And More on Breast-Beating
ROME, JAN. 10, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q1: During the celebration of the Eucharist, when the Confiteor is said, I have been observing in formation houses and religious communities that if the congregation consists only of males they say, “I confess …, and to you my brothers,” and if females only they say, “I confess …, and to you my sisters.” Is this practice correct? — T. P. Shillong, India
Q2: At Mass, at the penitential rite, I have seen priests, when saying, “May Almighty God have mercy … ever-lasting life” raise their hands as a kind of blessing or absolution. Is that proper? — A.P., Margate, Florida
A: The first question involves the particularities of the English language. In many languages, the masculine form does double duty and can refer to just males or to a mixed group. Thus, for example, in Latin, Spanish and Italian it is only necessary to use the equivalent of “brothers” to refer to the whole assembly.
In English “brethren” can serve this purpose and in fact may be used to introduce the penitential rite. However, perhaps for stylistic reasons, it was not included as part of the “I confess.” Thus in the English translation we say “brothers and sisters.”
Some contextual adaptation is foreseen in the rubrics, when Mass is celebrated with only one acolyte. In this case priest and acolyte say “to you my brother” in the singular. Therefore, I think it is theoretically possible for a male community to use simply “brothers” when no women are present.
Another question is whether it is pastorally advisable to do so given that liturgical expressions are habit-forming. If, on some occasion, there are men or women from outside the community present at the celebration, then the change could easily lead to confusion.
The case is different for a female community because at Mass at least one brother will always be present, the celebrating priest. Therefore the standard formula should be used. Nor, as a general rule, should the priest change the gender of the liturgical greetings if celebrating for a women’s community.
With regards to the second question, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 51, reminds us: “Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.”
No gesture is prescribed in the rubrics, and it is presumed that the priest will remain with hands joined. Any gesture which might imply that the words grant absolution should be avoided so as not to confuse the faithful.
* * *
Follow-up: Breast-Beating During the Confiteor
In the wake of our opinion (see Dec. 13) that the new translation of the Confiteor (“I confess”) would allow for a triple striking of the breast, several readers pointed out an official reply from the Holy See on this topic which I had overlooked.
As one California reader pointed out: “Not that I like this responsum, but it is the final word that I know of on this. Gerunds, etc., are speculative; this is direct and clear.”
The text, published in Notitiae 14 (1978), 534-535, says:
“n. 10. In pronouncing certain formulas as in, e.g., the Confiteor, the Agnus Dei, and the Domine non sum dignus, whether on the part of priests or on the part of the faithful, the gestures accompanying the words are not always performed the same. Some strike their breast with a triple strike when saying the aforementioned formulas, others once. Which practice seems that it should legitimately be retained?
“In this case it will help to remember these things:
“1) Gestures and words often tend to give significance to one another.
“2) In this matter, as in others, the liturgical restoration has pursued truth and simplicity according to the passage of Sacrosanctum Concilium: «The rites should be resplendent in their noble simplicity …» (SC, 34).
“While in the Roman Missal promulgated by the authority of the Council of Trent the words were very frequently also accompanied by minute gestures, the rubrics of the Roman Missal restored by the authority of the Second Vatican Council are noteworthy for their discretion with regard to gestures.
“Having said this:
“a) The words mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa which are found in the Confiteor are introduced in the restored Roman Missal by a rubric of this sort: All likewise … striking their breast, say … (OM, n. 3). In the former Missal, in the same place, the rubric read like this: He strikes his breast three times. It does not seem, therefore, that anyone has to strike his breast three times in pronouncing those words in Latin or in another language, even if mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa is said. It suffices that there be a striking of the breast.
“It is obvious also that only one gesture suffices in those languages in which the words for showing one’s fault have been rendered in a more simple manner, as, for example, in English, «I have sinned through my own fault», or in French, «Oui, j’ai vraiment peche».
“b) The discretion of the restored Roman Missal is shown to be noteworthy also in the other texts mentioned, namely the Agnus Dei and the Domine, non sum dignus which by words of penitence and humility in one way or another accompany the breaking of the bread and the invitation to the faithful to receive the Eucharist.
