Some Thoughts About Mass
Maybe it’s because I’m the Director of Liturgy for the Diocese of St. Augustine, but I get to answer an inordinate number of questions about Sunday Mass attendance as well as the celebration of Mass, in general. So, maybe it’s worth some time to share some of these questions and answers with you.
Is it okay to come late to Mass?
The general answer is no. The bishops at Vatican II made it clear that the two parts of Mass – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist – form one act of worship. Therefore, the faithful (clergy and laity) are to be at the whole Mass. Just as a priest cannot start Mass from “somewhere in the middle of the rite,” so everyone is expected to participate in the Mass from its beginning to the end.
Now if something happens that is beyond your control, for example, traffic congestion, true difficulty finding a parking spot, bad weather, then coming in late to Mass would be okay. What is never permitted is to come in late habitually. We are to form good habits, not reinforce bad ones.
Is it okay to leave Mass before it ends?
The easiest way to answer this would be to write, “See above.” However, there may be legitimate reasons for a person to leave Mass early. For example, if unknowingly you are in a celebration of the Mass that has gone much longer than usual AND there is a true need for you to leave early, then that would be acceptable. Such needs may include the care of an elderly or sick person. However, leaving Mass early is to be the exception, never the norm.
How late can I come in for Mass and still be able to receive Holy Communion?
The Church’s primary concern before this kind of question is answered would be, “Is the person ready to worthily receive Holy Communion?” The term many of us grew up hearing was being “in a state of grace.” This means that (1) a person is Catholic, (2) has been properly catechized to receive the Sacrament, (3), if married is so according to the laws of the Catholic Church and (4) has not committed any mortal sins without first going to the Sacrament of Penance.
Since the Mass is one act of worship, the minimum that has been considered is that a person must be at Mass in order to hear the whole of the Gospel. But, as mentioned before, this should not become a habit. Rather, we should always strive to worship God in the entirety of the Mass.