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Using Multiple Ciboria and Chalices

And More on Spanish Homilies

ROME, SEPT. 25, 2007 ( 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.

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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.


Why No Litanies at a Wedding

And More on Masses for the Living and the Dead

ROME, JUNE 19, 2007 ( Answered by Legionary Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: When can litanies be used? Can they be adapted into liturgical celebrations that do not, as such, call for it? Why are they used and for what purpose? The litany is used during baptism, ordination, during blessings and consecrations of places (churches) and people, during the Easter Vigil, etc. The specific situation I am referring to is during a marriage. A marriage is a key moment in a couple’s life and they take on a distinctive vocation. I understand the litany is used to recognize, to call on the saints to pray for those being ordained or professed as religious, but the rite does not provide for the litany during the marriage ceremony. If there is one vocation which needs the explicit assistance of the saints, then I think it would be the married vocation. It seems odd that at each of the other major points in a person’s life, the litany is sung, but not at the wedding. Would it be appropriate to include a litany of the saints during the rite of a marriage? As the litany could include the formula for the general intercessions, would you see it appropriate to replace the general intercessions with the litany of the saints? — J.M., Sydney, Australia

A: The litany (from the Greek “lite,” or prayer) was a simple and popular form of collective prayer which in the early Church was used before the dismissal of catechumens who could not assist at the prayers of the faithful. Usually a deacon or reader would enumerate a series of simple petitions and the people would respond with a phrase such as “Pray for us.”

The origin of the litanic prayer is obscure, and forms of this prayer existed also in Jewish and pagan culture. There is early evidence of the use of the litanic form of prayer in Rome from before the year 225.

The litany of saints is divided into two elements: the invocation of a list of saints, and a series of invocations addressed directly to God which are almost certainly much older that the list of saints.

While the practice of a short list of saints written in Greek may have begun in Rome under Pope Sergius (687-701), it would appear that the litany as we know it today developed in eighth-century Ireland and England from whence they returned to continental Europe a hundred years or so later.

While the litany is found in several various rites, this did not conform to a set plan. Rather, it developed independently in each rite over a different time scale, the earliest evidence of its use being for the baptismal liturgy.

Their essential function is to implore the saints’ intercession and God’s protection before a particular moment or rite of special significance. They are also sometimes used in processions; for example, a special litany of the saints sometimes accompanies the entrance procession for some especially significant and solemn papal celebrations.

The rite of marriage probably never had a litany because the fixing of the essential lines of this rite antedates the introduction of the litany by several centuries.

While the idea of introducing a litany within the context of a wedding is not without merit, it would not be correct to independently replace the prayer of the faithful for a litany of the saints, as this would alter the established rite of Christian marriage.

Since marriage is one of those rites where the bishops’ conference enjoys fairly wide leeway in adapting to local needs, it would not be unthinkable for a particular national conference to propose to the Holy See the introduction of some form of litany.

There would be no particular difficulty, however, in including some form of petition to the saints within the context of the prayer of the faithful. For example, a petition could ask something like: “For N. and N., that they may imitate in their lives those saints who have been sanctified in the married state, especially Sts. Priscilla and Aquila, Sts. N. and N., etc., whose intercession we also invoke this day.”

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Follow-up: Masses for the Living and the Dead

Some readers responded to the question (June 5) on whether Mass offered for the living was more efficacious than that offered for the dead.

A meticulous reader did an online search for the supposed quotes of St. Anselm and Pope Benedict XV and turned up several pages that all provided the same quotes, including the same grammatical errors: “A great Doctor of the Church, St. Anselm declares that a single Mass offered for oneself during life may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death,” and “Pope Benedict XV tells us, ‘The Holy Mass would be of greater profit if people had it offered in their lifetime rather than having it celebrated for the relief of their souls after death. … The fruits of the Sacrifice of the Mass are in effect much greater efficacy [sic] during one’s life than after one’s death because the application which is made to those well-disposed among the living is more direct, more certain and more abundant.'”

As our reader points out, none of these sites provide bibliographical references to the sources of these quotes. And an electronic search of St. Anselm’s works failed to find any text corresponding to the supposed quote.

This does not prove that the quotes are false, nor that they are doctrinally groundless. But it does remind us to be wary of uncritically using the Internet as a source of knowledge, and to always attempt to verify our sources.