“As it was said in response n. 2 of the Commentary «Notitiae» 1978, p. 301: where the rubrics of the Missal of Paul VI say nothing, it must not therefore be inferred that it is necessary to observe the old rubrics. The restored Missal does not supplement the old one but has replaced it. In reality, the Missal formerly indicated at the Agnus Dei, striking the breast three times, and in pronouncing the triple Domine, non sum dignus, striking the breast … says three times. Since, however, the new Missal says nothing about this (OM 131 and 133), there is no reason to suppose that any gesture should be added to these invocations.”
I had already mentioned in my earlier reply that a single striking was a valid interpretation, and this official response confirms this.
At the same time, I think this official pronouncement fails the reality test. More than 33 years have gone by since the response was issued and practically everybody using Latin, Spanish and Italian strike their breasts three times at the Confiteor, no matter what the rubric says or fails to say.
I think that the same is going to happen in English now that the triple form is restored, and it would be an exercise in futility on behalf of bishops and priests to attempt to oblige the faithful to do otherwise.
Nor would I consider the attempt a good thing in itself. People will naturally do this, and I believe it makes the sign of striking the breast more meaningful.
The present rubrics are clear about not striking of the breast during the Lamb of God, and the practice is now uncommon. The fact that the Agnus Dei is often sung makes it less natural to strike the breast than in the staccato beat of the Confiteor.
At the same time, there are very good arguments to defend the practice. The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, for example, wrote the following in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy: “During the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), we look upon him who is the Shepherd and for us became the Lamb and as Lamb, bore our iniquities. At this moment it is only right and proper that we should strike our breasts and remind ourselves, even physically, that our iniquities lay on his shoulder, that ‘with his stripes we are healed’” (page 207).
And More on Crucifixes
ROME, JAN. 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Why does the second response to the celebrant’s invitation, “The mystery of faith” retain the term “cup” instead of “chalice” as contained in the words of consecration? Is this an error in translation or is it correct? — T.A., Makurdi, Nigeria
A: I was not involved in the translation so, to be quite honest, anything I say will be speculative at best.
The text says: “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.”
It is unlikely to have been a simple oversight or a cut-and-paste job because the acclamation has been changed. The former translation said: “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.”
The new translation of this text is generally more accurate even though in this case the Latin calicem is translated “cup” instead of “chalice” as is done elsewhere in the missal.
By keeping the word “cup,” it is probable that the translator wanted to follow as close as possible the original inspiration for this acclamation in 1 Corinthians 11:23-28:
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.”
Practically all English-language Bibles translate the Greek poterion as “cup” rather than chalice, as current English attributes a technical meaning to this word which it did not have in the original. In a similar vein the word calicem in Latin can refer to many drinking and cooking vessels and not just those reserved for liturgical use.
These memorial acclamations constitute a novelty within the Latin rite, and they were only introduced with the liturgical reform. With the removal of the acclamation “Christ has died …,” which was found only in the English missal, the remaining three are basically scriptural quotes.
For this reason I think the translator is justified in following here the commonly accepted biblical translation while translating the same word as “chalice” in the texts that manifest the Church’s 2,000-year development of her liturgical traditions.
Although respecting the biblical text is probably the principal reason for retaining “cup,” the translator may also have been influenced by a desire to allow continued use of melodies already well-known by the faithful who often sing this part of the Mass. The addition of an extra syllable would likely make this particular text a bit more difficult to manage.
* * *
Follow-up: Covering the Crucifix
There were several inquiries regarding the crucifix (see Dec. 20). A reader from Zambia asked which direction the figure of Christ should face when the cross is placed upon the altar itself or when the processional cross is used as the altar cross. Answer: In both cases the figure of Christ should face toward the celebrant. This is the current practice for papal Masses in Rome.
When there is a large crucifix present behind or suspended above the altar, there is no need for other crosses to be placed upon or near the altar itself.
A figure of the Risen Lord or any other similar image of Christ does not substitute the crucifix.
The crucifix, however, may adopt any of several historical styles. As well as the more common form of a dying or deceased Christ, it is possible to use an image of the Regal Christ. This image has the Savior with arms outstretched on the cross but alive, fully robed and sometimes wearing a kingly crown as the one who reigns from the cross. According to art historians, this form of representing Christ crucified was quite common until the Middle Ages, when the more dramatic images of the dying Christ became more popular in art and devotion.
