How Late Can I Arrive at Mass and Still Receive Communion?

The Answer May Surprise You

Pope Francis Distributing Communion
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How you ever arrived late for Mass, through no fault of your own, and been reluctant to go up and receive Holy Communion? It's an experience that many of us have had because we're unsure if there is a rule concerning how much of the Mass we must have attended before we can receive Communion. We want to do the right thing, and we know that the best thing is to have attended the entire Mass, but still we wonder: How late can one arrive at Mass and still receive Communion?

No Time Limit

The short answer is "Once Communion is no longer being distributed." In other words, even if you walk into Mass during the distribution of Communion, and you are the last person in the Communion line, you can receive Communion (provided, of course, that you are properly disposed to receive the sacrament). The reception of Holy Communion in no way depends on your participation in the Mass (as long as you have not already received Communion earlier that day).

Doing Our Sunday Duty

Most Catholics who ask this question have confused the ability to receive Communion with the fulfillment of our Sunday Duty. The Sunday Duty is one of the Precepts of the Church, and it says that "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor."

The Sunday Duty is a fulfillment of the Third Commandment: "Remember to keep holy the sabbath day." It is binding under pain of mortal sin, so if we deliberately do not fulfill it, we cannot receive Communion again until we have gone to Confession.

However, this is a separate question from whether we can receive Communion without participating in a Mass.

If you come to Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation at the time that Communion is being distributed, you may receive Communion, but you have not fulfilled your Sunday Duty. To fulfill your Sunday Duty, you need to attend the entire Mass.

If through no fault of your own, you arrive late, or important circumstances require you to leave early, you've still fulfilled your Sunday Duty. But if you leave early to get a better seat at the buffet, or you arrive late because you decided to sleep in, then you haven't fulfilled your Sunday Duty.

Receiving Communion Does Not Fulfill Our Sunday Duty 

You do not have to have fulfilled your Sunday Duty in order to receive Communion. But the flipside is that receiving Communion, in and of itself, does not fulfill your Sunday Duty. And, as I noted above, if you deliberately fail to fulfill your Sunday Duty, you cannot receive Communion in the future until you have gone to Confession.

So here's the rule of thumb: If you come in late to Mass on a Sunday or a holy day, through your own fault, you can still receive Communion. But you will need to attend another Mass, in full, that day in order to fulfill your Sunday Duty. (And you can receive Communion at that second Mass as well; see How Often Can Catholics Receive Holy Communion? for details.)

One other thing to note: On days when you are not required to attend Mass (for instance, any weekday that isn't a holy day), you can receive Communion once without having taken part in the Mass.

In fact, it used to be common practice in many parishes to distribute Communion before weekday Mass, during the Mass itself, and after Mass, so that those who could not attend the entire Mass could still receive Communion daily.

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Richert, Scott P. "How Late Can I Arrive at Mass and Still Receive Communion?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/arrive-late-receive-communion-3970742. Richert, Scott P. (2017, February 13). How Late Can I Arrive at Mass and Still Receive Communion? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/arrive-late-receive-communion-3970742 Richert, Scott P. "How Late Can I Arrive at Mass and Still Receive Communion?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/arrive-late-receive-communion-3970742 (accessed January 18, 2018).