DSCAP 21-22: It’s a Substitute

The Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest parrots a frequent party line in these Chapter II paragraphs:

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. (Cf. Paul VI, Address to bishops of Central France, 26 March 1977: AAS 69 (1977); “Proceed judiciously, but without multiplying this type of Sunday assembly, as though it were the ideal solution and the last chance.”)

This rather overlooks the quality of grace, the ever-present God in the midst of human workings, and the inability of individuals or organizations to induce it by their own abilities. The Church lays down the law:

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.

Emergency situations often get a pass from some bishops–the priest is sick, travel was prevented. Suppose a parish celebrates multiple Masses on Sunday. How often does the bishop send a priest to cover a sickness? Or come himself?

22. Any confusion between this kind of assembly and a Eucharistic celebration must be carefully avoided. Assemblies of this kind should not take away but rather increase the desire of the faithful to take part in the celebration of the Eucharist, and should make them more eager to be present at the celebration of the Eucharist.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it works for clerics who can or cannot celebrate Mass at their own option. Communities without a resident priest, far less so. Most urban or rural parishes I know appreciate the celebration of Mass when they get it. They also have the community memory of when their community was served by a resident pastor. Parishes also know that clergy staffing is based on diocesan priorities. A small parish can generate several vocations that result in active priests. No small parish will guarantee it gets an assignment.

That said, there is an undeniable charism present when a faith community of any size gathers for any God-centered purpose. A deacon or lay person might bring certain qualities in her or his leadership. Sometimes there are qualities that surpass the abilities of many priests.

Documents like this would have benefitted from a wider consultation and more understanding of the real situation in certain communities.

Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest English translation © 1988, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to DSCAP 21-22: It’s a Substitute

  1. Liam says:

    ” . . . there is an *undeniable charism* present when a faith community of any size gathers for any God-centered purpose.” {emphasis added}

    What is it? You follow with examples of qualities that a person may – or may not – provide in the circumstance, closer to what people think of as individual charism, but not as a community charism.

    The community charism, perhaps, is that God promises to speak to it through the Word and hear its prayer as a community. Individual charisms may or may not manifest in the ritual (especially because ritual by its very nature, for good and ill, does not offer much room for individual improvisation); that’s more subjective (and different from the sacramental charism of confecting sacraments themselves, which is objective in nature, ex opere operato and all that jazz).

  2. Defining charism as a gift of grace, and not a particular quality of people, there is the promise of the gathering of two or more in the name of Jesus. The Lord did not confine this reminder to the gathering for Mass. The presence of Christ would be the foundational charism for any Christian gathering. It would for anything from a WYD Mass for hundreds of thousands, to the visit of a Communion minister to a sick person. Or even a non-sacramental encounter of two people praying and studying the Bible.

    My impatience with the line of thought presented here is with a few things. First, the lack of consultation, especially with leaders in mission lands. Second, the staffing priorities in many dioceses–choices that sometimes reinforce clerical privilege at the price of sacramental presence in the peripheries. Third, the assumption people are “confused” about a lay person or deacon presiding at a Communion service. Catholics know what a Mass is. And if someone doesn’t, there is likely a deeper catechetical ignorance in play. Fourth, when people express something of a preference for a skilled and pastoral leader above a sacramental priest who may lack certain abilities–that just shows that people are being fed by things in addition to the sacraments. A stinging preference that may well reflect on the bishop and/or his predecessors.

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