This question arose with the beginning of Mass facing the people. Beforehand, both people and celebrant always faced toward the crucifix. The source for the answer is a clarification published in Latin in the review Notitiae in 1966. Although Notitiae is hard to find, the website www.ipsissima-verba.org has performed an invaluable service in publishing the most important responses and clarifications issued by this review which is the official organ of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Not all of the replies have the same legal force, and some are outdated, but the fact that the material is available on the web saves a lot time in the library.
And More on Deacons
ROME, OCT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
A: In the vast majority of cases Orthodox Christians have been validly baptized, confirmed and received the Eucharist from infancy, and thus do not have to receive any of these sacraments.
Likewise, Catholic canon law allows a Catholic priest to administer the sacraments of Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing to Orthodox Christians if their own minister is unavailable or for other just causes. (Most Orthodox Churches, however, do not approve of their faithful availing of this possibility.)
For this reason Orthodox Christians intending to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church would usually be able to participate in the Church’s sacramental life even before their formal incorporation, either in the Latin rite or in an Eastern Catholic rite.
Prior to formal incorporation, they would still require a dispensation from the bishop before entering into marriage and a man could not enter into seminary formation. Nor could they receive any formal ministry.
The specific process for incorporating a baptized Eastern Christian is covered above all in the Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches, canons 35 and 896-901.
Canon 896 specifies that for those adult Christians (beyond 14 years) “who ask of their own accord to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, whether as individuals or as groups, no burden is to be imposed beyond what is necessary.”
Canon 897 indicates that the Christian may be received “With only the profession of faith after a doctrinal and spiritual preparation that is suited to the person’s condition.”
With respect to individual laypersons the right to receive usually pertains to the pastor although in some cases particular law might reserve this admission to a higher authority (cf. Canon 898.3).
Canon 35, however, is important because it specifies that baptized non-Catholics entering into full communion “should retain their own rite and should observe it everywhere in the world as far as humanly possible. Thus they are to be ascribed to the Church ‘sui iuris’ of the same rite.”
When the person wishes not only to become Catholic but to change to the Latin rite, the same canon recognizes the right to approach the Holy See (the Congregation for Eastern Churches) in special cases.
Therefore, in the case at hand, the simplest thing to do is to approach the Eastern eparchy most closely resembling his original rite in order to be admitted into the Catholic Church in accordance with the dispositions of the pastor.
Once admitted, he should continue to practice the faith in the corresponding Eastern rite. But he may also freely practice in the Latin rite for a just cause, for example, if there were no churches of his own rite within a reasonable distance.
In order to formally switch rites, he would need to recur to the Holy See as mentioned above.
* * *
Two readers offered friendly criticism of an expression used in my Oct. 2 column on what a deacon can and cannot do.
One wrote: “Father McNamara says that the deacon is of a ‘lower grade’ of order than a priest. While such a designation might be accurate in terms of reflecting the liturgical faculties associated with the diaconate, it seems to suggest that a deacon is in some way subservient to a priest, which I believe is a trivialization of the ordained ministry of service. Rather than a strict hierarchical construct in which the line might be a straight one from bishop to priest to deacon, my understanding of the diaconate, traditionally and in our contemporary context, is that the ordained deacon is directly accountable to the bishop. That is, of a class of order unique to itself.”
Another added: “You state that the deacon is a lower grade than a priest. ‘Lumen Gentium,’ No. 29, does indeed say ‘at a lower level of hierarchy are deacons,’ but it does go on to say ‘in communion with the Bishop and the presbyterate.’ So though there is a hierarchical difference between deacon and priest, and of course bishop and priest, there is also a fundamental unity and communion. Talk of lower grades by itself does not seem to me to do justice to this understanding of Vatican II.
“I do not think priests would welcome being told they are a lower grade than bishops, full stop. That would again not do justice to a proper understanding of priesthood and their share in the high priesthood of Christ to which a bishop is ordained.” The writer went on to say that a deacon is an ordained minister, who, like a priest, shares in the apostolic ministry of the Church “but with a distinct, different and differentiated but not lesser ministry than the priest.”
While I appreciate both the interest and the sincere friendliness of these observations, I believe that the term is technically accurate from the point of view of the sacrament of orders. Bishop, priest and deacon are not three separate sacraments but different levels (or grades or degrees) of the one sacrament of holy orders.
