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.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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