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If we can’t have Mass…


Christians have always gathered together to give praise to God on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection. In this they carry out Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me.” We know that Christ is always present when the faithful come together, and whenever we gather for Eucharist it is the whole Body of Christ that gathers, with Christ as head and us as his members.

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The priest who leads the baptised in worship is part of the assembly by virtue of his baptism and presider by virtue of his ordination. Sometimes he prays on behalf of the assembly, sometimes he speaks or acts on behalf of Christ, and sometimes he speaks on his own behalf, but any act of liturgical worship is always ‘an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ…performed by the entire Body of Christ, that is, by the head and his members’. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #7) During the extraordinary mystery of the Eucharist the ordinary elements of bread and wine are taken, blessed, broken and given, transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ, to be received as spiritual nourishment by those present.

What happens when there is no priest to preside? We continue to gather on the day of the Lord’s resurrection, but we celebrate a Liturgy of the Word, followed, where possible, with distribution of holy Communion. The main focus in such a liturgy is God’s word. Through the readings from Scripture we are drawn again into the great story of God’s boundless love for us, the story of our salvation. We continue to be reminded that, as God’s own people, we are commissioned to carry out our mission of building up the community and bringing God’s love to the world. However, the actions of taking, blessing, and breaking, that are integral to the Liturgy of the Eucharist do not take place, and so we cannot receive back the gifts that have been offered and transformed; we can only share in a distribution of what was consecrated at an earlier Mass.

And so we can say that for a celebration of the Eucharist (Mass) focus is on the lectern and the altar, while for a celebration of the Word, focus is on the lectern and the tabernacle. For this reason, it is important that at Sunday Eucharist people receive hosts consecrated at that Mass, to clearly show that holy Communion is a result of the combined action of Christ, the head and members assembled together, and the Holy Spirit, whose power we call upon to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

Who leads a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion? If we have a deacon in our parish, then he will lead. If not, then lay leaders appointed by the Archbishop are publicly commissioned to lead the prayers, proclaim the Word and give holy Communion. Before they can begin this ministry they must be trained for this role, especially if they are to give a reflection on the scriptures. These lay leaders need the full support of the parish community, since it is a great responsibility to be put in the position of leading the parish in Sunday worship.

Those Ministers of the Word, Extraordinary Ministers of holy Communion and musicians who have particular roles during Sunday Eucharist will continue to carry out these roles during a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion.

Those who take Communion to the sick and homebound after Mass can continue to do this following a Liturgy of the Word.

The Mass remains the proper way for Catholics to celebrate Sunday and no other celebration will ever equal or replace it. However, when Mass is not possible then the next best option is to gather to be nourished by God’s word and to build up the community as it carries out its mission in the wider world.

For information about formation in Liturgy of the Word with holy Communion, contact Office for Worship: 8210 8130 or

Dr Jenny O’Brien is Liturgy Educator with the Office for Worship, Adelaide.



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