responsible –perhaps anxious and hurried– failed to consider all the regulations and not just the "Who does what?" for a communion service. (Although it appears they may have got that wrong, too.)

  7. Rob says:

    Deni Mack gave the entire homily, the deacon didn't say a word. I get the feeling that this whole thing was intentional. They easily could have gotten a priest, told the parishioners to go to another parish, or told them to come for Mass tomorrow. Remember, Corpus Christi used to do the same things. Mary Ramerman would lead Communion Services on Sunday just so she could act like a priest every once in a while.

  8. Anonymous says:


    You did a good job of documentation and analysis. Actually, I am a bit surprised that Deni Mack only homilized and didn't lead the entire service. As a deacon, I once had to lead a Communion Service on a Holy Day of Obligation. Our only priest (for three parishes in a rural area) was away on retreat and the retired substitute priest did not show up. After trying to contact him, the congregation waited rather patiently for at least twenty minutes after the posted time for this only Mass in our cluster. I then decided to lead a (litugically correct) service for the people. The sole alternative was having no service available for the congregation. The "nearby" parishes had already celebrated their Masses by that time or they were already in progress and would be over before any of our parishioners could have gotten to them even if seriously breaking the speed limit. All this being said, however, the impossibility of attending Mass that day released the parishioners from their obligation. That is, they were free to leave. This is one reason why a SCAP is the LAST POSSIBLE solution.

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