Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Q: At what point in time during Mass it is considered too late for anyone coming into the Mass to receive Communion? These days I see a lot of people who enter the Mass even as Communion is being given and they head straight to receive. Is this right? — E.M., Port Harcourt, Nigeria

A: Like most priests, I am loath to give a straight answer to this question because, in a way, it is a catch-22 question for which there is no right answer.

It is true that before the Second Vatican Council some moral theology manuals placed arrival before the offertory as the dividing line in deciding whether one fulfilled the Sunday obligation of assistance at Mass. But after the liturgical reform, with its emphasis on the overall unity of the Mass, modern theologians shy away from such exactitude.

Mass begins with the entrance procession and ends after the final dismissal and we should be there from beginning to end. Each part of the Mass relates and complements the others in a single act of worship even though some parts, such as the consecration, are essential while others are merely important.

To say that there is a particular moment before or after which we are either “out” or “safe,” so to speak, is to give the wrong message and hint that, in the long run, some parts of the Mass are really not all that important. It may also give some less fervent souls a yardstick for arriving in a tardy manner.

Although I prefer not to hazard giving a precise cutoff moment, certainly someone who arrives after the consecration has not attended Mass, should not receive Communion, and if it is a Sunday, go to another Mass.

Arriving on time is not just a question of obligation but of love and respect for Our Lord who has gathered us together to share his gifts, and who has some grace to communicate to us in each part of the Mass.

It is also a sign of respect for the community with whom we worship and who deserves our presence and the contribution of our prayers in each moment. The liturgy is essentially the worship of Christ’s body, the Church. Each assembly is called upon to represent and manifest the whole body but this can hardly happen if it forms itself in drips and drabs after the celebration has begun.

Thus people who arrive late to Mass have to honestly ask themselves, Why? If they arrive late because of some justified reason or unforeseen event, such as blocked traffic due to an accident, they have acted in good conscience and are not strictly obliged to assist at a later Mass (although they would do well to do so if they arrive very late and it is possible for them).

Likewise for many elderly people, even getting to the church is an odyssey, and one must not burden their consciences by counting the minutes.

If people arrive late due to culpable negligence, and especially if they do so habitually, then they need to seriously reflect on their attitudes, amend their ways, and if necessary seek the sacrament of reconciliation.

Depending on how late they arrive they should prefer to honor the Lord’s day by attending some other Mass, or, if this is not possible, at least remain in the Church after Mass is over and dedicate some time to prayer and reflection on the readings of the day. ZE03110420

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Follow-up: Communion for Late Arrivals [11-18-03]

An attentive reader suggested that my reply to a Nigerian correspondent as to “what point in time during Mass it is considered too late for anyone coming into the Mass to receive Communion” (see Nov. 4) did not quite address the question at hand. The core query appeared to be “asking a more direct question, about how much Mass is required before receiving Communion.”

This could have serious consequences, the follow-up questioner noted, as “Mass is not a prerequisite for receiving Communion. If it were, I and other extraordinary eucharistic ministers could not bring Communion to the shut-ins, the sick, the elderly, or the imprisoned.”

I believe I did address the question at hand in the previous column, although it entailed explaining why I eschewed suggesting a clear minimum Mass requirement in order to receive Communion and also to fulfill Sunday obligation. Yet, our correspondent raises a valid point.

In preparing my original reply I had thought of mentioning Communion outside of Mass, but as the question was tailored to late arrival at Mass I considered it might confuse the issue and left it out. It appears that my hesitation has returned to haunt me.

It is necessary to distinguish Mass from other moments in which Communion is received. The Church provides two basic rites for receiving Communion outside of Mass. One is for those occasions when for some good reason Mass in unavailable but Communion is possible. The other is for bringing Communion to those who are unable to attend Mass due to age or infirmity.

Both rites have the same basic structure but differ in the prayers and texts provided.
This structure is: greeting; penitential rite; Liturgy of the Word; on some occasions homily and prayers of the faithful; Communion rite with the Our Father; sign of peace; “This is the Lamb of God …” and its response “Lord, I am not worthy …”; Communion; concluding prayer; and final blessing.