Each level has its own value and its proper sphere of ministry and specific liturgical functions. Yet, they are not simply three distinct modes of orders but are indeed hierarchically structured. The deacon has many particular functions, but insofar as he is at the service of the Eucharistic mystery his ministry necessarily depends upon and is related to the priestly ministry, not as subservience but as service.
Given that the Eucharist is the center and lifeblood of the Church, all other possible diaconal ministries such as celebrating baptism and matrimony ultimately flow from the priest’s Eucharistic ministry.
However, the priest’s Eucharistic ministry, and hence the deacon’s relatedness to him, in turn depends on the bishop and finally upon Christ himself as the foundation of all the sacraments.
In this sense of sacramental and hierarchical communion and interdependence, it is no slight to a deacon to state the fact that his is a lower grade of the sacrament of orders, just as the priest’s dignity is in no way demeaned by saying that he is at a lower grade of orders compared to the bishop. This is implied in the Latin text of the prayer of priestly ordination which asks that the candidate receive the second grade or degree of priestly ministry.
For this reason I believe that our first correspondent’s affirmation regarding the deacon and priest’s direct accountability to the bishop confuses two distinct spheres. One thing is that all clerics depend directly upon the bishop with regard to assignments and ministries; another is the specific liturgical functions, which depend on the nature of the sacrament itself.
As stated in the previous article, among the practical consequences of this sacramental reality is that the deacon should not ordinarily preside over the assembly whenever a priest is present and available, just as a priest should not normally preside over the assembly in the presence of a bishop.
There may be some legitimate exceptions to this general rule, but I believe that it is important to recognize that this rule is grounded in the nature of the sacrament and is not a mere question of protocol and human criteria.
And More on Multiple Chalices
ROME, OCT. 9, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Unlike our present pastor, our former priest always would mention the intention for the Mass. Is this up to the individual priest? It gets printed in our bulletin, but I would hope the priest would mention who the Mass is for at some point, even though I know God knows who it is for. — L.S., St. Louis, Missouri
A: While there are no universal laws regarding this topic, some dioceses have published norms with common-sense indications that all priests may take into account.
My reply is inspired by the norms issued by the Diocese of Rome.
There is no requirement to mention the priest’s intention at the Mass. Thus, a mention in the bulletin or some other public notification is a legitimate option, especially when the pastor is aware that the person who requested the Mass will not be present at the celebration.
If the person or family who requested the intention wishes to be present, then it is good that the celebrant mention the name of the person for whom the Mass is being offered.
This may best be done either after the greeting at the beginning of Mass or as an intention of the prayer of the faithful.
The name should not normally be mentioned during the Eucharistic prayer. This naming is best left for funeral Masses, Masses at the notification of death, and significant anniversaries. The special formulas for funerals, especially in Eucharistic Prayers 2 and 3, were specifically composed with such occasions in mind and were not conceived for daily recitation.
It should be remembered that the Mass intention refers above all to the intention of the celebrating priest who took upon himself the commitment to celebrate for a specific intention when he accepted a stipend.
Since the Mass is infinite the priest may also have other personal intentions that may or may not be reflected in the Mass formula used.
For example, a priest may offer the Mass for a deceased soul while at the same time using the Mass formula “For Vocations,” with the personal intention of asking God to bless the Church with abundant vocations.
Likewise, while any person assisting at Mass is free to associate his prayer with the intention of the priest celebrant, he or she is also free to offer up participation at the Mass for any number of personal intentions.
We also have dealt amply with the topic of intentions and stipends in our columns of Feb. 22 and March 8 in 2005.
Follow-up: Using Multiple Ciboria and Chalices
In the wake of our comments on multiple vessels (Sept. 25) a reader asked: “When several chalices are prepared for a concelebrated Mass, my understanding is that it is correct to add water to the wine only in the ‘main’ chalice, and that it is not necessary to add water to the wine in all the chalices. Is there any official document in which this is specified?”
This point has been discussed by liturgists, but no consensus has been found. Nor am I aware of any official norms on this particular subject.
Some liturgists hold the position that it is sufficient to add water to the chalice of the principal chalice, which thus forms a moral unity with the other chalices for the purpose of consecration.
This argument is fairly solid from the theological standpoint, and there would certainly be no doubt that the consecration would be valid and licit.
It also solves the problem of the rather ungainly sight of a deacon or priest pouring a drop of water into several chalices already arrayed upon the altar.
