Question corner: Missing Mass while traveling and Confirmation for developmentally disabled
May 29, 2019
Q. Now is the time of year when I book a summer tour for my family. I always try for a place where I know there will be an accessible Saturday evening or Sunday Mass; although my intentions are good, sometimes I am not successful. We then go to Mass as soon as we can on the trip, or right away when we arrive home. Is it OK to go to Mass during the week to make up for an unintentional miss on Sunday?
A. If this happens only rarely, I think you are fine, and I admire that you want to “catch up” by attending Mass later. But what I would do – if you foresee that Sunday Mass will not be possible – is to talk to a priest ahead of time and get a dispensation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor” (No. 2181).
Relaxation and recreation are legitimate needs, but the Eucharist happens to be the one specific way that Jesus asked us to keep his memory alive, so I wouldn’t use this permission too often.
When I was in the seminary, one of the world’s pre-eminent moral theologians was a Redemptorist priest named Father Francis Connell. He had been dean of theology at The Catholic University of America and served as a peritus (expert) at the Second Vatican Council.
In 1965, in a book called More Answers to Today’s Moral Problems, Father Connell responded to the same question you ask. His answer was that, in the circumstances you indicate, someone would be justified in missing Mass, perhaps once or twice a year. (But he also said, “Certainly a person would not be excused from attending Mass merely because the journey to church would take an hour by car.”)
Q. Our son, age 24, has severe cognitive delays. Would he be able to be confirmed? What level of understanding is required?
A. Your son would certainly be able to be confirmed, and should be. Canon 889 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law states that the reception of this sacrament requires that “a person who has the use of reason be suitably instructed, properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises.”
But with regard to the developmentally disabled, the U.S. bishops’ Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities are even more expansive. Those guidelines, revised most recently in 2017, say that “persons who because of intellectual or developmental disabilities may never attain the use of reason can receive the sacrament of confirmation and should be encouraged either directly or, if necessary, through their parents, to receive it.”
This would be consistent with the thinking of Pope Francis, who has spoken strongly about the need to make the sacraments available to the disabled. In June 2016, he celebrated a Mass in St. Peter’s Square to mark the Church’s Year of Mercy. Persons with disabilities proclaimed the first two Scripture readings, including by using Braille, and several altar servers with Down syndrome assisted the pope.
The day before, the pontiff had held an audience for those whose work involves catechesis for the disabled; with regard to holy Communion for the developmentally disabled, the pontiff noted that some might object on the basis that recipients might not understand what they were doing. Opposing that view, Pope Francis explained, “We all have the same possibility of growing, moving forward, loving the Lord, doing good things.”
Referencing Pope Pius X, who ruled in 1910 that children as young as 7 years old could receive Communion, Pope Francis noted that “each one of us has a different way of understanding things. One understands one way and another in a different manner, but we can all know God.”
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.
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