When the Main Celebrant Can’t Finish the Mass

Date: September 9, 2023
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

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.


Question: The following occurred during a concelebrated Mass on the East Coast while I was visiting the United States. The main celebrant fainted and was taken to the hospital for appropriate treatment. The two concelebrants could not continue the Mass because it was in Portuguese, which they could not speak. This happened during the Lord’s Prayer. What the two concelebrants did was to jump to the distribution of Communion. After the Mass, they were told by the vicar general who had come to inquire about the situation of the sick parish priest that the celebration was invalid because the main celebrant did not receive Communion. Is there any law in such a case when the main celebrant cannot finish the Mass, and there is no other way to continue it, whether the language limits the concelebrants or there is no other priest to continue the Mass? -- F.X.N., Zambia


Answer: While no current explicit law deals with this in detail, it was meticulously dealt with in older laws and case studies whose principles still hold good for the present liturgy.


In general, the overall rule is that if Mass is interrupted because the celebrant cannot continue, then any priest can continue the Mass from the point where the interruption occurred.


In the case presented by our reader, the logical solution would have been for the concelebrants to switch to English or another language after the Our Father and not skip to the distribution of Communion. The faithful would have understood, given the somewhat dramatic circumstances.


Another question would be why they were concelebrating in an unknown language? There is a general principle that concelebrants should at least be able to pronounce all the parts to be recited by the priests, even if they lack fluency in the language of the Mass.


As mentioned above, older manuals of sacramental moral theology would often go into some detail regarding these situations.


For example: the very exceptional case of a priest fainting or dying immediately after consecrating the hosts but before consecrating the wine and with no priest available to immediately continue the Mass.


It was stipulated that both ciborium and chalice should be guarded in the tabernacle until a priest could finish the Mass. The consecrated hosts should not be distributed as Communion until the sacrifice was completed by the priest consuming both species.


In the concrete case above, I respectfully disagree with the vicar general who said the Mass was invalid because the priest had not consumed the Sacred Species.


First, once the consecration of both species has been completed, there is no way of invalidating the Mass. There may be illicit practices but not invalidating ones.


The consummation of the species on the part of the presiding celebrant is very important as it completes the sacrifice that he celebrates and, hence, should always be done before distributing Communion. It should never be omitted or delayed. However, it is not essential to the validity of the celebration itself.


Likewise, the fact that the concelebrants consumed both species is more than sufficient to fulfill this condition as they are as much celebrants as the presiding celebrant. Their fault was above all the illicit act of skipping over the prayers of the communion rite. 


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Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city, and your state, province, or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the many questions that arrive.

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