There are slight variations in the rite when presided by a priest, deacon or by an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word may be extended or abbreviated according to pastoral needs with the possibility of using the same readings as at Mass or just reciting a brief verse from Scripture.

The question as to how much of this is required in order to receive Communion varies according to concrete situations. But when Communion is distributed because Mass is unavailable, then, in principle, those who wish to partake should attend the entire rite.

This would be the situation, for example, in parishes with no resident pastor and, usually, in prisons whenever it is possible to gather the inmates so as to form an assembly. Otherwise the rite may be carried out at each cell with a brief Liturgy of the Word, although the local ordinary may approve particular adaptations to special circumstances unforeseen in the liturgical books.

Communion to the sick, elderly or shut-ins presents a different pastoral situation, and the special circumstances allow for particular solutions. If possible the entire rite should be carried out each time, although the Liturgy of the Word may be abbreviated so as not to sap the strength of the weak.

When Communion is distributed to large numbers of infirm people living separately in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, etc., the liturgy allows the minister to carry out an abbreviated rite reciting the antiphon “Oh Sacred Banquet” in the chapel or in the first room and distributing Communion in each room using just the formula “This is the Lamb of God…” and “Lord, I am not worthy.” He recites the closing prayer in the last room or the chapel but omits the final blessing.

I consciously omit here any reference to bringing viaticum to the dying as this rite is usually united to the anointing of the sick and is the exclusive province of the priest.

The structure of Communion outside of Mass could also provide a guideline for those who strive to attend daily Mass (apart from Sunday Mass). While the principle of attending the entire Mass remains firm, one may be a little bit more flexible regarding reception of Communion on weekdays if it is impossible to arrive at the very beginning.

In these cases it is best to consult directly with the pastor as to the best means of proceeding in order to fulfill one’s desire for Communion while respecting the dignity and sanctity of the sacrament.

Another interlocutor asked about the opposite end of Mass and if people may leave after receiving Communion.

The Mass ends with the dismissal, but as a mark of respect the faithful should wait until the priest has entered the sacristy and any final song has ended. Leaving after Communion does not allow us to thank God properly for the gift of his Son and also deprives us of the added grace of the concluding prayer and final blessing.

At times the members of the congregation resemble marathon hopefuls as they stampede toward the exit after Mass. In other circumstances, one wishes they would only get out sooner and not hang around chatting in the aisles. But that is a theme for another occasion.


  • lorraine schwartx says:

    If you missed the Gospel, you missed the Mass. Missing Mass is a mortal sin and that sshould be all the answer you need.

    • Jim Spangler says:

      That is what I have understood is that if you have missed the reading of the Gospel you should not receive communion and need to go to another Mass! It amazes me with some of the answers above from the Priest!

      • yolanda says:

        A lot of words without a good answer.
        Not to make a joke, but this is how the obama followers answer questions.

        • baluga aak says:

          Really? You have to bring in your political crap into this.

        • Bart says:

          …missed the point of the priest’s explanation.

        • Annie says:

          Be careful when you speak ill of GOD’s servant and more so dragging him into politics. Remember what happened to Aaron and Miriam?.

          • Jean says:

            Numbers 12 New International Version (NIV)

            Miriam and Aaron Oppose Moses
            12 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

            3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

            4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words:

            “When there is a prophet among you,
            I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,
            I speak to them in dreams.
            7 But this is not true of my servant Moses;
            he is faithful in all my house.
            8 With him I speak face to face,
            clearly and not in riddles;
            he sees the form of the Lord.
            Why then were you not afraid
            to speak against my servant Moses?”
            9 The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.

            10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous[a]—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

            13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”

            14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.

            16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.


