Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest
With a decline in the number of priests in our Diocese, extraordinary situations may arise where "in the judgment of the diocesan bishop, it is not practical or possible for the community to participate in the celebration of Mass in a church nearby" (SCAP n. 14). In these situations, pastors may obtain permission from the bishop for a "Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest," which will ideally be led by a deacon.
All priests and deacons should familiarize themselves both with the USCCB's approved text for this ritual, updated in 2007, and with the Diocese of New Ulm's policy "Holy Eucharist 13," dated June 28, 2011. Some basic points regarding Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest (SCAP) are outlined below.
Who authorizes the use of Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest?
- Only the bishop has authority to approve and regulate the use of SCAP.
- If a pastor foresees a need for the use of SCAP, he may petition the bishop for permission. The pastor is responsible to ensure the integrity of the celebration, except in case of emergency where someone else may be appointed.
Who may preside over the celebration?
- A deacon presides over such celebrations whenever possible.
- When no deacon is available, "upon the request and recommendation by the pastor, the bishop may appoint lay persons, who may be religious, as lay leaders of prayer, who are entrusted with the care of preparing and directing these celebrations" (SCAP n. 26). These lay leaders of prayer will be appointed by the bishop for a term of five years, and receive proper training to fulfill this role.
When is it permissible to hold a Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest?
According to current policy in the Diocese of New Ulm, the following conditions may be occasions for the use of SCAP:
- Death or illness of the priest
- Death or emergency in the priest's family
- Unsuccessful attempts to find a replacement during serious commitments elsewhere
- Other emergency conditions according to pastoral need
- When weather conditions make it impossible for the priest to be present
- When it is not practical or possible for the community to participate in the celebration of Mass in a church nearby (SCAP n. 14)
Further specifications are made by the rite for SCAP, n. 15:
- "There should normally be only one liturgical assembly of this kind in each place on any given Sunday," even if the parish has multiple Mass times.
- "One of these services may never be held in a location where Mass has been celebrated that weekend."
- "Because of the emphasis on Sunday as the Lord's Day, such liturgical celebrations should be held on Sunday."
Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest should be held in the church where Sunday Mass normally takes place. Again, "one of these services may never be held in a location where Mass has been celebrated that weekend," or where Mass is being celebrated at a nearby parish at a similar time. Certain distinctions in the use of the church space make it clear to the faithful that what they are celebrating is not a Mass.
- The presider's chair is not used, even by a deacon, "as a symbol that the community awaits the presence of the priest" (SCAP n. 24)
- The altar should only be approached at the time of Holy Communion, because of its central role in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (SCAP n. 36)
- A lay person must take greater caution to ensure that he or she is not "seen as presiding over the celebration in the same way as a priest or deacon." To aid in this endeavor, it is most ideal for the lay person to lead the prayer from among the faithful (SCAP n. 36).
The rite for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest gives three forms that the Sunday celebration may take:
- Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion (preferred option in our Diocese)
- Morning Prayer with Holy Communion
- Evening Prayer with Holy Communion
The rite should be celebrated according to the rubrics listed in Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest. If not enough hosts are present in the tabernacle so that the faithful may receive communion, a Liturgy of the Word or Liturgy of the Hours may still be celebrated so that the faithful may not be deprived of Christ's presence in his Word and the assembly of his people.