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Celebrating Mass Without Candles

Date: March 1, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Q: As an elderly retired priest who offers daily Mass in my apartment, I suffer from severe allergies to fragrances. Burning candles give off a fragrance that causes health problems. Is it permitted to offer Mass not using candles? 

A: As far as I am aware there are no specific laws regarding allergic reactions to candles.

However, the Church does tend to accommodate priests and faithful who suffer from specific physical difficulties that impinge on living their spiritual lives.

Thus, for example, The Code of Canon Law covers some cases of priests with physical limitations. To wit:

"Can. 930 §1. If an infirm or elderly priest is unable to stand, he can celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice while seated, but not before the people except with the permission of the local ordinary; the liturgical laws are to be observed.

"§2. A blind or otherwise infirm priest licitly celebrates the eucharistic sacrifice by using any approved text of the Mass with the assistance, if needed, of another priest, deacon, or even a properly instructed lay person."

These canons specifically refer to priests celebrating alone. Today, some of the difficulties addressed can also be resolved through concelebration.

With respect to celebrating while seated, the code allows the infirm priest to decide himself if his condition merits doing so while celebrating Mass alone or with one or few attendants. If celebrating publicly, he requires the bishop’s permission.

I believe that the same basic rule would apply in the case of omitting or substituting gestures such as genuflections when a priest is impeded by some physical limitation. Even young priests can sometimes have sport injuries which make it practically impossible to perform these gestures, and this should not prevent them from being able to celebrate Mass. Once more, each priest can decide for himself how best to proceed when celebrating alone.

In the case of a momentary impediment, he can probably also make an ad hoc decision with respect to Mass for the people. Permanent impediments would require the bishop’s permission and be explained to parishioners.

The Holy See has also dealt with other types of ailments, such as permitting the use of mustum for celebrating Mass by priests afflicted by alcoholism or of the use of low-gluten bread for sufferers of celiac disease. These decisions are invariably in favor of the faithful unless some higher principle, such as the validity of a sacrament, is involved.

Given the above examples, I think that dispensing with the requirement for candles in an individual case easily falls within the range of the diocesan bishop’s general power of dispensation from general laws. This is also found in canon law:

“Can. 87 §1. A diocesan bishop, whenever he judges that it contributes to their spiritual good, is able to dispense the faithful from universal and particular disciplinary laws issued for his territory or his subjects by the supreme authority of the Church. He is not able to dispense, however, from procedural or penal laws nor from those whose dispensation is specially reserved to the Apostolic See or some other authority.

“§2. If recourse to the Holy See is difficult and, at the same time, there is danger of grave harm in delay, any ordinary is able to dispense from these same laws even if dispensation is reserved to the Holy See, provided that it concerns a dispensation which the Holy See is accustomed to grant under the same circumstances, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 291.”

Thus, it would be enough for the priest to explain his situation to the local bishop and request authorization to celebrate Mass without candles, in order for the priest to be able to do so with no qualms of conscience.

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