The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

When a priest can’t finish mass

File this under “Really Interesting Stuff Most Catholics Don’t Know.”

It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then a priest is unable to complete the holy sacrifice of the mass. What then?

Zenit, citing a theology manual from the 1930s, answers:

“Should a priest have to interrupt the Mass due to illness or another grave reason after he has consecrated either or both species — and is unlikely to be able to recover sufficiently within an hour — there is a grave obligation to have the celebration continued by another priest.

“In grave emergencies even a priest who has been excommunicated, suspended or otherwise irregular may finish the Mass.


“If the first priest is able to communicate he should be given communion from the species consecrated during the Mass.

“If no priest is immediately available, the hosts and the chalice (even if not yet consecrated) should be placed in the tabernacle until a priest can come to finish the Mass.

“The interval elapsing between the two parts may be of any duration but should be as soon as possible.

“If not-yet-consecrated wine were to spoil, or be certain to spoil, before a priest can come to consecrate it, then it may be poured down the sacrarium and replaced with new matter (wine and water) when the priest arrives.

“Only in very rare and extreme situations may the consecrated species of an interrupted Mass be consumed. Such occasions would be, for example, an imminent danger of profanation of the sacred species or the objective impossibility of safely keeping them, such as during wartime conditions or a climate where the species of wine would certainly become corrupt before a priest can come to complete the Mass.


“If the interruption were to occur before the consecration, with no priest to continue the celebration and no other Masses reasonably available, then a deacon, instituted acolyte or authorized extraordinary minister could distribute Communion from the tabernacle using the rite for Communion outside of Mass.

“If the interruption occurs after the priest’s communion, then the same ministers can administer the consecrated species to the faithful using the same rite.”

I find it fascinating that even an excommunicated priest, under some circumstances, can complete the mass.  

There’s more interesting stuff here.
Comments read comments(8)
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Nathaniel C.

posted June 24, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Interestingly enough, I have experienced this before, during an evening Mass on a weekday to fulfill a Holy Day of Obligation (though I can’t remember the feast in question). The celebrant had been to the dentist earlier in the day, and right in the middle of Mass had to run into the sacristy when his stomach turned in reaction to the lingering effects of the anaesthetic. Fortunately, the parish rector was at home at the rectory at the time; I was dispatched to fetch him, and he finished the Mass.

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Brendan McGrath

posted June 24, 2010 at 5:15 pm

This is earlier than the 1930s, isn’t it? Isn’t this from De Defectibus in the Tridentine altar missal, i.e., from 1570 or somewhere around there?

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Viator Catholicus

posted June 24, 2010 at 9:14 pm

“a deacon, instituted acolyte or authorized extraordinary minister could distribute Communion from the tabernacle using the rite for Communion outside of Mass.”
This part is certainly not from the 1930’s, since under the pre-1981 code of Canon Law, the deacon himself was an “extraordinary” minister of Holy Communion. Moreover, there was no such thing as an “instituted” acolyte since acolytes were ordained to minor orders.

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Fr Eric

posted June 25, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Good observation Viator. I had learned that another priest could finish the Mass. Interestingly, the documentation of the 1930s probably comes from reported experiences in parts of the world where priests and faithful had to delay the continuance of the Mass for fear of martyrdom in parts of Europe or Mexico.
Little different scenario, bot related.
Twice, I have seen priests make a decision to finish the Mass after they had begun the consecration: a bomb scare on a college campus; an impending tornado. In both cases the majority of the faithful “got outta Dodge” but the priest finished the Mass.

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Fr Eric

posted June 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Oops, that is to say, twice in extreme and dangerous situations, when the Mass could have been delayed for a considerable length of time.

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posted June 26, 2010 at 6:09 pm

The advertisement beliefnet displayed before showing this article is terrible. It is for a pornographic HBO show about a male prostitute, titled “Hung”. The ad shows an apparently unclad man, the star of the show lying on his back, with the arms of a woman who’s is straddling him in flagrant delecti visible holding him down by the shoulders.
Deacon, with all due respect, you might want to examine the company you keep, and expose your readers to, by posting your articles on this site.
Another irony, the “captcha” words protecting the site from spam are “mighty bedsore”.
[I know. From time to time, things like that slip through. My editors have asked me to advise them when inappropriate advertising content pops up on my blog, so they can remove it. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to do that on a weekend. I will say, however, that they have always been responsive and respectful of my wishes in this area. I’ll also note that the exact same ad appears on thousands of buses traveling through New York City right now, so evidently the MTA isn’t bothered by it…and that’s my tax dollars at work! Dcn. G.]

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posted June 29, 2010 at 9:32 am

Part of the material quoted from Fr. Henry Davis’ manual in the Zenit article comes from the “De Defectibus;” but much of it comes from other source(s). Some of the material may be original to Fr. Davis. I would note, in particular, that the allowance for an excommunicated or suspended priest’s completing an interrupted mass when no other priest is available does not appear in the “De Defectibus.”
I would also note that a portion of the translation from the part of “De Defectibus” contained in the quotation is incomplete and, consequently, vague. The quotation states that “if the first priest is able to communicate, [then] he should be given communion from the species consecrated during the mass.” The translation leaves out the clause explaining that the reason for giving him communion is so that both priests celebrating the mass will have participated in the communion of the priest. A single consecrated host is, in fact, to be divided between the two priests (“dividat hostiam, et unam partem praebeat infirmo, aliam ipse sumat”). Father McNamara indicates the importance of this communion when he writes in the Zenit article cited that “the priest’s communion is necessary for its [i.e., the mass’] completeness [sic] as a sign of sacrifice.” The paschal lamb was slaughtered, in part, to be consumed (see Exod. 12:8).

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