Awkward Moment at Mass

Quick background - I am a non-Catholic married to a Catholic. Last Friday my wife and I were doing a bit of volunteer work at the church. We were just finishing up when the priest (who is a great guy, has a really wonderful sense of humor, but is fairly new to our parish and does not know me that well) walked into the room, fully vested, and with a great flourish announced,“Your minister is here to serve you. It’s time for mass.” I looked at my watch and, sure enough, it was noon - time for the scheduled mass. Given his grand announcement, it didn’t seem right to tell him that we were just getting ready to go to McDonalds. So…off to mass. We got to the chapel and, much to my dismay, there were only three other people there - all very elderly and all with various mobility issues. I could see this dilemma coming from a mile away, and sure enough, when the time came, Father said, “Rick, can you come forward and give the readings?” Since I am a non-Catholic, I know this isn’t really kosher, but rather than cause a big disruption, I just did as Father asked.

Now, in my mind, this isn’t a big deal. I just read the words from the book. They would have sounded exactly the same if a Catholic had been reading them. However, I really do make an effort to be respectful and to follow the rules when I attend mass with my wife. So…with that in mind, did I commit a minor faux pas, or did I render the whole mass invalid? (Just kidding about the invalid mass part - you know what I mean.) How should I handle this if it comes up in the future?

This is what the USCCB has to say and the main point of the subject is highlighted in bolded red.

I would suggest that the “Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism,” issued by the Pontifical Commission for Promoting Christian Unity on June 8, 1993 can help illuminate this question.

Paragraph 133 of the Directory addresses the question of a non-Catholic fulfilling the ministry of reader at Mass. The Directory makes clear that normally “during a eucharistic celebration in the Catholic Church” the readings are to be proclaimed by a Catholic. The Directory goes on, however, to allow that "on exceptional occasions and for a just cause, the bishop of the diocese may permit a member of another church or ecclesial community to take on the task of reader."

The intentions of the General Intercessions are proposed by “the deacon, another minister, or some of the faithful,” (Lectionary for Mass, Introduction, number 30.) I would suggest that the principles established by the Directory for the proclamation of the readings could be applied to the General Intercessions: ordinarily, the intercessions at Mass are proclaimed by a Catholic. As in paragraph 133 of the Directory, however, the bishop may allow a non-Catholic proclaim the General Intercessions according to his own pastoral judgement.

Now, in cases where you are asked to read at Mass again, I would definately bring this up to the priest. I would even bring it up to him before you’re asked again.

Tell him you’re not catholic, next time. Don’t worry about trying to be nice. He’ll respect you for your straightforwardness. :rolleyes:

As for the small congregation, three people is a perfectly fine amount. A priest can celebrate Mass by himself, if need be.

Just my humble opinion; you did not invalidate the mass in any way, in actuality you contributed to it, catholic or not. Perhaps discuss your concerns with the priest. I think it wonderful that you had the opportunity.

Again just my opinion from the fringe.

Wow! We need more folks like you!

Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I had no problem with the size of the congregation. My concern was that, given the obvious mobility issues of every other person there, I was the obvious choice if someone were to be asked to come forward to proclaim the readings.

As for celebrating mass by himself, he recently shared with me the fact that, on most days of the week, it is “just me, the angels and the saints” at mass.

Yeah, next time you see the priest, just offer an apology for not having told him about it. Tell him that you did some checking and found out that it’s okay for non-Catholics to do readings, but that you’re sorry for not saying anything at the time so that he could make a judgment about it. He’ll be thankful for your respect and concern!

What you did was “illicit” (not permitted) without the express permission of a Bishop: proclaiming the readings at Mass is ordinarily done by a Catholic, but a Bishop can permit a non-Catholic Christian to do so “for a just cause”.

But the priest didn’t know you weren’t Catholic and you didn’t know it wasn’t permitted. I would let it slide; perhaps God will use this “accident” as an opportunity for grace for you.

But I would also let the priest know that you’re not Catholic so that you aren’t placed in an awkward position again.

As suggested you probably should inform the priest later that you are not Catholic. However, you did right at the time to keep things moving smoothly. It is not a critical issue.

Why couldn’t the priest have just done the readings himself???

Is it required to have a layperson?

No, it’s not required to have a layman, but it’s the preference. From the GIRM:

  1. By tradition, the function of proclaiming the readings is ministerial, not presidential. The readings, therefore, should be proclaimed by a lector, and the Gospel by a deacon or, in his absence, a priest other than the celebrant. If, however, a deacon or another priest is not present, the priest celebrant himself should read the Gospel. Further, if another suitable lector is also not present, then the priest celebrant should also proclaim the other readings.

"if another suitable lector is also not present, then the priest celebrant should also proclaim the other readings. "

What does “suitable” mean here? I’d venture someone who is not Catholic, or a Catholic who for other reasons would not be a good lector (intratactable stutter, laryngitis, inability to follow the rubrics – e.g. an ad-libber, limited mobility to get to the lectern) would not be suitable.

So in the OP’s example, it would have been preferrable for the celebrant to do the readings, I think.

We have a non-Catholic relative, married to a Catholic, who helped his wife raise their kids Catholic, was very active in his family’s parish and always went to Mass every Sunday, who was asked to serve on the parish council. The others in his parish were very surprised to find he wasn’t Catholic himself!

This just goes to show how much people notice when you don’t receive Holy Communion, because this guy never does. It isn’t at all surprising that this priest thought you were Catholic. If you’re helping around the parish, it is assumed you are Catholic until you say otherwise.

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