From The Hand of Fr. Aaron Ferris For December 16, 2018

We ended last week’s discussion on reception of the Eucharist by talking about participating at Mass. A question that follows on this is: how much of Mass do I have to be at for it to count (to fulfill my Sunday obligation)? The more colloquial version is: how late can I be to Mass for it to count’? A related question would be: when is it too late to receive the Eucharist?

These are important questions because there are realities that disrupt our lives. A flat tire makes you late for Mass. A baby blows out his diaper right when you are walking out the door. There are any number of realities that impede our life. We must be very careful, though, that the above questions arise because of these sorts of things and not from a desire to justify chronic tardiness.

There is no official ruling by the Church, but the standard theological approach is that (1) if you miss the Gospel you should not receive the Eucharist and (2) if you miss the Offertory you do not fulfill the obligation for participating at Mass.

There is a deep connection between the two parts of Mass, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In both parts we encounter Jesus, and, in fact, Jesus prepares us through the Liturgy of the Word to receive Him in the Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council talks about one table of the Word and of the Body. There is one Person behind both actions, both liturgical movements, and encountering Him in one prepares us to receive Him intimately in the next. If you arrive too late to encounter Him in the Word, then you are not prepared to approach Him in the more intimate encounter of the Eucharist.

It is also good to remember that you do not have to receive Communion to fulfill your Sunday obligation. The Church only obliges you to receive Communion once a year during the Easter Season (Easter to Pentecost). The Church says this in part because Mass isn’t just about us getting something. We gather to offer sacrifice to the Lord, to offer up anew the one sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

This brings us to the second point: if you miss the Offertory you do not fulfill your Sunday obligation. The central action of the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ made present on the altar and re-offered to God each day. This action is broken down into the Offertory (gathering and preparation of the gifts), the Consecration (Eucharist Prayer), and Communion (primarily the priest’s reception of Communion). To miss the Offertory means that you have missed your participation in offering up your life in union with the gifts of bread and wine. It means you have no participation in the sacrifice being offered.

The Offertory ends with the prayer after the priest washes his hands. The priests invites the people to pray “that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.” If you haven’t participated in that, you have missed an essential element of the sacrifice quite explicitly. Missing the sacrifice also means you have failed to fulfill your Sunday obligation (and Holy Day Obligation).

Again, the Church has not officially spoken on these issues, but these have been the general standards proposed, and with good reason. They are worth our consideration, even if they underlying issues are not relevant to us. They can help keep our attention focused on what truly matters.

Rev. Aaron Ferris
Rev. Aaron Ferris
Rev. Aaron R. Ferris Ordination Date: June 6, 2009 Pastor, St. Anthony Parish (Saranac) and St. Mary’s Parish (Lowell) 402 Amity Street Lowell, MI 49331 Phone: 616-897-9820
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