It is not, however, universal liturgical practice. Many celebrants prefer to place water in all chalices, along with wine, so that all communicants can receive from wine that has been mixed with water according to ancient Church tradition.
This may be done in two ways. If there are only a couple of extra chalices, then wine and water, or just water (if the extra chalices are already prepared) may be placed in all of them during the preparation of the gifts.
If there are many chalices, then water and wine may be placed in all but the principal chalice when the chalices are prepared before Mass begins.
This latter solution is generally practiced by the Vatican sacristans for large concelebrations at St. Peter’s.
And More on Altar Cloths
ROME, OCT. 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In our parish we have a temporary overseas priest and a married deacon. During Benediction our married deacon consistently wears the full vestments that a priest wears for Benediction; says the Divine Praises; and elevates the monstrance while the overseas priest either sits watching in the pew or acts as an acolyte, swinging the thurible. The priest only wears an alb or even just plain clothes with no vestments, and remains kneeling. Several parishioners are much disturbed and have said so. I have asked the deacon why he wears the priest’s vestments. His answer: “I’m an ordained minister.” My reply was, “But you are not a priest.” I asked, “Who has given you authority to do this?” He stated that the bishop has. There are other irregularities which he persists in during the Mass. He stands throughout the prayers; takes the host from the ciborium given to him by the overseas priest; mouths the doxology; and even holds the paten containing the host. — R.I., state of New South Wales, Australia
A: Some distinctions should be made. Although the deacon is an ordained minister, he is of a lower grade than a priest and therefore he should not preside over the community if a priest is present.
Therefore in normal cases a deacon may not give a blessing, and even less so Benediction, if a priest is present and available.
He may do so if the priest is legitimately impeded, for example, if the priest were hearing confessions during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and could not leave the confessional to impart Benediction.
In those cases where the deacon legitimately imparts Benediction, either because there is no priest or the priest is impeded, the deacon may wear the same vestments as the priest: the stole albeit worn in the manner of a deacon, the cope and the humeral veil. He may also recite or sing the same prayers as the priest. He does not need any special permission from the bishop to wear these vestments as the rubrics already foresee it.
The other actions that our correspondent describes are aptly termed irregularities. The deacon should usually kneel for the consecration, silently hold up the chalice (not the paten) for the doxology, and should always receive Communion from the priest and not self-communicate.
Rather than any special permission or dispensation from the bishop (who is unlikely to dispense from basic liturgical law for no reason), such errors are more probably due to bad habits and imperfect liturgical formation. The person responsible for correcting them is the pastor, the priest celebrant, or even the bishop if the local priest is unwilling.
When a deacon is ordained he promises the bishop and the Church that he is willing to carry out the diaconal service with humility and love as a cooperator of the priestly order and for the good of the Christian people. If he lives up to his promise, then he will gladly correct any errors that might have crept in.
The Web site of the U.S. bishops’ conference has a useful document “The Deacon at Mass,” based on the latest norms from the Holy See.
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Follow-up: Altar Cloths
A priest reader from British Columbia sent in some more information regarding cloths that may be placed upon the altar (see Sept. 18 column).
He wrote: “There is the practice, not universal, of placing a cerecloth, a cloth made waterproof by being soaked in wax. It was placed immediately under the altar cloth to prevent, in the case of accident, any spilled Precious Blood seeping through to other cloths or coverings. Apparently this type of cloth was also used in wrapping a corpse. Hence, the mind might allow for a connection between the Bloody Sacrifice of Calvary and the Un-bloody Sacrifice of the Holy Mass.”
A reader from Israel asked: “Is there or was there a rite or prayers to prepare an altar that hasn’t been used recently for Mass and hasn’t had the Blessed Sacrament present for a while? Perhaps called ‘dressing the altar’?”
In most cases an altar that has been unused for some time does not lose its original dedication and there is no need to be dedicated or blessed anew.
A suitable way of underlining the return to use is with a new set of liturgical objects, such as a new altar cloth and other linens. These may be blessed at the beginning of Mass using the appropriate rites and formulas described in the Book of Blessings.
* * *
Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.