            Numbers 12:10 The Hebrew for leprous was used for various diseases affecting the skin.
            New International Version (NIV)
            Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

      • Aaron Allanigue says:

        From what I have learned in Catholic doctrine classes, there are actually two liturgies inside a mass. The first part is the Liturgy of the Word where the Gospel is read. The second part is the Liturgy of the Eucharist which begins during the offertory. Each of these liturgies from what I can recall is a complete mass in itself. The Liturgy of the Word suffices for those who are not yet eligible to receive holy communion, but if intend to receive the Holy Eucharist and arrive at a Sunday mass when the offertory has already started then you are LATE. If the offertory has not yet started then you may still receive holy communion with the usual conditions of one hour fast and not guilty of mortal sin that has not been confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

        • Marie Arendt says:

          I am not in agreement with your premise that separately the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist would each
          satisfy the definition or meaning of a mass. That is incorrect. They are two separate and distinct parts that as a whole comprise Mass. For example a Funeral Service without Eucharist is not considered a Funeral Mass. The phrase Funeral Mass of Christian Burial, also in example, clarifies that there is a Eucharistic Liturgy as well as Liturgy of the Word with the Funeral rites

      • Uncle Jude says:

        The priest is absolutely correct with his answer. This answer you gave is less correct.
        Except for reasons which isn’t one’s own fault, anyone who comes into the mass after the sign of the cross with which the mass begins, that person is late. And if you’re late for such reason which is your fault, you have not shown respect to the holy God whom you receive, and who gives you Himself completely to save your poor soul from this world which is nothing but a sea of troubles.

    • Patricia says:

      Being habitually late is a sign of disrespect,rather stay at home if mass is only a necessary obligation. I have been taught if you miss the gospel you have not fulfilled coming to Mass. I think priests should take a stand and be more assertive (in a kind but firm manner) wrt right and wrong for mass behavior. Nice, leads to disrespect and disregard towards our faith

    • Uncle Jude says:

      The priest is absolutely correct with his answer. This answer you gave is less correct.
      Except for reasons which isn’t one’s own fault, anyone who comes into the mass after the sign of the cross with which the mass begins, that person is late. And if you’re late for such reason which is your fault, you have not shown respect to the holy God whim you receive, and who gives you Himself completely to save your poor soul from this world which is nothing but a sea of troubles.

  • janeth says:

    I was seven yrs of age that time when i go to infront of the priest,take the cummunion,priest teach me what to say after i eat the holy cummunion,say AMEN,that was my memorable as a seven yrs old as a follower of bieng christian ROMAN CATHOLIC.

  • I am residing in UAE, one of our priest said that even if someone is late for the mass, they can receive communion as long as they are in a state of soul clean. He said Eucharist is a sacrament and we can receive it anytime we need, like othe sacraments.

  • aymamibrockway says:

    I am an usher at our church and one of my responsibilities is to take a head count of people attending. We do this during the first reading and count stragglers up until the Gospel. If you come in after the Gospel starts, we do not count you as attending.

  • luci says:

    I confessed my sin when I was 12years old,and now I am 30 and I never confess again until now ca I allow to do communion,

    • Jeremy says:

      @ Luci, your parish priest would be a great person to ask.
      However, I’d recommend you confess before you commune with your church community.

  • Leolaydz says:

    The explanation to the above question is really very clear! I appreciate its clarity and it is what I believe too..Well said ! Thank you for the very good answer! I hope everyone that reads this article agrees to its answer! I do as I am a Catholic ….

    • Jean says:

      I agree. I am guilty. And if the priest have not explained it this well and extensive, I would have not totally understand it well still- the need to change my “mass behavior”. Thank you Father Edward!

  • Caryl-Ann le Roux says:

    Let’s face the facts in all honesty, if you can make the effort to be on time for whatever other appointments/functions then you can be on time for Mass. To draw the full benefit of the Mass you need to attend the Mass from the beginning. Those persons who rush in whenever they feel like are only there to forfill their duty and most likely look at going to Mass as a chore. Honestly, you must be at church at the calling to gather(ringing of the bells). You need to also be present at the general confession(confiteor) before receiving communion ( much in the same way that you wash your hands before you eat). Listening devoutly to the readings, the Gospel and the homily leads you to a fuller openness to entering into communion with Jesus. The final blessing is to be taken with you when you leave at the end of the Mass so that you can be active by spreading the Good News that you received at Mass. Leave only once the final hymn is finish sung and in so doing is saying thank you for the nourishment received at Mass. Before leaving go on bended knees and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving from your heart( Padre Pio stayed longer in thanksgiving than in celebrating Mass).

