The newsletter also points out that in the absence of a “definitive interpretation by the Holy See, attendance at the evening Mass shared by the two holy days is indeed sufficient to fulfill both obligations, ” but the caveat here is that the church’s intention in providing vigil Masses was “never envisioned as a legal loophole, and, hence, separate obligations remain.”
The divine worship committee also holds out hope that Catholics would want to go to Mass two days in a row, saying: “It would be hoped, of course, that Catholics foster a love for the sacred liturgy and hold a desire to celebrate the holy days as fully as is reasonably possible.”
There also is the tiniest amount of wiggle room. The committee acknowledges that situations arise where fulfilling Mass obligations on consecutive days is either impractical or impossible for an individual or a family and in these cases pastors can grant individual dispensations. Similarly, diocesan bishops “may examine their regional circumstances and grant general dispensations or commutations, while permitting their pastors to make judgments in individual cases,” the committee said, but such judgment calls are exceptions to the general rule.
The bishops’ committee also has looked ahead to when this will happen again. In the next 12 years, Christmas will fall either on a Saturday or a Monday four times and the feast of the Immaculate Conception will fall on either of those days three times.
Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin, said he hasn’t heard anyone ask about a dispensation for the Christmas liturgy, but he suspects some will try to combine the Sunday and Monday Masses. They also might go to the Saturday evening vigil for Sunday and the Sunday vigil for Christmas, which is OK.
He said the big challenge for parishes this year will be decorating for Christmas liturgies, especially parishes with afternoon Masses on Sunday that will only have a few hours to “turn the church over from Advent to Christmas.” Another challenge will be getting volunteers to help set up churches for Christmas Eve.
Some parishes are moving up the time of their Sunday Masses on the fourth Sunday of Advent to accommodate the quick turnaround.
Father Rice told Catholic News Service the rare event of a Monday Christmas “sounds to me like an opportunity to simplify, although Christmas isn’t generally a time people are looking for that.”