Does Mass need a congregation?

Q. When I attended parochial school, we were taught that a priest could not say Mass by himself and needed at least one other person as his "congregation." But lately I have been told that priests are required to celebrate Mass every day, even if there are no other people present. Which is correct? (Milladore, Wisconsin)
A. Actually, neither statement is completely correct. Let me explain. As to whether a priest can celebrate Mass without a congregation, the church's Code of Canon Law, reflecting the fact that the Eucharist is primarily an act of public worship rather that a private devotion, says, "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" (Canon 906).
The code leaves it to the priest to measure the "just and reasonable cause," and I will tell you what I do. Most days, even as a retired priest, I have Mass obligations at one or another parish.
But let's say that it's a day when I'm not obligated, and it happens to be the anniversary of the death of one of my parents. I would consider that a "just and reasonable cause," and I would celebrate Mass all by myself at the desk in my apartment.
I would feel completely comfortable doing so particularly since, in answer to your second question, a priest is encouraged to celebrate Mass every day even though he is not required to do so.
Here's what the code says about that: "Remembering always that in the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice the work of redemption is exercised continually, priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the church in which priests fulfill their principal function" (Canon 904).
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.