Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Monday 12 April |
Saint of the Day: St. Teresa of the Andes

What happens if a priest can’t continue Mass?

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 04/27/15


The tragic story of a priest who died at the start of Mass last Sunday raises the question of what happens in such circumstances.

The document De Defectibus, promulgated by Pope Pius V in the 16th century, offers this:

If before the Consecration the priest becomes seriously ill, or faints, or dies, the Mass is discontinued. If this happens after the consecration of the Body only and before the consecration of the Blood, or after both have been consecrated, the Mass is to be completed by another priest from the place where the first priest stopped, and in case of necessity even by a priest who is not fasting. If the first priest has not died but has become ill and is still able to receive Communion, and there is no other consecrated host at hand, the priest who is completing the Mass should divide the host, give one part to the sick priest and consume the other part himself. If the priest has died after half-saying the formula for the consecration of the Body, then there is no Consecration and no need for another priest to complete the Mass. If, on the other hand, the priest has died after half- saying the formula for the consecration of the Blood, then another priest is to complete the Mass, repeating the whole formula over the same chalice from the words Simili modo, postquam cenatum est; or he may say the whole formula over another chalice which has been prepared, and consume the first priest’s host and the Blood consecrated by himself, and then the chalice which was left half-consecrated.

You can read the whole document here.

More recently, Fr. Edward McNamara looked at the question a few years ago atZenit, approaching from  an angle that may be more familiar to contemporary Catholics, the priest shortage:

Several readers asked what should be done if there is no priest available to continue celebrating the Mass. While there is little to be found on such issues in modern books, older manuals of moral theology often deal with such issues and in many cases the underlying criteria involved remain valid today. Thus my present reply will be partly based on the eighth edition of a treatise of moral and pastoral theology first published by Father Henry Davis, SJ, in 1935. The reasons behind the practical conclusions offered is that the Church has never reduced the sacrificial character of the Mass just to the consecration and has always required that once the consecration of either species has taken place, the sacrifice of the Mass must be completed by the priest reciting the Eucharistic Prayer and making his communion. Thus the priest’s communion, while not essential to the real presence of Christ in the sacred species, is integral to the nature of the Mass as a sacrificial banquet. Even though it is possible for the faithful to receive Communion outside of Mass, the hosts thus consumed must be the fruit of a complete Mass. For this reason canon law (No. 927), in the strongest terms, forbids the consecration of both species outside of Mass or the consecration of one without the other even within Mass. This prohibition uses the Latin term “nefas,” a word used only four times in the code. The result is that there are practically no exceptions to this rule, not even in order to give Communion to someone in danger of death. With this in mind, we can say that 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.

Read more. 

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
11 Interesting facts about the late Prince Philip
Archbishop Georg Gänswein
I.Media for Aleteia
Gänswein: Benedict XVI expected to live only a few months after r...
Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ
A simple test to see if you really believe Christ is risen
Philip Kosloski
Why you can eat meat on Easter Friday
Here’s how to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday at home
Sister Bhagya
Saji Thomas-ACN
Catholic nun faces conversion charges in central India
John Burger
N.Y. Cardinal: “For God’s sake, get back to Mass̶...
See More