Mass vs. Services delineation

What’s the Catholic understanding of a Church Mass vs a Church Service?

At Mass, the Eucharist is consecrated. At a service, the Eucharist is not consecrated.


We really don’t use the term “church service”. Any liturgical or para-liturgical worship service at a Catholic church (e.g., Benediction, Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament) could properly be called a “church service”, but again, it’s a term we don’t normally use. We might use it in talking to a non-Catholic, as they would understand that terminology, i.e., going to church to worship.

As a practical matter, Catholics do not “go to church”, they “go to Mass”, or to use the older term, “assist at Mass”.


Actually, the term “Communion Service” is widely used to designate a communion service, typically led by a deacon or a lay minister, at which pre-consecrated Communion is distributed.

These are often held in place of a daily Mass if the priest is unable to be present for Mass due to illness or another commitment, and they can’t get a substitute priest. It allows people an opportunity to hear Scripture and receive Communion when it’s not possible to have a Mass.

I’ve also heard the term “Prayer Service” used though not as often as “Communion Service”.

Other types of “services” would simply be called by their actual names, such as Benediction.

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“Service” is a broader term generally equivalent to the broad sense of liturgy. Mass is specifically the liturgy of the Eucharistic sacrifice (the chief Christian service) said in the Roman rite.

See the section “definition” in this article as an example of the broader usage.

The only day that the Catholic Church has a service instead of a Mass is Good Friday. Hosts that have already been Consecrated prior to then are distributed at that day’s service. Now if there are emergencies and hosts have already been Consecrated and the Bishop has given his permission there can be a Communion service. Once a Parish near us had very bad flooding. The priest was out on retreat and had a visiting Priest scheduled to come in for Mass. This visiting Priest was driving in and tried 2-3 different ways to get there. He could not make it to the Church for Mass due to flooded roads and bridges. The people at Church got permission to distribute Holy Communion, do the readings and pray which they did. But this was a rare occasion. They distributed hosts that had already been Consecrated by Father before he left.

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We have a church nearby that has a Communion service one day a week during the summer. There are many churches I’m aware of that, especially during summer months, will have daily Mass only on certain weekdays and Communion Service on the other days, or one of the other days. Usually it’s because one priest is handling multiple parishes and ministries, so if he has to visit the prison on Thursday he can’t simultaneously be saying Mass 40 miles away.

We also had a couple of situations in recent years where a priest was out for a protracted length of time with a health issue and they couldnt get a substitute priest every day, so if they couldn’t get a priest they would have a communion service led by a lay minister. When the priest recovered and returned, the Mass schedule went back to normal.

Yes same here, I forgot. When Father is out on his extended health rests the weekday Masses aren’t done but Communion services are.

In the book “Liturgical Literacy” by Dennis Smolarski S.J. it has this definition of “Service”: “A generic title used for any public worship, particularly by non-Catholics. It is often used interchangeably with liturgy.”

In Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest there is this sentence in n. 32: “In these circumstances the telecast of liturgical services can provide useful assistance.”

I think the only ceremony that English translations of the Catholic liturgical books use the term “service” for is a Penitential Service. It is described in the Rite of Penance, 36-37.

“36. Penitential services are gatherings of the people of God to hear God’s word as an invitation to conversion and renewal of life and as the message of our liberation from sin through Christ’s death and resurrection.”

“37. Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful do not confuse these celebrations with the celebration of the sacrament of penance.”

The term “Communion Service” is often used, but I do not think it is in the official liturgical books. It is used and a definition given in “Liturgical Literacy” by Dennis Smolarski S.J. It also appears in the 2004 document of the Australian Catholic Bishop Conference, “Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest: Directives for the dioceses of Australian” in n. 11 “It is not usual to add a communion service to the Liturgy of the Hours.”

The Good Friday ceremony is called in the Roman Missal “The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord”. Titles for ceremonies in the official liturgical book “Holy Communion and the Worship of the Eucharist Outside of Mass” include:

“Rite of Distributing Holy Communion Outside Mass”

From Chapter II “Administration of Communion and Viaticum to the Sick by an Extraordinary Minister” it has “The Ordinary Rite of Communion of the Sick” and “Short Rite of Communion of the Sick”.

[Excerpts from the English translation of the Rite of Penance © 1974, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. Excerpt from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. Excerpt from the English translation of Holy Communion and the Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass © 1974, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.]

A Communion Service is not a rare thing in my diocese. I’ve led a few myself. They happened on Sundays when our priest was not available due either to being stuck at the Mission because of bad weather, or being out of town to attend diocesan meetings and not being able to bring in a replacement.

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In Canada the Ritual book for a Sunday Celebration in the absence of a priest is called “Sunday Celebration of the Word and Hours” and such a service is called “Liturgy of the Word with Communion”.

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