Canon Law and the Bishops’ Border Mass

Canon lawyer Ed Peters has a good and interesting blog post on the recent celebration of Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border by some American Bishops.  He suggests that here the bishops in question erred, insofar as they departed from canon law governing where the Mass is to be celebrated.

As Peters explains, Mass is ordinarily to be celebrated in a “sacred space”:

Canon 932 § 1 (one among the 1,752 canons that Roman Catholic bishops must observe and enforce per c. 392) states that “The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in a sacred place unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise; in such a case the celebration must be done in a decent place” (my emphasis). Obviously, no one suggests that the border is a “sacred place” in the canonical meaning of that term, so the question becomes whether necessity required holy Mass to be celebrated at the border.

Border Fence

Peters does not think that any serious argument from necessity can be made here.  He continues:

The intentions for which this Mass was offered (immigration reform and in memory of those who died crossing the border, both legitimate intentions of course) could have been amply asserted at a Mass celebrated in a sacred place as envisioned by c. 932, and there is no evidence that those attending Mass at the border were otherwise deprived of Mass in their own locales (indeed, many attending the border Mass had to make special arrangements to get there). Thus, the kinds of factors commonly invoked to justify Mass outside of a sacred space do not support this Mass at the border.

And he concludes on this note, warning against distorting Church law for political purposes:

So, by all means, let bishops celebrate Mass in sacred spaces for immigration reform and for the repose of the souls of persons who died crossing the border (and for the souls of agents who died policing it). But let’s not assume that sacred spaces for worship may be ignored just because a photogenic backdrop for one’s political views (however decent they may be) presents itself, and let’s not distort Church law by claiming that “necessity requires” Mass to be celebrated in these sorts of places. Because neither assertion is true.


Categories:Church News Immigration Liturgy

  • M

    I may be wrong, but didn’t JP II celebrate mass outdoors during his hiking trips as a young priest?

    This is not a “political” issue. This is a humanitarian issue. The fact that you see it as political is the problem. This is almost as bad as the people who claim that abortion solely a political issue (and I say “almost” because abortion is obviously a much greater evil and deserves priority).

    Also, articles like this promote division among the faithful (as is shown in some of the comments above already). We must remain united to our bishops and the Pope. There is enough confusion among Catholics. How about you attack the real enemy out there….not your own Church.

    uugh….and this website calls itself “Catholicvote”. If you are “Catholic” you are fully united to the bishops and the Pope. If you write an article that attracts the above comments, you really should think twice about what you are doing.

    • Joshua Mercer

      It is not bishop bashing to raise some concerns about the celebration of the Mass. I really don’t have a problem with the Mass being held outside, or really even at the border. But when the Eucharist was passed through the fence and over an international border, it raised some concerns for me over the reverence of the liturgy. Are you suggesting that a Catholic like Carson must never raise such questions even when done, as I believe he did, in charity?

      • M

        Certainly not. Having questions is always a good thing. It means we have an active faith. It is the public way in which it is done that is wrong.

        If we have questions or concerns about something we don’t understand, we should bring it first to our confessor/spiritual director, then pray about it A LOT. If we still feel deeply disturbed, then we should proceed with writing letters of concern to the proper authorities (local bishop etc.) – maybe contact several experts on the matter (people we know would give us BOTH sides of the picture – not just the one we like).

        A public denouncement like the one above should only be done if it has been clearly proven by people greater than ourselves that what was done was wrong. In this case, I understand Carson is more learned than most of us, so he should seek the counsel of many other scholars. Because it it is bishops he is questioning, he should wait until a reprimand from Rome before being so public. It is simply a matter of prudence and humility which is deeply lacking in this article.


    One thing I learned about business early on is that you can’t let the lawyers take over policy. They advise, but the ultimate responsibility is with management.

    I’m sure the bishops took the information Dr. Peters has provided into consideration before hand and made a prudential judgement that holding the mass there was right
    and just.

  • john

    Why don’t they clean up the mess in their diocese, straighten out theoften heretical teaching going on in the “catholic” high schools and universities under their jurisdiction? They don’t have the guts to sound off and reaffirm church teaching on marriage and alternative lifestyles etc., yet they politicize our Lord and create liturgical scandal unnecessarily handing the Body of Christ between a fence.

  • Rod Larocque

    Dr Peters is just beating a dead horse, no bishop really cares about cannon law anymore. Come to think of it neither does the pope.
    These leaders just do whatever they want for whatever reason they think is to their advantage.
    There is no practical discipline for breaking liturgical law, because the Novus Ordo is itself a violation of liturgical law, since it was created via committee and is a radical departure from the normal development of the liturgy as is seen in the history of the TLM.
    Vatican II ushered in a period of auto-demolition of the faith and discipline has been suspended for the last 50 years. Priests have done terrible things to the consciences of the faithful and injured the respect due to the Blessed Sacrament. Until real discipline is restored through some high profile demotions, nothing will change and the faith will disappear.
    This pope’s Holy Thursday liturgical abuses send a message to the entire church, “do whatever you want – Our Lord doesn’t care about temple worship.”


      Rod~ As Catholics, we believe that the 2nd Vatican Council (not a “committee” ) from whence the Novis Ordo mass came was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Those who reject Vatican II outright such as the SSPX and the sedvacandists are, at this point 40 years later moving towards becoming just another Protestant religion(s)


    They don’t get that the U.S. is overextended on credit and yet sending billions of our tax money overseas while American citizens including children are homeless and starving in this country. Millions of American citizens are unemployed and millions more have exhausted their unemployment. At my house, we take care of our own family and expenses first as justice demands. If we are short money, look to cut least needed things. But if someone came and entered my house illegally and then begged to stay and be supported? NO! I can barely support my own family! We needed to cut off all this foreign nation giving away of our hard earned tax dollars and reinvest in America. IT IS NOT JUST TO STARVE YOUR OWN IN ORDER TO FEED ANOTHER’S.

  • pchristle

    The vast majority of Americans have no problem welcoming legal immigrants to our country with open arms. We do have a problem with people illegally entering the country or illegally overstaying their visas. It may be compassionate to give illegal aliens some form of legal standing to remain in the country, but people who contemptuously break the law to come here should NEVER, ever be given citizenship and the right to vote, no matter how old they were when they arrived — period. Securing our borders and enforcing the just laws that are already on the books would be a much better option than some new “reform” legislation. It seems like the United States is the only country in the world that is somehow “evil” for enforcing its own immigration laws, and the bishops pushing for these “reforms” need to back off.


      The Bishops have justified giving the Holy Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians by stating they “will NOT politicize” the Holy Eucharist. YET, they have done EXACTLY THAT at the Border. IF ONLY they would put as much effort into stopping the murder of innocent babies PER DAY, as they have into “immigration reform” and “The Dream Act..” †JMJ†



Receive our updates via email.