Liturgy of the Catholic Church

Liturgy and Para-Liturgical Celebrations

Archive for blessings

When a Host Isn’t Swallowed

ROME, JUNE 12, 2007 ( Answered by Legionary Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: How should one dispose of a consecrated host which was placed in the mouth of an ill person who, in the end, was unable to swallow it? — L.M., Kennesaw, Georgia

Q: In Canada most parishes use several types of missal booklets for either English or French Masses. Once these have expired they are thrown out. The question is, since the majority of people now take Communion in the hand instead of directly by the mouth, particles of the host are bound to become attached to these missals when the communicant returns to their pew. How then should these missals be disposed of? It just doesn’t seem right, if they have particles of host on them, to throw them in the garbage. Could you please give us some advice on this problem? — R.H., Otterburn Park, Quebec

A: A host which has been partially consumed in some way may be disposed of by placing it in water until it has dissolved, and then pouring the water into the sacrarium or into the ground.

If the mishap has occurred outside of a parish — for example, in a nursing home or hospital with no chapel — then it should be carefully wrapped in a purificator and brought to the parish for proper disposal.

Some courageous ministers might be willing to consume such a host themselves out of respect, but this is usually not advisable and is unnecessary.

Regarding the second question, I do not think there is really much danger of fragments of hosts remaining on the booklets.

If such were the case, then they would also remain in other places such as the pews, the clothes worn by the faithful and all over the floor. If the Church had considered that there was a serious danger of fragments being deposited in various places as a result of the practice of receiving Communion in the hand, then it would never have contemplated permitting the practice.

This is, of course, presuming that the hosts used are properly produced and not subject to easy fragmentation.

Also, as dealt with in more detail in the follow-up published on July 5, 2005, according to traditional Catholic theology, above all, that of St. Thomas Aquinas, a microscopic fragment is no longer an integral part of the host and may therefore be considered as equivalent to a corrupt host in which Christ’s presence would no longer subsist.

Therefore, I believe that the booklets may be disposed of without scruple as regards the possibility of the Eucharistic presence. They still contain God’s Word, however, and, while strictly speaking they are not sacred objects like the missal or lectionary, many people have scruples about mixing these booklets with the common trash.

While it is not necessary to go to great lengths to dispose of them, if feasible, it may be better to take them directly to an incinerator or paper recycler rather than mixing them with the common garbage.

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Follow-up: Benediction by a Bishop

After our piece on a bishop giving Benediction (May 29), a reader from Malmö, Sweden, asked: “I’ve noticed that a bishop may also give a blessing with the Book of the Gospels. Does he do this on more solemn occasions? Is there any difference when giving the blessing with the Book of the Gospels and when giving it with the monstrance and Blessed Sacrament?”

The practice of the bishop imparting a blessing with the Book of the Gospels on certain solemn occasions is a relative novelty in the liturgy.

It may have been introduced by Pope John Paul II. For some time it was considered as a prerogative exclusive to the Holy Father, even though some bishops also began to impart this blessing, probably influenced by televised papal Masses.

Although the norm legitimizing the custom is not mentioned in the Ceremonial of Bishops, it has been incorporated into some recent publications such as the introduction to the Book of the Gospels.

The norm does not specify how this blessing is to be carried out. The general practice seems to be that, after proclaiming the Gospel, the priest or deacon brings the open book to the bishop to be kissed. The priest or deacon then closes the Book of the Gospels and gives it to the bishop who makes a simple sign of the cross with the volume in a manner similar to that of Benediction with the monstrance. In other cases the book is brought, already closed, to the bishop, who takes it, kisses it and then imparts the blessing.

The rubric does not indicate on what solemn occasions this blessing is imparted and apparently leaves the decision to the bishop himself.

The rubric does indicate, however, that only the bishop imparts this blessing and this rite is never carried out by a priest.


Benediction by a Bishop

And More on BlessingsROME, MAY 29, 2007 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: When a bishop gives Benediction with the monstrance, does he use one great sign of the cross like a priest, or does he use the triple sign of the cross like at Mass without the monstrance? I’ve seen it done both ways by bishops. — D.Z., Marquette, Michigan

A: The norms in force before the present rite did foresee the triple sign of the cross when a bishop gave Benediction.

The present norms found in the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 1114, simply describe the bishop who, after taking the monstrance, “then turns towards the people and makes the sign of the cross over them with the monstrance in silence.”

The accompanying footnote refers to No. 99 of the ritual of Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. As this ritual makes no distinction between Benedictions imparted by a bishop or a priest, it may thus be presumed that a particular form of Eucharistic Benediction is no longer foreseen for a bishop even though some prelates may have continued the earlier practice out of force of habit.

On the other hand the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 169, does specify the triple sign of the cross at the end of Mass.

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Follow-up: Blessings Without a Stole

In line with our column on blessings without a stole (May 15), several readers have asked a similar question: “Is it proper for lay extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to give a ‘blessing’ to young children or people who cannot (or choose not to) receive the Eucharist?”

There are many ways of distinguishing kinds of blessings and sacramentals. One such distinction is between constituent and invocative sacramental.

