What if there were no priests?


My husband and I love to play the “what if” game, and this one came at the hands of a Walking Dead episode. We find asking extreme hypothetical questions helps us understand the nuts and bolts of the faith more as we dig into it.

The question is, if we were living in a world where most of the population had been wiped out and we had NO idea if there were any priests left at all, let alone any on our own continent because of a total breakdown of infrastructure, communication, and travel, what could be done about the celebration and worship of God if you were, say, surviving in a small group of 10-15 people and only one or two others were Catholic?

In extreme circumstances, as I understand it, the laity can perform something like a baptism, but what about Eucharist and other sacraments? Can laity do this in such a scenario of extreme circumstances, or is the Mass pretty much on hiatus until at least one ordained priest can be found?


This already happened once. The Jesuits, led by St Francis Xavier, evangelized parts of Japan for some years in the 16th century. Then, due to politics, they were expelled. Japan became isolationist until the late 19th century, when European powers were allowed back in. In one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of the Church, they found a number of secret Catholics, especially around Nagasaki. Without priests, people had been baptizing their own children and practicing acts of perfect contrition for the forgiveness of sins.


There have been times when Catholics had no priests around. They’d be lucky to see one once a year in some parts of the world. Some parts of the world are still like this. There are underground communities in some nations without priests.

But I have to admit I’ve played out these what if scenarios, too. If any level of organization permitted, I’d do what I could to organize some regular readings from the lectionary or see if I could find some appropriate lay service instructions. Otherwise, maintain my own family/household as a Church to the best of my ability. New baptisms and marriages would still be valid.


God who can raise children for Abraham from the stones (as Our Lord said) can doubtless ensure that His faithful are not absolutely without an ordained priesthood - at least somewhere in the world.


Then there would only be baptisms and marriages.

This kind of thing happened before, for example in Japan & China.

The people continued to do baptisms and would pray in community. But no other Sacraments unless a priest was in their mits.


Eucharist and other sacraments? NOPE not that I am aware of. ONLY Baptism can be done by laity and only in extreme emergency situations with the possibility of death.


Marriage can be done by the laity, it generally must be witnessed by the Church. In a situation where there are no clergy, I’m pretty sure (someone who knows canon law should comment) that marriage can still be validly entered into by Catholics so long as their is intent to recognize it with the Church once an opportunity becomes available.


Good question for @edward_george1


Why? The lay posters have already given the correct answer. :wink:


Thank you everyone. For the sake of debate with someone more legally minded, is there any kind of church document or other kind of evidence given for the sacraments the laity can perform in extreme circumstances? Thank you all, SO much!


Prior to the Council of Trent marriages in which the vows were exchanged in private were recognized as legitimate. There was a case in the Notre Dame Archives where in the early part of the 19th century there was a question about a certain marriage. The Vatican said that in this cases because the decrees of Council of Trent had not been promulgated then that particular marriage was valid.


In a related instance there was some doubt as to whether James Augustine Healy could be ordained because he was the son of a master and his slave concubine. The Vatican decreed that because that part of Georgia had no access to a priest then their union was a valid marriage.


Hmm… canon law, maybe? In the part of the canons that deal with the sacraments, each sacrament has a chapter entitled “the minister of…”, which describes who may administer the sacrament. (For marriage, the section is entitled, “The Form of the Celebration of Marriage”.)


We will never be totally without priest. The gate of hell will not prevail. However, there is a shortage now. Every faithful Catholic should pray daily that those who have been called to religious life will answer with yes Lord. If enough pray, you will have a priest to say your funeral mass!


UNCEASING prayer is needed for good holy devout men to answer God’s call to be Priests. Thanking God for the ones who have already answered His call.


You could visit the Catholic Church in Russia and speak to people where this was the reality for many years.


WHAT “IF” there was NO air to breath?

Air is to the body as are Priest {the good ones} to our very Souls: Amen!


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