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.
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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.