The effect of a constituent sacramental is to transform the person or object being blessed in such a way that it is separated from profane use. Examples would include the blessing of an abbot and the blessing of holy water. Practically all of these blessings are reserved to an ordained minister and sometimes are the exclusive preserve of the bishop.

Invocative blessings call down God’s blessing and protection upon a person or thing without sacralizing them in any way. Some of these blessings are reserved to the ordained, such as the blessing of the assembly at the end of a liturgical celebration.

Some blessings may also be imparted by lay people by delegation or by reason of some special liturgical ministry, above all when an ordained minister is absent or impeded (see general introduction to the Shorter Book of Blessings, No. 18). In these cases lay people use the appropriate formulas designated for lay ministers.

This latter situation is probably the case of the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion who ask that God’s blessing may come upon those who for some good reason approach the altar but do not receive Communion.

Finally, some simple blessings may be given by lay people in virtue of their office, for example, parents on behalf of their children.

Head Coverings for Women

Head Coverings for Women
And More on Blessings and on Divine Mercy Sunday


ROME, MAY 22, 2007 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.


Q: A friend of mine told me that according to the Scriptures a woman should cover her head in the presence of Our Lord (holy Eucharist/during Mass). In our churches this is not practiced. Can you please write and tell me as to how and when the practice of women covering their heads came to an end, or is it that we are doing something which is not proper? — J.M., Doha, Qatar


A: The Scripture text referred to is probably 1 Corinthians 11:4-16:


“Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God.


“Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given (her) for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.”


A full treatment of this text is beyond the scope of this column. But we may say that this passage contains some elements that have perennial theological value and others which reflect transitory social mores which apply only to the specific time and place of the Corinthians.


For example, during the course of history there were times when it was common for men, and even clerics, to wear their hair long; and none felt that St. Paul’s words considering the practice a disgrace applied to them.


Likewise, liturgical norms tell bishops to keep their skullcaps on during some of the prayers during Mass, and they may use the mitre while preaching, without falling under St. Paul’s injunction that this practice brings shame upon his head. The norms, however, do ask him to remove his head covering for the Eucharistic Prayer and when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.


Apart from bishops, and some canons, custom still dictates that all other men should uncover their heads in church except for outdoor Masses.


During St. Paul’s time it was considered modest for a woman to cover her head, and he was underscoring this point for their presence in the liturgical assembly.


This custom was considered normative and was enshrined in Canon 1262.2 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law alongside the recommendation that men and women be separated in Church and that men go bareheaded. This canon was dropped from the new Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983, but the practice had already begun to fall into disuse from about the beginning of the 1970s. Even though no longer legally binding, the custom is still widely practiced in some countries, especially in Asia. It has been generally abandoned in most Western countries even though women, unlike men, may still wear hats and veils to Mass if they choose.


Sociological factors might also have been involved. The greater emphasis on the equality of man and woman tended to downplay elements that stressed their differences.


Likewise, for the first time in centuries, not donning a hat outdoors, especially for men, ceased being considered as bad manners, whereas up to a few years beforehand it was deemed unseemly to go around hatless.


This general dropping of head covering by both sexes may also have influenced the disappearance of the religious custom.


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Follow-up: Blessings at First Masses


Regarding our piece on blessings by a newly ordained priest (May 8), a Durban, South Africa, reader asked: “There are parishes where the priest blesses ministers of the Word and Eucharistic ministers prior to their performing their respective duties at Mass. Are these blessings appropriate and liturgically correct?”


The short answer is no. The only such blessings foreseen in the present liturgical books are those of the priest who blesses the deacon, or the bishop who blesses the deacon or priest who is about to read the Gospel.


Some Oriental rites do have a blessing of the reader, who is almost always a cleric. The Latin rite, before the present reform, foresaw that the subdeacon received a blessing after chanting the epistle at solemn Mass.


In the present Roman rite the reason for this blessing is to both prepare the minister to carry out his task and to emphasize the special role of the Gospel with respect to the other readings. This is why the Gospel is the only text reserved to an ordained minister, carried in procession, laid upon the altar, and incensed before being proclaimed.


Thus, while the idea of blessing the other readers is not totally foreign to liturgical tradition, its introduction into the present rite is an unauthorized novelty and tends to detract from the special role that the liturgy assigns to the Gospel.


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Follow-up: Divine Mercy Sunday


Another reader asked for further clarification regarding the indulgence for Divine Mercy Sunday (see April 17): “I heard on a recent EWTN program that there is a difference, namely, that one of the conditions for gaining a plenary indulgence is not required, namely, the need for total detachment to venial sins. Elsewhere I have read that such detachment may be so difficult to attain as to make the gaining of a plenary indulgence a rare exception. Clearly, if this is all true, then the Divine Mercy plenary indulgence — wouldn’t this be a more generous grant by the Church?”


The decree instituting the indulgence stated that it was granted subject to the usual conditions, which includes detachment to any sin, even venial sin. This is a sine qua non condition and no indulgence may be obtained without it.


