Question: A friend reluctantly attends the New Order. She tells me that it has been so badly changed that she doesn't believe it really is a Mass, but that she just goes to receive Communion. Is it possible to receive Communion if there is no Mass? How do we know if a Mass is valid or not?
Answer: While it is possible to receive Holy Communion apart from the Mass, this can be done only if the Blessed Sacrament was consecrated at an earlier time during a Mass and reserved in the tabernacle for later distribution. This is what is done for the Communion of the sick who cannot attend Mass, and to accommodate the reasonable requests of others unable to attend Mass at the scheduled time.
Apart from the Sacrifice of the Mass it is not possible to transubstantiate bread and wine into the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood. So, if your friend is correct in believing that no Mass is being celebrated, then no Communion is being given either.
While it is theoretically possible that the hosts in the tabernacle might have been put there by another priest who consecrated them during a valid Mass, there would be no way to know this with certainty. The hosts in the tabernacle may have been put there by various priests during several different Masses (or non-Masses), or the celebrant of the invalid Mass might just distribute bread he didn't consecrate himself.
A communicant receiving a round piece of unconsecrated bread instead of the Blessed Sacrament might derive some psychological benefit (he thinks he has done a holy thing), but the supernatural graces he receives can be no greater than those received from a spiritual Communion. In fact, he has not received the Body and Blood of Christ, and he is guilty of worshipping a piece of bread perhaps not culpably so but certainly a grave objective evil.
The Mass and Sacraments require four things to be valid; appropriate matter, form, minister, and intention:
"Form" refers to the words established by our Lord or by the Church to specify what is happening in the operation of the Sacrament. ("For this is My Body...." "I Baptize thee...." and so on.)
Each Sacrament has its required "minister." Anyone may baptize; the bridal couple minister marriage to one another; but a priest is required for the celebration of Mass and confection of the Blessed Sacrament. All of the considerations that relate to the valid offering of Mass: matter, form, minister, and intention, apply to the valid ordination of a priest with the added dimension, of course, that at ordination the ordained must have intended to become a sacrificing priest of our Lord Jesus Christ, as our Lord intended him to.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of sacramental validity to judge is the "intention" of the minister. In the "good ole days" this was not much of a problem. According to Pope Leo XIII, if the priest followed the Church's ritual and made no statement to the contrary, he was assumed to "do what the Church does" and have an adequate intention. Today, the expressed intention of the New Order church--to narrate what happened at the Last Supper (1)--is inadequate for the celebration of Mass in any rite.(2) One might simply ask the priest what it is that he intends to do, or determine his intentions by the way he conducts himself in what ought to be a most sacred ministry. (A priest who dresses in a clown suit, or goes for a smoke while the ladies in T-shirts hand out hosts, probably didn't intend "to do what our Lord did," or anything resembling sacramental validity.)
Yet, asking the priest, or watching him may not be adequate. The New Church even has priests who offer Mass according to the traditional Catholic rite, but who insist on teaching the errors of Vatican II and its postconciliar deceptions. Perhaps only God can know if such men offer Mass or not.
Catholics have a right to receive the Sacraments validly. That is why our Lord instituted them. No power on earth can command the reception of invalid or sacrilegious sacraments. No one should ever be put in the position of having to guess whether or not he has validly received a Sacrament. This right connotes a similar responsibility; to demand validity; to demand the Sacramental graces; to refuse to be put into the position of committing the idolatry of "bread-worship." In practical terms, this usually means canceling one's collection envelope number and subscription to the diocesan rag, "shaking the dust from one's shoes,"(3) and not coming back again to any place where Mass is offered sacrilegiously or invalidly.