Would a Priest Perform a Mass if her were All Alone?

A nice priest is out hiking in the woods, all by himself (not necessarily the wisest course.) It’s Sunday. He’s feeling sacred and observant.

Can he celebrate a Mass by himself, for himself? Or would he merely pray, without engaging in a formalized ritual?

(Want info for a scene in a story I’m trying to write. Thanks!)

ETA: Ack! Tipo Monxter! He! He! If he were all alone.

Many catholic churches have a mass every day. I’m pretty sure if nobody shows up (besides the priest) they still hold the mass.

To hold a mass in the woods I believe the priest would have to have the wine and wafers with him.

Yes, a priest may say mass all alone.

I’ve read of priests who were, for example, prisoners of war, and the priest might say an entire mass seated at a table with his back to the cell door with only a cracker and some water with raisins soaking in it.

It’s hard to imagine a situation where nobody at all shows up for daily mass, though. And I don’t know if it’s made explicit in canon law, but Jesus said “wherever two or three are gathered, I am in their midst”, which makes it sound like you’d need one or two more present.

I always read that the other way around: if there were two people there, they didn’t need a priest…

Well, that’s certainly one interpretation, and one that some Protestant churches have taken, but it’s obviously not the Catholic interpretation.

In a parish church, maybe. But it would be a fairly regular occurrence in monasteries, seminaries, etc that there many priests and few or no congregants. Priests are not required by canon law to say mass every day, but it is recommended, and in contexts like this a mass with no congregants would be a common event, because there would be many masses said every day.

Mind you, they’re also recommended not to celebrate mass alone when celebration with the participation of at least one other is possible. So in these cases a priest would normally go to the chapel or church attached to the institution and celebrate mass there, so that the attendance of others is at least possible, rather than celebrating it privately in his room.

In the scenario in the OP, if the priest is on a day hike he’ll likely celebrate mass before he leaves for his walk, or after he gets back. But if he’s on a longer walk, yeah, he’ll celebrate mass on his own, in the woods, using a mass kit brought for the purpose.

I believe it is canon law that a priest must say mass every day. that would include times when he was alone.

If I may piggyback . . .

St. Peter’s Church in my Chicago neighborhood was eventually surrounded by railroad facilities and freight houses, so had virtually no parishioners. I’ve heard that, by the 1920s, the main people to visit were priests traveling cross-country and changing trains in Chicago. A Catholic friend explained that Mass is a ritual priests perform, perhaps daily, that’s not really related to whether there’s anyone observing from the pews. Does that make sense?

Huh, I hadn’t realized that each priest was expected to say Mass himself every day, rather than just attending one celebrated by another priest. Co-celebrating is still a thing, though, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t all of the priests in a monastery just celebrate the same mass together?

EDIT: Mr Downtown, one thing that I do know is that the view of the Mass is one thing that changed significantly with the Second Vatican Council (1959). One of the major themes of the Council was in getting the laypeople more involved in everything. Before V2, the Mass largely was viewed as something done exclusively by the priests and for the priests, but afterwards, while there are critical bits that can still be done only by the priest, the expectation is that the congregation should be involved to the greatest degree feasible, and every Catholic should attend Mass and receive Communion at least once a week.

If no one was there watching they’d do it anyway, but probably do a shite job of it - you know, rush through the boring parts, mumble a lot, skip the sermon with just a “be good peeps!”, not use the chalice, just swig from the bottle of Blue Nun and chase it down with a crisp.
“Now offer up a sign of peace to those around you”.
Error. Can’t extend.

As pointed out above, canon does NOT require a priest to say mass daily, but it is recommended. Priests are required to say the Liturgy of Hours daily. Part of the reason that daily mass is not required is that it would present a moral dilemma for a priest with a mortal sin on his soul who was not able to receive confession, since it is a sin for a priest to say mass if he is in a state of mortal sin.

See Do Priests Have to Say Mass Every Day on Canon Law Made Easy.

The canon law is that he’s “earnestly recommended” to celebrate mass daily, but not actually required.

It’s not still a thing; it’s a thing again. As in, it fell out of fashion relatively early on and happened only rarely, until the last 50 years or so when it has been encouraged.

Yes, the monks in a monastery could do that, if it otherwise suited the monastic timetable. In seminaries and colleges, it would be less likely, since priests have their own individual occupations and schedules.

Theologically, a priest celebrating mass unites himself with the whole church, so he’s never celebrating mass alone, just privately. And, yes, this emphasis on spiritual communion led to a corresponding de-emphasis on the particular church members who assist in the mass in the sense of actually being physically present. Since Vatican II there has been a renewed emphasis on their participation. And, as noted above, given a choice between celebrating mass privately and celebrating mass with a congregation of even 1 person, the latter is much preferred.

And a nitpick: Catholics are expected to attend mass every Sunday (and this isn’t a post-Vatican II thing) but there’s no requirement to take communion weekly. Frequent communion is encouraged, but the only requirement is to take communion at least once a year, around the time of Easter.

This is a little dated (2006) but gets into the specifics of the OP I think


As I read it, its OK but ----- you are going to need some things you may not find handy in the woods. Unless you plan ahead of course.

I would naturally assume that the French RC missionaries hiking about Canada in the 17th & 18th centuries generally said daily Mass without a vast amount of parishioners about.

OP, just a comment on phrasing. To “say a Mass” or “celebrate Mass” both sound OK to me as an observant Catholic, but “perform Mass” isn’t a phrase that Catholics use.

On the other hand, the phrase used by Mr Downtown, “Mass is a ritual priests perform”, sounds a bit better, but it’s more accurate to say that the priest performs a ritual while saying/celebrating Mass.

There’s a wonderful Bergman movie, Winter Light, with this very scenario (or close to it: I believe none of the congregants were there, just the groundskeeper.)

They may, if there is only one. They may also celebrate several (with different priests in each), in order to have more available for other people to attend.
As an aside, keep in mind that most of the people in a monastery will not be priests.

Funny you should mention that since I portray a Recollet French military chaplain at different Living History events around the east. It depends on which order we’re talking about. With the Jesuits, Mass (with the Big M) had to be under a roof at a prepared altar site. It could basically be a simple shed with three walls but it had to be assembled, consecrated, and disassembled afterwards. This drove the men in the Celoron Expedition up a tree and slowed the progress quite a bit. There were prayers/liturgy short of a Mass but those couldn’t be used on Sundays and some Feast Days. The Recollets on the other hand were under the Rule of St. Francis and their standards were a little less stringent. Of course the whole order was disbanded and declared heretical in the 1800s but -------

The Mass does not include a sermon. Catholic church services actually include two different liturgies, the Liturgy of the Word (the readings and the sermon) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (preparation, consecration, and distribution of communion). Although they’re typically celebrated together, only the latter is, strictly speaking, the Mass.

And Nava, I’m aware that not all monks are priests, but monasteries will still often have a fairly high proportion of priests, compared to the general public. St. Andrew’s Abbey, for instance, which runs my high school, currently numbers 17 priests and 8 brothers among their members, though some of them also have pastoral duties at various parishes and probably celebrate Mass there.