Sunday Mass: Days of Obligation With No Priest?
If, due to the unavailability of a priest, one cannot attend Sunday Mass at one’s own parish but only a Communion service: A: Does this fulfil one’s Sunday obligation? B: If not, must one attend Mass at another parish? C: If so, how far is one reasonably expected to travel to achieve this?
Canon 17 stipulates that ecclesiastical laws are to be understood according to the proper meaning of the words considered in their text and context. Canon 1247 says: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.”
From the meaning of these words, it is plain that if there is no priest available to celebrate Mass on these holy days, the obligation simply ceases, so that you would not be obliged to attend a communion service or any other service on that day. There is a legal principle that says that a provision of law ceases to bind when it is impossible to fulfil it.
Answers to A, B and C
Taking your questions singly, the response to (a) is that there is no moral obligation to attend a service other than the Mass; (b) there is also no obligation to attend Mass in another parish, because the focus of your parish Mass is on the parish community worshipping together with your priest; (c) therefore falls away.
It is spiritually beneficial, however, to attend Mass in another parish, if you can. And canon 1248.2 also strongly recommends us (but does not oblige us) to attend an alternative liturgy, if we can.
Furthermore, in June 1988, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued the Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.
This specified in effect that a Communion service may not be held on any Sunday or holy day (or the vigil of that day) if Mass is celebrated on the same day.
In other words, if in a particular parish, Mass is celebrated on a Saturday evening and no priest is available for Mass on the Sunday following, there may not be a Communion service since the focus, as pointed out above, is on the parish community gathered together around the priest in the celebration of the Eucharist and the building up of the parish community. The whole parish community would be encouraged to assist at the Saturday Mass.