And More on Spanish Homilies
ROME, SEPT. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Can you advise as to the correct procedure when arranging ciboria and chalices on the altar following the receiving of the gifts? Given that during a large celebration there will be a number of chalices and ciboria, is it appropriate to arrange them symmetrically giving pride of place to the celebrant’s chalice and ciborium? There are those self-proclaimed liturgists who would insist that as there “is only ONE bread and ONE body,” only the celebrant’s chalice and paten/ciborium should be placed centrally on the corporal and the additional vessels should be placed “to one side.” This seems to me to fly in the face of consecration of the elements. — I.M., Island of Jersey, United Kingdom
A: Among the most explicit norms touching on this theme are the norms published by the U.S. bishops’ conference on Communion under both kinds. Although these norms have no legal force outside of the States, they are indicative and have been approved by the Holy See.
Among other practical suggestions they say:
“32. Before Mass begins, wine and hosts should be provided in vessels of appropriate size and number. The presence on the altar of a single chalice and one large paten can signify the one bread and one chalice by which we are gathered ‘into the one Body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise.’ When this is not possible, care should be taken that the number of vessels should not exceed the need.
“At the Preparation of the Gifts
“36. The altar is prepared with corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice (unless the chalice is prepared at a side table) by the deacon and the servers. The gifts of bread and wine are brought forward by the faithful and received by the priest or deacon or at a convenient place. (Cf. GIRM, no. 333). If one chalice is not sufficient for Holy Communion to be distributed under both kinds to the Priest concelebrants or Christ’s faithful, several chalices are placed on a corporal on the altar in an appropriate place, filled with wine. It is praiseworthy that the main chalice be larger than the other chalices prepared for distribution.”
On the one hand, these norms present the preferred situation of a single chalice and one large paten. On the other, they bow to the reality of many different situations and wisely abstain from offering rigid proposals for all circumstances.
This same flexibility may be used in responding to the question at hand.
While certainly pride of place must always be given to the celebrant’s chalice and paten, placing them directly in front of him, other chalices and ciboria may be arranged either beside the principal vessels on a single large corporal or on other corporals placed upon the altar.
In some very large concelebrations with many vessels, a special corporal covering almost the entire altar table and placed before Mass is sometimes used, as the vessels take up most of the available space.
Among the factors to be taken into account is the number of vessels. If we are speaking of but one or two extra vessels, then having everything on a single corporal is probably preferable. If there are many vessels, then extra corporals would be preferred, located in such a way so as not to block the view of the main vessels and also respecting common-sense symmetry and aesthetics.
Other elements to be considered include the size of the altar, the logistics of the various movements, the number of concelebrants and faithful, and the method chosen for distributing holy Communion. Since all of these might vary from one celebration to the next, there is no universal rule that can be applied to all cases.
* * *
Follow-up: Spanish Homilies Read by a Layman
Several attentive readers offered input on our Sept. 11 commentary regarding a layman reading a priest’s homily in Spanish.
Some readers illustrated the huge difficulties faced by many priests seeking to accommodate the influx of Spanish-speaking parishioners throughout the continental United States, including in some unexpected regions.
One reader pointed out these difficulties are often compounded by the fact that not all immigrants speak the same variety of Spanish. And there are even rural immigrants from countries such as Peru and Mexico for whom Spanish is not their first language.
In such cases, even standard Spanish can leave them perplexed in a similar way as happens to English-speaking Americans visiting England who discover the truth behind Churchill’s quip that they are two countries separated by the same language.
In my earlier reply I had supposed that the solution of simultaneous translation was rather uncommon. An experienced reader, however, informed me that this is often the preferred and best solution in many parishes.
He wrote: “Simultaneous translation maintains the original ‘communicative’ rapport of the pastor with his flock. My recent experience of this situation in the USA is that the level of English among the [Spanish-speaking] listeners is extremely diverse. Some will understand 100%, others 80%, 50%, etc. Those who have no knowledge of English have the live translation, and they can also perceive the personality of the priest in his intonations, facial expressions and gestures. It establishes a much more personal relationship than simply listening to a written text read to them.
“I have seen priests do this in an engaging way that manages to create a very lively rapport with the congregation, even without the homilists’ speaking a single word of their language. In the situation described, there are surely people willing to do the simultaneous translation and, in the end, all will benefit greatly from it.”
If an immediate simultaneous translation is not feasible, but it is possible for someone to translate the text of the homily ahead of time, then I believe that the best solution is that the priest preach the homily in English and after each paragraph or principal point some other person read the translation, preferably using a different microphone.
