Bishops of all Catholic dioceses in Germany currently ban the public celebration of mass because of the Corona outbreak. In some European countries the general public is largely confined to their homes and houses.

In this situation our vicar general issued a note (March 16., 17:00) declaring:

In the current situation, it is the Church's mandate to bring people's concerns before God and to continue to be close to them spiritually. Can 906 CIC (Codex luris Canonici / Code of Canon Law) only requires the existence of a just and reasonable reason for the private celebration of the Eucharist of a priest, i.e. without the participation of any believer. Such a reason is given in the current exceptional situation, so that the priests can continue to celebrate the Holy Mass on behalf of the faithful, i.e. without the participation of believers and altar servers.

[In der derzeitigen Situation ist es Auftrag der Kirche, die Sorgen der Menschen vor Gott zu bringen und ihnen auch weiterhin geistlich nahe zu sein. Can 906 CIC (Codex luris Canonici/Gesetzbuch des Kirchenrechts) verlangt für die private Feier der Eucharistie eines Geistlichen, also ohne die Teilnahme irgendeines Gläubigen, lediglich das Vorliegen eines gerechten und vernünftigen Grundes. Ein solcher Grund ist in der derzeitigen Ausnahmelage zweifelsfrei gegeben, so dass die Priester weiterhin stellvertretend für die Gläubigen die heilige Messe, das heißt ohne Beteiligung von Gläubigen und Ministranten feiern können.]

The quoted canon reads:

Can. 906 Except for a just and reasonable cause, a priest is not to celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice without the participation of at least some member of the faithful.

My question is: What benefits for the Church or the faithful arise from the celebration of mass without congregation? What other reason compels priests to say mass without congregation?

For this question I am not interested in benefits for the priest (who takes part in the liturgy, receives the Eucharist and so on) and I am not interested in reasons that could also be satisfied by some form of intercessory prayer (which might still be part of the celebrated mass). I am more interested in this specific case of mass being important to celebrate even if no congregation will participate.


2 Answers 2


The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has intrinsic value, apart from the congregation.

A Mass without a congregation is called a private Mass (Missa privata), and it has just as much intrinsic value (valor intrinsecus) as a Mass with a congregation.

[I]n view of the infinite worth of Christ as the Victim and High Priest in one Person, the [Holy] sacrifice [of the Mass] must be regarded as of infinite value, just as the sacrifice of the Last Supper and that of the Cross.

J. Pohle, Catholic Encyclopedia, "Sacrifice of the Mass" §"The Causality of the Mass", §§"The Effects of the Sacrifice of the Mass"; cited in: Fr. Chad Ripperger, "The Merit of a Mass", p. 21

The priest alone causes transubstantiation.

Pius XII's 1947 encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei, condemns the error that a congregation is necessary for a Mass:

  1. Some in fact disapprove altogether of those Masses which are offered privately and without any congregation, on the ground that they are a departure from the ancient way of offering the sacrifice; moreover, there are some who assert that [multiple] priests cannot offer Mass at different altars at the same time, because, by doing so, they separate the community of the faithful and imperil its unity; while some go so far as to hold that the people must confirm and ratify the sacrifice if it is to have its proper force and value.

  2. They are mistaken in appealing in this matter to the social character of the eucharistic sacrifice, for as often as a priest repeats what the divine Redeemer did at the Last Supper, the sacrifice is really completed. Moreover, this sacrifice, necessarily and of its very nature, has always and everywhere the character of a public and social act, inasmuch as he who offers it acts in the name of Christ and of the faithful, whose Head is the divine Redeemer, and he offers it to God for the holy Catholic Church, and for the living and the dead.88 This is undoubtedly so, whether the faithful are present—as we desire and commend them to be in great numbers and with devotion—or are not present, since it is in no wise required that the people ratify what the sacred minister has done.

88. Roman Missal, Canon of the Mass.

This error that Pope Pius XII condemned found its way into the 1969 Institutio Generalis's Protestant-friendly definition of the Mass, which was subsequently corrected.

Private Masses valid.

Council of Trent sess. 22 can. 8:

If any one saith, that masses, wherein the priest alone communicates sacramentally, are unlawful, and are, therefore, to be abrogated: let him be anathema.
Si quis dixerit, missas, in quibus solus sacerdos sacramentaliter communicat, illicitas esse ideoque abrogandas: anathema sit.

Multiple simultaneous private Masses

at side altars of

an Institute of Christ the King Catholic church in Tucson, Arizona, circa 2019 anno Domini:
private Masses circa 2019

priests in a seminary:
priests saying their private Masses

bishops during Vatican II:
bishops saying their private Masses

  • I am foremost interested in the "intrinsic value, apart from the congregation", because that is the part about why a priest SHOULD say mass even without congregation. The rest of your answer merely deals with why he CAN say mass without congregation, which I never doubted. Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 12:56
  • And additionally: My question was about mass with no-one except the priest present at all. You might notice that in all your pictures there is someone else there, be it the server or some other faithful sitting nearby. Commented Mar 21, 2020 at 12:58

What benefits for the Church or the faithful arise from the celebration of mass without congregation? What other reason compels priests to say mass without congregation?

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is of infinite value before God, whether celebrated with a congregation or without a congregation.

The Infinite Value of the Holy Mass

The Holy Mass is the highest form of worship. It is the sacrifice of Calvary renewed. One Mass gives God more praise and thanksgiving and makes more atonement for sin and pleads more eloquently than does the combined eternal worship of all the souls in heaven, on earth and in purgatory. In the Holy Mass, it is Jesus Christ, God, as well as Man, who is our Intercessor, our Priest and our Victim. Being God – as well as Man – His prayers, merits and His offerings are infinite in value.

The Mass is the best means we have:

  1. To render God the highest form of worship.

  2. To thank Him for all His blessings.

  3. To obtain reparation for all our sins.

  4. To obtain all the blessings we desire.

  5. To release souls from purgatory and shorten our own time there.

  6. To preserve us from all dangers to soul and body.

  7. To be consoled at the hour of death, for at that moment their memory will be our greatest consolation.

  8. To intercede for us at the Judgment Seat of God.

  9. To bring down God's blessings; therefore try to assist at Mass every day, or as often as possible

  10. To better understand the sublimity of the Passion of Christ, and therefore, to increase our love for Him.

Other situations that historically have lead to priests or bishops saying Mass without any congregation or server at all, would be to isolation in prison (solitary imprisonment) because of their faith and being a missionary in lands where no faithful live.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld said Mass alone while in Algeria because of a lack of Catholic faithful in that country.

Charles received special Vatican permission to say Mass alone and to reserve the Eucharist in a tabernacle in his small hut. He worked on various projects with the twenty families who inhabited the nearby village, especially children, the aged, and the sick. The locals called him Marabout, or, "the holy one." - Charles de Foucauld: A life hidden with Christ

Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan is an example of on saying Mass in private and alone in prison while being persecuted by communists.

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