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Communion After a Livestreamed Mass

Date: February 17, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Q: I am confused and somewhat concerned about watching a virtual Mass on television or a computer, and then driving by one’s parish to receive Communion. Are there Church documents, or is there a precedent to support this practice? 

A: There is clearly no precedence involved since we are in the midst of a totally new situation. However, there are clear principles involved.

First, the Church’s sacramental rites, by their very nature, always require personal participation.

This has been determined by several interventions of the magisterium regarding the impossibility of carrying out the sacrament of reconciliation either by telephone or through the Internet. Although the sacrament of matrimony may occasionally be carried out by proxy without the simultaneous presence of the couple, the physical presence of the delegate is always required to receive the vows.

With respect to online Masses, in recent months several bishops (for example, the archbishop of Manila in the Philippines) have reminded priests of the norm in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 59, that “if no other suitable reader is present, the Priest Celebrant should also proclaim the other readings as well.” This was said to preclude priests from asking those following the Mass online to read the lessons, thus compromising the physical integrity of the celebration. This is a practical application of the general principle regarding the physical unity of a celebration.

Therefore, following a Mass on streaming is a good thing and a profitable spiritual experience, but it does not constitute full personal participation in the celebration. It is something analogous to making a spiritual communion.

Therefore, following such a Mass does not give rise to being able to receive Communion with no further ritual acts.

At least hypothetically a parish could invite those who have followed an online Mass to participate in a briefer scheduled communion service; but all the elements of the prescribed rite for communion outside of Mass must be followed even though the service will last just about 10 to 15 minutes.

There is certainly nothing foreseen implying a drive-through service for Communion.

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Question answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

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