While I know of no official document forbidding it, I still maintain that having a layperson read the whole homily in lieu of the priest is not a proper solution. The nature of the homily as a communication of the ordained minister should be preserved as far as possible.
Likewise it is necessary to avoid even the appearance of any confusion of ministerial roles or of a layperson delivering the homily. Most regular parishioners are capable of distinguishing between a layperson reading and preaching the homily. But in the highly mobile U.S. society, visitors are frequent, and it is best to avoid all possibility of scandal.
It is also true that some input from the lay reader is inevitable as nobody can read a text without putting himself into it. Words that are read are never merely someone else’s communication.
And More on Media at Homilies
ROME, SEPT. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Could you clarify why three cloths are used on the altar? We have a discussion ongoing in our parish where there are two schools of thought: Either this has a symbolic reference to the Trinity or, alternatively, has a symbolism linked to the shroud cloths of Christ. — A.F., Sheffield, England
A: The question of cloths on the altar is dealt with in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 304, which states:
“Out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and for the banquet in which the Body and Blood of the Lord are offered on an altar where this memorial is celebrated, there should be at least one white cloth, its shape, size, and decoration in keeping with the altar’s design. When, in the dioceses of the United States of America, other cloths are used in addition to the altar cloth, then those cloths may be of other colors possessing Christian honorific or festive significance according to longstanding local usage, provided that the uppermost cloth covering the mensa (i.e., the altar cloth itself) is always white in color.”
Therefore, only one white cloth is obligatory in the present rite unlike the extraordinary form of the Roman rite (the Missal of John XXIII) which specifies three cloths, one of which covers the entire altar table and hangs down the sides almost to the floor. The other two cover at least the table or the stone containing the sacred relic.
The attribution of possible symbolic references for these cloths is not uniform and their history is often entangled. Sometimes in liturgy an object is first used for one reason, for example, covering a sacred object with a cloth as a sign of respect and care.
This was a fairly common practice in the ancient world and is not exclusive to Christianity or even to the specifically religious sphere. It was sometimes applied to civil objects such as symbols of authority or formal copies of imperial decrees.
During the Middle Ages many well-established liturgical customs were interpreted allegorically as bearing on some doctrinal aspect or representing some moment of the Redemption.
In this way some authors interpreted objects such as the altar cloths as representing the Lord’s shroud, others as the Trinity. Finally, the allegorical interpretation was sometimes reinforced by being incorporated into the design and decoration of the object itself.
The Church itself has usually refrained from granting official sanction to these allegorical interpretations. In some cases more than one interpretation might be legitimate and even useful for illustrating some particular doctrinal point. In other cases excessive use of allegory can even lead us to miss the main theological point, for example, in explaining the essentially sacrificial nature of the Mass.
Another cloth which may be used on the altar is the antependium, or frontal, which hangs down in front of the altar, usually reaching the ground.
In the Western tradition, it is white or some similar color although in some countries it follows the seasonal liturgical color. It may be adorned or embroidered according to local custom and culture. An antependium enhances the dignity of the altar and helps to clearly define the liturgical season.
Other practical cloths may also be placed on the altar such as an under-cloth and a dust cover which is placed over the altar cloth when not in use so as to keep it clean at all times.
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Follow-up: Slide Shows at Homilies
In response to our piece on slide shows during homilies (Sept. 4) a reader from Evansville, Indiana, mentioned a case which went beyond a presentation: “Once, our parish priest replaced the homily with a film. As you noted that images may remind people of television, this action by our priest reminded me of a movie theater. It was as if I were watching a movie that did not interest me. While the lights in the church were dimmed, I am sure others felt the same way and some of them may have even taken a short nap in the darkness.”
While the homily may not be the place for the use of such media as DVD’s and presentations, they can be most useful evangelization tools in other contexts such as catechesis and the continual Christian formation of adults. As another reader pointed out, such modern means are “easy to use, pleasant to view, and draw wonderfully focused lessons and applications. They are often prepared by religious sisters and are the fruit of a lifetime of professional communication in the classroom.”
If truly useful, it is even possible to use such means in the church, as it is not always possible or practical to convoke the people at other times or venues. For example, with adequate foresight the pastor could invite the faithful to remain a few minutes after Mass to view a video or presentation on some topic of pastoral or spiritual concern.