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

  • Troy Woytek

    Yeah, the Bishops should totally remember that too when they celebrate Masses at anti-abortion gatherings that aren’t in churches. But I doubt we will see objections to those Masses not being in a church on this website because apparently Catholic Vote only cares about religious issues that align with Republican view points, and immigration reform ain’t one them.

  • Andrew

    I found anohter article on the subject

    It seems like the issue here is… in the current cultural mindset such Masses occur much more often than necessary and the arguments used often seem rather shallow.

    If only the bishops put as much effort into organizing Masses in their local parishes as they did these Masses, there wouldn’t be any debate.

  • Nathan

    I appreciate Canon Law and don’t think it should be ignored on a whim, as that leads to further abuse, but let’s not make a mountain out of a mole hill. Mass is held at the Verizon Center before the pro-life march each year, and many bishops are ordained in convention centers because cathedrals are too small. Doing so may not be “necessary”, but it’s certainly appropriate so that more people can participate and/or give witness to an issue important to who we are as Catholics. I don’t know what all this “politicization” of the Eucharist talk is all about. If we’re living our faith right, everything about it should be political as we work to make a more just society for every human from conception to natural death.

    • Joshua Mercer

      You raise a good point. I certainly don’t have an issue with a youth Mass inside a sports stadium. Actually, I don’t really have an objection to a Mass held outside — perhaps even right at the border. My concern, thought, is when the Eucharist was passed through the fence and across a political border. I’m not condemning it. But it raises some concerns about the reverence of the Liturgy.

      • GREG SMITH

        Joshua ~ While border lines are important in the secular world, I believe that in as far a spiritual life as we understand it a Catholics goes they are irellevant. It seems to me that distributing the body and blood of Christ to the faithful by qualified ministers is always reverent.

  • Marietta

    Was the Rio de Janeiro beach a sacred place?

  • M

    I couldn’t find this earlier:

    Pope Pius XI said, “Your bishop and the Pope are the golden chain which connects you to the Divine Redeemer. You must be with the Pope, because whoever is with him is with the very foundation of the Churh; for it is against him, and the Church founded on him that the gates if Hell shall not prevail.”

  • Clem R.

    A few weeks ago a Mass was said in front Planned Parenthood.



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