Dear Father | In the case of emergency, Mass must go on

Q: Does the Church provide guidelines for what a priest and congregation should do in the case of a medical emergency taking place during Mass? 

After 2,000 years, the Church has experienced just about everything. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that, having been through this before, she has a contingency plan to deal with what you're describing. There are many ways, however, in which the Mass can be interrupted, so let's talk about them all.

There are disturbances at just about every Sunday Mass throughout the world. Usually these are very minor ones, such as a baby crying, and are easily addressed. Others, however, are much more disturbing. In recent years, we've seen political demonstrations take place at many cathedrals, some of which were intent on making the celebration of Mass impossible. The fury of nature has also been unleashed upon churches where Mass was being celebrated, whether by earthquake, flood, tornado, etc. Unhappily, we also live at a time in our nation when deranged individuals bring weapons into public buildings, hell-bent on large-scale murder; it could happen at Mass, too. Faced with that sort of cataclysm, common sense should prevail. The safety of all those in attendance is paramount and whatever it takes to make them safe must be done. Care should also be given, if possible, to secure or consume the Eucharist.

Thankfully, things like that are still rare. It is much more likely that someone in the congregation will pass out, have a seizure, etc. in the course of the sacred liturgy. When that happens, the prevailing rule is that the Mass must continue, if at all possible.

The proper course to follow depends upon who has experienced the event. If it was the priest himself, then another priest should be summoned to finish the Mass for him (while the stricken man is being attended to). If that's not possible, then this should be done: if the priest collapsed before the consecration, then the Mass is discontinued; if after the consecration, then the Eucharist should be placed in the tabernacle until another priest is able to finish the Mass.

If a member of the congregation needs care, the ushers should call 911 right away (even if it doesn't seem serious; err on the side of caution), but the Mass should continue. In the vast majority of cases, the paramedics will be able to apply their ministrations without being disruptive (I have seen this done many times). The rest of the congregation will serve the fallen best by praying for him throughout the remainder of the Mass and in their daily prayers at home.

Msgr. Mitas is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Union and dean of the Washington Deanery. Send questions for a priest to: St. Louis Review, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119 or to letters@stlouisre

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