Here’s a question for you: if a priest just goes through the motions, and says Mass quickly and inattentively, does it count as a real Mass?
A friend mentioned to me that he recently attended a daily Mass at his parish, and there was a substitute priest who zipped through the whole Mass in a fast monotone, with no homily and seemingly no interest or reverence for what he was doing.
When Mass ended, the priest quickly walked out without saying anything or making eye contact with anyone. The entire Mass was over in slightly more than ten minutes.
So, my friend wondered whether that Mass actually counted, because it seemed like the priest was completely disinterested.
Thankfully, the Mass and Eucharist are so important that God set things up so it’s almost impossible for a Mass to be invalid. According to the website Catholic Answers, the validity of Mass depends on four things: minister, intent, matter, and form.
Minister — If a priest has been ordained and has not had his faculties suspended by the bishop, then he is able to say Mass, regardless of how bored or tired or distracted he might be at the moment.
Intent — As long as the priest intends to celebrate Mass and consecrate the Eucharist, it is valid. For his intent to be invalid, the priest would have to approach Mass thinking something like this: “What I am doing is NOT the Eucharist. I don’t believe any of this stuff, and I'm only play-acting for those gullible people in the pews!” It’s very unlikely any priest would approach the altar with those thoughts.
Matter — The bread must be unleavened wheat bread and the wine must be real wine with a dash of water, so unless the priest is using something obviously wrong, such as Pop-Tarts and Pepsi, then the consecration is valid.
Form — The correct Eucharistic prayers must be verbalized. The Catholic Answers website explains that if improper or unauthorized words are used, the Mass may be considered illicit and/or sinful, but not necessarily invalid. As long as the words used for consecration express the fact that “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” then the consecration will be valid.
So, it’s good to know that it’s almost impossible for a Mass to be invalid. If you attend a Mass where the priest seems to be bored and disinterested, or even angry and frustrated, a supernatural miracle still occurs and Jesus still truly becomes present in the Eucharist.
However, a more important question might be this: why is the priest so bored or angry that he’s doing the Mass in a fast monotone, seemingly desperate to get it over with and get out?
When was the last time you thanked a priest for being a priest? I hope you realize what a major sacrifice it is for a man to take a vow of celibacy and devote the rest of his life to being overworked and underpaid. If a priest is occasionally told that the parishioners appreciate his sacrifice, that might put him in a better mood.
When was the last time you took your priest out to dinner, or invited him over for a homecooked meal? Besides being overworked and underpaid, many priests nowadays suffer bouts of painful loneliness. It’s not like the old days, when each parish had two or three priests, so they always had companionship. These days, with the acute priest shortage, our parish priests go home every evening to an empty rectory, where there’s no one with whom they can share their struggles and worries. A little “off the clock,” non-job-related conversation might be very welcomed.
If you ever attend a Mass where the priest just goes through the motions, do three things: first, be thankful the Mass is valid and Jesus is truly present. Second, say a prayer for that priest, asking God to help him with whatever is bothering him. Finally, if you can catch him at the end of Mass, thank him for being a priest, and ask him if you can buy him a cup of coffee. Even if he says no, I bet it will make him feel better.
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By the way, coming up this weekend is the annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, one of the most exciting and uplifting events of the whole year. This day-long celebration of faith is on Saturday, October 20th, at St. Paul’s High School in Bristol, CT. Go to CTCatholicMen.org to order your tickets. It’s a great day with great speakers, great food, and great fellowship. I hope to see you there!