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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

Can I receive communion if I'm late to Mass?

Is there a requirement for a person to be present for a portion of the Mass before you can receive the Eucharist during a week day Mass?  In other words, if a person was to come to a daily Mass, let us say at the Our Father, can a person still be able to participate in the reception of the Eucharist?

    As a prelude to addressing these questions, might we consider the proper understanding of our preparation for and actual participation in the sacraments of the Church. For each sacrament, the recipient is to have the “proper disposition” to receive the offered sacrament – that is, the person who desires to receive is to be both living in the right state in life to receive the sacrament and have the right intention in receiving it. For example, when a person receives the sacrament of anointing of the sick, the proper disposition includes both living the proper state of life for the sacrament (that the recipient is Catholic, has reached the age of reason [and can therefore cooperate with the offered graces]) and of right intention for receiving the graces of the sacrament (that this same person is seriously ill, of elderly age and living with chronic weakness or pain, or about to have serious surgery). For the anointing of the sick, the recipient is strongly urged (when possible) to first receive the sacrament of reconciliation to increase their own openness to the graces of the sacrament of anointing of the sick. These elements of a proper state in life and right intention must both be present.

     When it comes to receiving the Eucharist, the right disposition is that one is Catholic, not in a state of mortal sin, and has been rightly prepared to receive the sacrament - through formal formation for First Communion and in proper immediate preparation prior to receiving sacrament by fasting for one full hour before Holy
Communion. (Realize that there are exceptions for the ill and homebound on the one-hour fast). Note that the time of arrival at Mass does not explicitly figure into this formula. In fact, it is noteworthy that none of the sacraments go to the extent of saying you must participate in a “minimum portion” of the rite in order be able to receive it.  Though some of the sacraments do have an abbreviated form of the rites for emergency circumstances (including for the giving Holy Communion), even in these emergency forms the sacraments are to be received only by participating in all of the essential elements required for the reception of the sacrament.

     As all the sacraments, therefore, require both a right disposition to receive and the proper participation in the fullness of the rite, so too in receiving Holy Communion we must be of proper disposition to receive and are to fully participate in the rite – which simply put is to participate in the whole Mass. Nowhere will you see any official Church teaching speak of exceptions for late arrival at Mass or for any allowance of an “if you arrive by _____, then you can receive.” Please understand that were the Church to formally assign such a threshold, the Mass itself as a complete act of worship would no longer matter (because it would be only receiving communion itself and not the whole Mass, inclusive of communion, that would take precedence). Remember, too, that the Church’s precepts assign us to participate in Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, even if we cannot or choose not to receive Holy Communion. Finally, know that participation in the whole Mass is essential to be of right disposition for communion if for no other reason that the Mass itself contains its own moments that aid us preparing us to receive the Eucharist (such as in the Penitential Act at the very beginning of Mass, wherein we acknowledge our sins and ask for mercy). 

     So should all who arrive late automatically exclude themselves from Holy Communion? No – as some may have been late accidentally of no fault of their own.  On the other hand, any who know that their late arrival could have been prevented with better planning and attentiveness to the time are invited to be honest with God and themselves and not come forward to receive due to their non-accidental reason for lateness. In all cases of tardiness, please consider any such an occurrence as an invitation to examine your routine and to work at making changes to prevent such lateness from repeating itself.

     In closure, out of true integrity of living our faith, I hope and pray that all would seek to fully participate in Mass, never leaving to chance any possibility or acceptance of tardiness.

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