ROME, MAY 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I have two questions: 1) The Benedictine Ordo for the American Cassinese Congregation has the following note concerning “Rescripts from the Holy See”: “His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, has decreed that a newly ordained priest may, on the occasion of his first Mass, celebrated with some solemnity outside of Rome, grant once the Papal Blessing, using the formula given in the Roman Ritual. The plenary indulgence attached to this blessing may be gained by the faithful who devoutly assist at the first Mass, provided they have received the sacraments of penance and holy Communion, and have prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father. Given at Rome by the Sacred Penitentiary on November 5, 1964.” Do you have any idea what the present status of this rescript is? Since the Roman Ritual has been edited since 1964, which text would be used? What is the status of the plenary indulgence? 2) A deacon asked that I serve as the assistant priest, vested in a cope, for his first Mass. From what I understand, the assistant priest at the first Mass was more a matter of custom than law. Is this allowed in the current liturgy? — M.M., Latrobe, Pennsylvania
A: I would say that the rescript is no longer in force as its effects have been absorbed by the general norms of the Enchiridion of Indulgences.
The document mentions the papal blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached. The present Enchiridion in concession No. 43 attaches a plenary indulgence to the priest and faithful who assist at a newly ordained priest’s first solemn Mass, but this indulgence is now dissociated from imparting the apostolic blessing.
The Enchiridion grants the right to impart the apostolic blessing only to the diocesan bishop, who may impart it three times a year at the end of particularly solemn Masses (norm No. 10.2).
Therefore, as the papal blessing is no longer granted, the question as to what ritual should be used in imparting it is moot. The priest may use any of the blessings proposed in the missal according to the liturgical time and season.
With respect to the second question, effectively, the use of an assistant priest at a first Mass is custom and not prescriptive. This priest is usually an experienced priest whose principal task is to guide an understandably nervous new priest through the intricacies of the celebration.
The role of such a priest is similar to that of a master of ceremonies, although, unlike this figure, he usually simply vests the stole over an alb or surplice. The cope would not ordinarily be worn on this occasion, although its use may be a legitimate local custom in some places or within some orders.
The assistant priest does not usually perform the functions pertaining to the deacon, although it is not unknown for him to read the Gospel and preach the homily at a first Mass.
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Follow-up: Divine Mercy Sunday
After our piece on Divine Mercy Sunday (April 17), a reader said: “I’m still confused … we can all gain a plenary indulgence every day if we fulfill certain requirements. If that is so, I don’t see anything special about the Divine Mercy Sunday.”
Effectively, there is no difference between the plenary indulgence granted on Divine Mercy Sunday than any other act to which a plenary indulgence is attached. The Church has simply added this grant to the list as another means of obtaining the grace of an indulgence.
After all, no plenary indulgence can be more plenary than others.
A plenary indulgence is itself special and even though it may be obtained every day, the indulgenced acts always require some degree of spiritual exertion beyond normal Christian devotion.
Another reader asked: “Can the image of Divine Mercy be hung behind the altar? Is it against liturgical rules? Or is this an individual decision made by the parish priest?”
Depending on the design of the Church, the image of Divine Mercy may be hung in an alcove, behind a side altar or in some other suitable place.
While it is not forbidden to display an image of Christ, Mary or a saint behind the main altar, in modern churches this is usually reserved for the church’s patron. At the same time, the apse may be decorated with murals and mosaics figuring several personages.
Therefore, I would say that the image of Divine Mercy would not normally be set up behind the main altar unless the church was dedicated to this devotion. It could be so set up on a temporary basis on Divine Mercy Sunday or during devotions to the Divine Mercy.
Finally, the image may never substitute or block the image of Christ crucified required for the celebration of Mass.