I usually try to create content that is evergreen -- as they say in the blogging world -- that can be useful to people for many years. I sincerely hope that this post is not useful for too long, that soon churches will be open, Masses will be public again and we, the faithful, will never again face the long-term prospect of being unable to attend Mass and participate in the Eucharist. But, for the next few weeks anyway, that’s exactly the situation in which many of us find ourselves.
So, how shall we participate in the Mass from home?
It’s important to note here that we are obligated to participate in the Mass when we are able to do so. We are never obliged to do what isn’t possible. Many of us are not able to attend Mass because public Masses are not being celebrated. Many of us also have been formally dispensed by our bishops from the obligation to attend Mass. In these cases, we are excused completely from our Mass obligation and do not have to do anything as a substitute.
However, most of us very much want to unite ourselves and our children to God and the Catholic Church during these trying times. And regardless of our ability to attend Mass, Sunday is still Sunday, and every Sunday -- even a quarantine Sunday --is the Lord’s Day.
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, the performance of the works of mercy and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service legitimately can excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life and health. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2185)
So let’s assume that we all want to observe Sunday to the best of our abilities -- in consideration of our circumstance -- and not encourage any prejudicial habits in ourselves and our children.
I think the language is important here. Canon law tells us that on Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. (Canon 1247)
The words used are “participate” and in other places “assist.” Mass is supposed to be an action for us, not something that happens passively in front of us. That’s enough of a challenge when we are at a church surrounded by the community of believers. How can we get that feeling at home?
I’ve seen it recommended -- pretty much universally -- that if we are prevented from attending Mass in person, we should watch a Mass on TV. Maybe that would work for you, and if so, carry on. But my big kids watch TV like slack-jawed, glassy-eyed zombies, and my little kids watch TV for about four minutes before they get bored with it and wander off. TV just doesn’t command their participation.
Also, I have this concern that all this suggestion that Mass on TV is a good substitute for actual Mass is going to be confusing to people long term and will have unintended consequences -- but maybe that’s just my own preference against screens for religious purposes.
The suggestion in canon law is that if participation in the Eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families. (Canon 1248)
I think what’s going to work for our family is to lean into this time of cloistered family life as a way to strengthen our domestic Church, and to actively participate in the sacrifice of the Mass as much as possible -- especially on Sundays.
We’re going to get dressed in our Sunday best and come together as a family as we would usually come together as a community. We have a home chapel, so that’s where we’ll be, but wherever in your home you usually pray as a family (or if you don’t have that spot yet, no time like the present to pick one) ideally in front of a crucifix or other religious image.
We will light candles, blessed by a priest on Candlemas. We’ll sing a hymn.
For the prayers of the Mass, we will read from the Magnificat. We have subscribed to the Magnificat for 10 years and really love it. They are offering free online access to everyone during this crisis, but I highly, highly recommend subscribing to the physical version, as well. We also subscribe to MagnifiKid for our children. It’s available online, as well. Here is the complete March issue and here is April. Again, I really recommend subscribing.
Any time we are not able to receive the Eucharist, we make an Act of Spiritual Communion. This is the one we use, recommended by St. Josemaria and used by him since childhood. (See it in his own handwriting here.)
I wish, my Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility and devotion with which your most holy mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints.(By Father Cayetano de San Juan Bautista, Pamplona Spain, 1800)
Here is another version:
I believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment
receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace
You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
It’s important to remember that, contrary to the language often being used, Masses are not cancelled. Masses are occurring everywhere, all over the world. It’s just that in many places, the faithful are not allowed to attend those Masses. Your pastor, along with every priest you know, is saying a Mass today, attended by the angels. He is saying it with you in mind and for your intentions. We can and should unite ourselves to those Masses.
A good way to do this any time (not just pandemic time) is to make a morning offering each morning.
O my Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer thee all my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, for all the intentions of thy Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered through out the word, in reparation for my sins and for all the intentions of the Holy Father. Amen. (Available as a free printable here, or alongside dozens of other useful daily prayers and devotions in the Catholic All Day booklet, available as a printable download here, or as a paperback from Amazon here. And also in a Star Wars-ish version here.)
So, from our home, we are going to do our best to actively participate in the Mass, being offered by our priests. I’m not officially ruling anything out, but we are probably not going to rely on the TV as an aid ever. Instead we’ll be doing the prayers and readings for the day’s Mass at home as a family, using the Magnificat.
Is it going to be perfect and reverent at every moment? Nope. Is it worth doing anyway? Yes. I don’t know about you, but our Masses at church aren’t perfect and reverent at every moment either. Will there be complaining? Probably not, because by this point, my kids are pretty used to the way we roll. They actually like to “play Mass” sometimes.
I do not recommend using corn chips and cranberry juice -- or anything else -- as a substitute for the Eucharist in a family prayer service when one cannot attend Mass.
Anyway, I can certainly imagine there would have been some pushback in earlier days. If I faced that now, I’d explain why this is so important, and why we really have to make an effort, especially in these altered circumstances, to make Sunday feel like a day set apart for God. And I’d also remind them that I’m in charge of Lenten Sunday screens and treats.