The Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest is a response to the convergence of several factors. The first of these is the fact that it is not everywhere and always possible to have a complete liturgical celebration of Sunday (no. 2). A second factor is the request over the past few years from several conferences of bishops that the Holy See issue guidelines for this de facto situation (no. 7). A third factor is a matter of experience: in the light of the actual situation and its circumstances the Holy See and many bishops in their local Churches have already turned their attention to Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest. The Directory has profited from such experience in regard to its assessment of the advantages and at the same time the possible limitations of the sort of celebration in question.
The fundamental point of the entire Directory is to ensure, in the best way possible and in every situation, the Christian celebration of Sunday. This means remembering that the Mass remains the proper way of celebrating Sunday, but also means recognizing the presence of important elements even when Mass cannot be celebrated.
The intent of the present document is not to encourage, much less facilitate unnecessary or contrived Sunday assemblies without the celebration of the eucharist. The intent rather is simply to guide and to prescribe what should be done when real circumstances require the decision to have Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest (nos. 21-22).
The first part of the Directory is completely devoted to a summary of the meaning of Sunday and its point of departure is art. 106 of the Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 8).
The second part prescribes the conditions necessary for the decision in a diocese to schedule as a regular occurrence Sunday assemblies in the absence of a priest. From a practical and directive point of view this is the most important part of this document. The question; this is an example of responsibilities that pastors can entrust to lay members of their community.
The third part of the Directory is a brief description of the rite for Sunday celebrations of the word along with distribution of communion.
As with similar documents, the application of this Directory depends on all the bishops, each acting in accord with the situation of his Church; in matters involving norms for an entire region, the application of the Directory depends on the conference of bishops.
What matters above all is ensuring that communities involved in the situation in question have the opportunity to gather together on Sunday, and in a way that coincides with the celebration of the liturgical year (no. 36), and that unites such communities with a community that is celebrating the eucharist with their own pastor (no. 42).
As Pope Paul VI (no. 21) and Pope John Paul II (no. 50) have stated, the purpose of all pastoral endeavor concerned with Sunday is that it be celebrated and regarded in accord with Christian tradition.