ROME, JULY 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Should a school classroom be used for the celebration of Mass when the parish church is close enough for children to get to easily, and the church (or a smaller chapel within it) is available? -- S.H., Lancashire, England
A: The overarching principles in question are quite clear as indicated by the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 108:
"The celebration of the Eucharist is to be carried out in a sacred place, unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise. In this case the celebration must be in a decent place. The diocesan Bishop shall be the judge for his diocese concerning this necessity, on a case-by-case basis."
This would indicate a clear preference toward using the chapel as often as possible.
The first sentence of this instruction is a direct quote of Canon 932.1 of the Code of Canon Law.
The second sentence, referring to the diocesan bishop's judgment on a case-by-case basis, for all practical purposes harks back to the situation found in the equivalent canon of the 1917 Code which always required the bishop's permission to celebrate outside of a sacred place.
Most comments on the reformed code had considered that the decision now rests with the individual priest but this, apparently, was not the mind of the legislator.
However, I believe that the bishop's case-by-case judgment does not necessarily mean that he has to grant permission for each individual celebration. The bishop could grant a habitual permission covering certain frequently occurring circumstances in the diocese and allow pastors and chaplains to decide when these circumstances are met.
Such would be the case for Masses celebrated in places such as hospitals and retirement homes that have no specific chapel.
In the case of classroom Masses the bishop could discuss along with pastors the relative advantages and disadvantages of celebrating Mass outside of a sacred space for the sake of the children.
While proximity to the church is clearly a factor to be weighed, it is not the only factor. Teachers should be consulted as to whether moving the children to the chapel might cause disciplinary problems. Another factor would be if the children are more likely to be distracted in unfamiliar surroundings such as the chapel or more concentrated on the Mass itself in their habitual classroom.
The answer might vary even within different age levels of a single school. It might be more profitable for some grades to go to the church and for others to remain in the classroom.
Another question to be taken into account is the frequency of the Masses. If the Mass is a sporadic or annual event, then I believe that classroom Masses cause no special problem.
If, however, the children attend Mass at school on a regular basis, then it is better to habituate them to go to a sacred space specifically reserved for that purpose. I would even say that if the parish church is unavailable, then, as far as possible, a room should be set aside as an oratory. Or at least the Masses should be held in an especially worthy space, rather than a regular classroom.
Therefore it is not just a question of liturgical law but also a pastoral question regarding the best means of introducing children to the Mass as well as to other practices of genuine Christian piety.
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Follow-up: A Commentator's Role
Related to our piece on commentators (June 24), a Texas reader mentioned a specific situation: "I attended a Catholic Church in which after receiving the holy Eucharist, the priest would stand and ask the congregation if they had any Good News for that week. He would state that people could talk about anything they wished to share. This would lead into all sorts of comments from the congregation, from a visit from an aunt to a child going potty for the first time. Upon questioning, the priest he said it came under "announcements." Is this permissible to occur during the sacred liturgy?"
While "announcements" is a fairly broad concept and can cover a fairly wide range of matters, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 90, laconically states that following the prayer after Communion there may be "Brief announcements if they are necessary."
It is hard to consider the "announcements" heard by our reader as being very necessary, or even very useful.
Announcements are usually conceived as brief communications referring to the life of the parish, diocese or the Church in general. They usually cover such themes as upcoming retreats, courses, parish and diocesan events, special collections or prayer intentions, and occasionally some particular need of a parishioner.