  • I consider missing the Gospel reading as already late in attending the Mass. God “talks” and shares His message to us in the Gospel. Yes, it is absolutely disrespectful to God to be late at Mass and just goes there to receive Holy Communion and much more so to leave without waiting for the Mass to end. It is equivalent to going to your best friend’s wedding only to eat during reception then leave after eating! That is what we call “Eat and Run”. Where is your manners, then or have you really got it?

  • Ellen Land says:

    I grew up in Ireland….Through our religious instruction we were taught that in order to fully receive the blessings of the celebration of mass and receive the Blessed Sacrament one had to be present for the, Offertory, The Consecration of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and The Priest’s Communion.

  • Randall Baartman says:

    I say this. Any person who walks into church after the readings should not accept they have attended mass. Mass is not only receiving Holy Communion. A true Catholic goes to mass because he/she wants to partake in the Word of God, he/she wants to listening to God’s Word, he/she wants to hear God’s Word, he/she wants to understand God’s Word and he/she wants to live God’s Word. Without God’s Word, we cannot live, we would be existing. Do not fool yourself or make excuses or try to find a way out. Any person who does, and this is happening all to often, arrive late for mass should just stay at home. He/she is kidding themselves that they are living good Christian lives.

  • Joydev Banerjee says:

    Hey my all mom & dad’s..I am just to inform u the ”illuminati”is started from Nigeria.& still now they are trying to move on here & there..those who didn’t know the word plz just be forget about it..the reason of prayer faultation is Illuminati..But dont worry..You have holy + …….Amen

  • Is it mass or Sunday worship?

  • Mary Cody says:

    We are not going to Mass to judge others by watching and timing them and the time they came in. The advice is for ourselves and not to be judging. If you are at Mass experience it and live it in community with love and joy.

  • Arthur Swart says:

    There is no point in Mass that cuts you off. Communion is available to everyone at any time if the person would like to receive it. You do not have to attend Mass to receive it. If you go to your church and ask the pastor to receive a host and a blessing, he will probably be surprised but I am convinced you will get it. Communion is your affirmation as a Christian, there are no required times and places to affirm that.

  • Jerry Wanahau says:

    I can’t really understand the priest final concluding answer but from my better understanding , we have blessing of the mass then the word with homily followed with your thanks giving offer then consecration any finally the very core of the celebration (Eucharist) . Consider late only after the word of God and homily ..

  • Theophilus Chiazor says:

    The Priest’s explanation is quite clear to me and makes sense, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves or allow ourselves to be stuck in teachings from our early years. There have been times i earnestly desired to attend mass and receive communion but for some reason out of my control, i was late (after the readings). I suffered torture of conscience whether to receive communion or not, in the end i did not and felt incomplete, but i satisfied myself with prayers after the mass. I think as the good Priest put it, it should be left to one’s good conscience and i add, one’s relationship with God. For me the essense of communion which i missed on that day was, an exchange of my intense feeling of live fir my God abd a closer union from the reception of communion. But like i said, i satisfied myself with prayers knowing my God understood, but again, i could have as well rationalised God would understand and received communion that day, sort of as the Priest explained here.

  • geraldine says:

    this one bothers me a lot. I used to do a lot of volunteer work and some of it involved helping out making food to serve after funerals. On one particular day most of the volunteers were late for a month’s mind mass for a man we had all known well. Most of them had already been to mass that day. just after the last of us arrived in to the church when we finished in the hall, the priest announced that anyone who had come to the mass after a certain time could not receive communion. everyone else could have it a second time that day if they so wished. I very much wanted to smack the man as almost all of the late people were busy doing good work for little or no thanks. I’m sure their God would have had them first in line to receive, unlike this man who is used to people kowtowing to him. men like that give ‘good’ priests a bad name

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