This past Sunday in church, I told my people that everyone had to attend Mass twice this weekend (Sat-Mon). The diocese instructed us to this effect, as directed by the US Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship.
One dear lady approached me at the church door after Mass to tell me that she would have to cancel a breakfast. She proclaimed her perfect willingness to do so, in order to fulfill her obligation to God.
She and I didn’t really have time to talk at length, so I don’t know exactly what her plans had been. I can only presume that she had intended to go to Mass on Sunday evening. That would mean going to Mass on Sunday. And it would mean going to Mass for Christmas. All at once. (I can’t imagine that she is the only one with such intentions.)
Now, as I said, I counseled the people according to the instructions given by the diocese. So you can’t call me disobedient. But I don’t agree with the instructions. I think the dear lady’s plans were fine.
The principle operating in the diocese’s instructions (informed by the teaching of the Divine Worship Committee) is this: You simply cannot fulfill two obligations to attend Mass by attending one Mass.
To which I would say, Why not?
Maybe it would be better if…
- Everybody wanted to go to Mass twice, or
- The ancient custom of the Vigil Mass of Christmas had not become a way of fulfilling the obligation to celebrate Christmas in church.
But: the law isn’t about what everybody should want to do. It’s about what everyone has to do, whether you want to do it or not.
And, for good or ill, the Vigil Mass of Christmas does, in our day and age, fulfill the obligation to celebrate Christmas in church. I don’t think the ancient originators of the Vigil Mass of Christmas would have understood it that way–but that’s not the issue, either.
The issue is: Can one Mass fulfill two obligations? Much greater authority than I possess lies behind the answer No. But the question does remain open (never solved definitively by the Apostolic See), so I offer my opinion.
The answer No seems to me to proceed from an unsafe presupposition. That presupposition is: The spiritual good which accrues to the faithful Catholic who attends Mass is something that the governing authority of the Church can quantify, at least to some extent. We can at least quantify that good of attending Mass so as to be able to say without doubt that two is definitely better than one. I would answer that: In the reality of the spiritual lives of our people, it’s just not that simple. I don’t think it makes sense to try to quantify the spiritual good accruing to the attendance of Mass.
Meanwhile, on the other hand: We have the simple fact that, this year, in most of the parishes in the United States, it will be possible to attend Mass on Sunday on Christmas Eve. No moral judgment about it; no quantifying of any spiritual good accruing to the attendance of Mass. Just a simple fact. It’s possible.
I think the more prudent pastoral approach would be to leave it at that.