The questions are often brought up: if a person is late to Mass, can they still receive Holy Communion? If so, does it matter whether they were late through negligence or through no fault of their own? How late can they be and still receive Communion? How late can they be and stil fulfill their Sunday obligation? Many have said that the cutoff point ought to be the reading of the Gospel, but Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at Regina Apostolorum University, says this need not necessarily be the case.
(From Zenit)Q: My parish priest made a regulation that anyone who arrives in Mass after the Gospel is not allowed to take Communion. According to him, the reason is that Jesus is "the Word made flesh." Therefore we must recognize Jesus in the Word before we recognize him in holy Communion. Another priest, who is a professor of liturgy, has another opinion. He said that people who arrive late in Mass with a valid reason (for example, an unusual traffic jam, attending sick children, etc.) should not be denied Communion. Could you please give a clarification on this matter? -- B.E., Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We dealt with the question of late arrivals at Mass in one of our first columns, on Nov. 4 and Nov. 18, in 2003.Then as now, I would agree more with the second priest: that someone who arrives late out of no fault of their own should not be denied Communion.
I also consider it unwise to set any barrier point; I continue to insist that the faithful should assist at the whole Mass.It is quite possible that some members of the faithful could begin to see the Gospel as the cutoff moment and feel comfortable in habitually arriving for the second reading, thus assuring that the Mass is "valid."It is true that the Mass is a whole and that we must first recognize Jesus in the Word before we recognize him in the Eucharist. But this would include the entire Liturgy of the Word and not just the Gospel.
Also, while there is some certain logic in choosing the Gospel as such a moment, the reasons given are not sufficiently well grounded from the theological, canonical and moral standpoints to support such a blanket impediment to receiving Communion.The pastor has a duty to direct and inform the consciences of the faithful entrusted to him. And while I disagree with his suggesting the Gospel as a demarcation point for receiving Communion, it is at least clear that he his trying to perform his sacred duty.
Therefore, the onus of the decision whether or not to receive Communion, in this particular case of a late arrival, falls primarily upon the individual Catholic rather than upon the pastor who can hardly be expected to be attentive to every late arrival.
It is therefore incumbent on those arriving late to examine their conscience as to the reason behind their tardiness. If the reason is neglect or laziness, then they would do better attending another full Mass if this is possible. Even those who blamelessly arrive late should prefer to assist at a full Mass although they would be less bound to do so in conscience.
At the same time, there are some objective elements to be taken into account besides the reason for lateness. Someone who arrives after the consecration has not attended Mass, no matter what the reason for his belatedness. Such a person should not receive Communion, and if it is a Sunday, has the obligation to attend another Mass. It is true that Communion may be received outside of Mass, so Mass is not an essential prerequisite for receiving Communion. This would not, however, justify arriving just in time for Communion at a weekday Mass, as all of the rites for receiving Communion outside of Mass include a Liturgy of the Word and one should attend the entire rite.