It is not, however, an impossible condition to meet, as we explained in our columns on this topic on Feb. 15 and and March 1, 2005.


A reader from Sydney, Australia, sent a note (adapted here) which might clarify the issue:


“I suspect your reader inquiry regarding Divine Mercy is confused because most likely he is referring to the special grace Jesus speaks of that is offered for Divine Mercy Sunday (see St. Faustina’s Diary No. 699) — which, although similar, is not exactly the same as a plenary indulgence. Moreover, the Holy See offered a plenary indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday as well. So the special grace in question is similar to a plenary indulgence; however, from how I interpret it, this grace is not dependent upon the individual ‘having the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin.’ Rather, the following conditions must be met and, unlike a plenary indulgence, this grace is only available on Divine Mercy Sunday itself:


— celebrate the feast on the Sunday after Easter;
— sincerely repent of all our sins;
— place complete trust in Jesus;
— go to confession — preferably before that Sunday;
— receive holy Communion on the day of the feast
— venerate the image of the Divine Mercy (that is, some gesture of deep religious respect);
— be merciful to others through our actions, words and prayers on their behalf.”


The special graces mentioned in this clarification are not a question of liturgy but of particular devotion due to a private revelation.


Our Lord is free to dispense his graces as he sees fit. But the Church does not normally give official sanction to every aspect of a private revelation, even though it may grant them some measure of approval by instituting liturgical feasts and attaching indulgences to recommended practices.

Blessings Without a Stole

And More on the Agnus Dei


ROME, MAY 15, 2007, – Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.


Q: I was told that a priest’s blessing over a person or object, given without wearing his stole, is one given by himself as a man, whereas a blessing given while wearing his stole has more power in that it comes with the power and protection of the charisms given him as a vicar of Christ. Is this true? Should we ask them to wear their stole when they give a blessing? When children approach our pastor for a blessing with their arms crossed over their chest during Communion, he taps them on the head with the back of his hand and says: “God bless you.” Is the back of the hand appropriate? Is this a blessing? Isn’t he retaining the blessing rather? — E.S., Mississauga, Ontario


A: Certain liturgical blessings, such as the blessing of holy water, naturally demand the use of a stole due to fidelity to the rite. In such cases both the proper vesture and the correct liturgical formulas should be used without cutting corners out of expediency.


The use of the stole for other blessings is an eloquent symbol of the priestly condition and ministry and is thus to be commended whenever practical.


The use of the stole, however, is not required for the validity of these sacramentals. Nor can it be said that a priest’s blessing is “more powerful” when he wears the liturgical garb, since his ability to impart these blessings derives from his ordination and not from any external vesture.


The Holy Father frequently imparts the apostolic blessing without a stole during the weekly recitation of the Angelus. Priests are also frequently called upon to bless people or objects of devotion on the spur of the moment with no possibility of donning a stole. In all such cases the effects of the blessing is the same regardless of vesture.


With respect to the second question, I believe that the priest’s gesture probably stems from respect toward the Eucharist and toward the communicants. Since he touches the hosts with his fingers he probably wishes to avoid using them to touch the children. This is probably the priest’s personal decision and does not correspond to any particular liturgical norms.


It is highly doubtful that he desires to retain the blessing, and his words are enough to convey his intention.


Even where this blessing of non-communicants has been specifically approved (and some dioceses specifically discourage or forbid it), the question of the proper gestures is as yet unclear. For motives of respect toward the Eucharist I would suggest that it is preferable to impart this blessing without touching the person being blessed.


* * *


Follow-up: Agnus Dei, Beyond the Norms


After our comments on the Agnus Dei (April 24), a Pittsburgh reader asked: “During the Easter season, our parish is using a sung version of the ‘Lord, I Am Not Worthy.’ However, the words in the setting are changed to, ‘Lord, we are not worthy to receive you into our hearts, but only say the word and we shall be healed of our sins.’ Although the music is moving, it does not seem appropriate to alter the words of the liturgy, particularly the change of ‘I’ to ‘we.'”


Effectively, this altered musical version could possibly be used as a Communion song inspired by the liturgy. But it is not correct to alter the approved liturgical text, especially as in this case the words are based on the Bible.


The Latin text of this acclamation is taken literally from the Latin Vulgate version of Matthew 8:8: “But the centurion answered him, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed,'” changing only the word puer (servant) to anima (soul).


The current English version departs somewhat from the biblical text although it appears that the upcoming new translation will be closer to the Latin.


Furthermore, substituting “I” for “we” also tends to eliminate the personal element of Communion. Receiving Communion is a personal, not a community, act even though the community is certainly involved.


It is true that none of us is worthy to receive Communion, but the proclamation of such unworthiness is a personal acknowledgment. We are not authorized to publicly proclaim the unworthiness of our neighbors.


As mentioned above, this adapted version could still be used as a Communion song. And it is quite possible that the music was originally composed with this purpose in mind.

Blessings at First Masses

And More on Divine Mercy Sunday


ROME, MAY 8, 2007 ( 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.


* * *


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.

Father Edward McNamara