A correspondent from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, asked: “Several people have told me that having Mass offered for a living person is ‘more efficacious’ than if that person attended Mass himself. How would you respond to this statement? I would think that attending the holy sacrifice of the Mass oneself, if not prevented by some serious reason such as poor health, would be more efficacious.”

In general we should avoid focusing the question of the efficacy of a Mass in such a way that reduces, commodifies or limits the infinite efficaciousness of Christ’s holy sacrifice.

It is like asking which is more efficacious, driving oneself or having someone drive for you? In the end the important thing is reaching your destination.

God’s granting of grace cannot be standardized. Whether a person receives more spiritual benefit from attending Mass or from having someone offering a Mass for him depends on a plethora of factors ranging from God’s liberality to the person’s subjective willingness to correspond to the gift of grace.

If any difference might be found it is that, for Catholics, attending Mass (unless legitimately impeded) is a necessary means of spiritual progress and even a necessary means of salvation. Having Mass offered for one, however, does not enjoy the same degree of necessity and some people could even reach sanctity even if nobody ever remembered to offer a Mass for their benefit.

Masses for the Living and the Dead

And More on Head Coverings

ROME, JUNE 5, 2007 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Is the Mass offered for the living more powerful than after your death? St. Anselm and Pope Benedict XV said they are. Could you please comment. — S.T., Chicago

A: While our reader did not offer the sources of these comments by St. Anselm and Pope Benedict XV, I will take her word for them.

In what way can we say that one way of offering a Mass is “more powerful” than another?

First of all, it is necessary to clarify that in itself the Mass has the same value of Christ’s paschal mystery of which it is the ritual re-presentation. Therefore its value is infinite, and one Mass is not more powerful than another.

Thus, any difference in value must be sought in the effect on the person for whom the Sacrifice is being offered.

In the case of the deceased in purgatory any benefit is received passively, since the soul is no longer capable of performing new meritorious acts. While such a soul is already saved, it cannot increase in sanctity but only purify those imperfections which impede its definitive entrance into glory.

A living person, however, is still capable of growing in sanctifying grace. And so a Mass offered for a person already in God’s grace has the effect of offering a gift of increased grace which the person may willingly receive in order to become more Christlike.

As an intercessory prayer, a Mass offered for a person in a state of actual mortal sin may yet supply the grace necessary for repentance even though conversion is always a free acceptance of the grace that is offered.

While the Mass may be offered for other intentions as well (for instance, for those who are ill), I believe that the discourse regarding whether the Mass for the living is more powerful than for the dead lies principally in the above point regarding the possible increase in sanctity. The offering of the Mass may also assist in this increase of sanctity by helping people face their sufferings and trials more deeply united to Christ.

Only the living can become holier, even to the point of directly entering heaven after death. Some might be perplexed by the idea that there can be differences in sanctity in heaven. The saints sometimes used a useful image to describe this possibility.

During life, by freely corresponding with grace, each person prepares his or her own capacity of being filled with God. In heaven, some will be like liqueur glasses; others, beer tankards; others, barrels; and a few oil tankers. The important thing is that all will be filled to the brim, and none will feel the lack of anything necessary for happiness.

Of course, the Church recommends praying and having Masses offered for both the living and the dead, for none should be excluded from our charity.

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Follow-up: Head Coverings for Women

Several readers asked for further clarifications after our article on women wearing head coverings (May 22).

One reader said he was told that the new Code of Canon Law did not repeal the former obligation to wear hats and veils, but simply did not mention it.

Although some canonists might accept this hypothesis, it is not the most probable interpretation as it is unlikely that the legislator would have left the faithful in doubt as to the existence of an obligation. By no longer mentioning the custom, the legislator removed it from the realm of obligation while leaving intact the possibility of its remaining as a custom in some places or contexts.

A reader from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, mentioned a particular case: “We have a small group of traditionalist parishioners who come for Mass with their heads (especially women) veiled. Most parts of the Mass they are seen kneeling when everyone else is standing. During Communion they would receive kneeling and will only receive Communion if distributed by a priest and not by lay ministers or religious. There are instances where they refused to come out for Communion because the priest who celebrated the Mass would only give Communion to communicants who are standing. This resulted in them moving from church to church, searching for priests who would give them Communion kneeling. What is the Church’s norm on this?”

Other readers mentioned similar cases of women being actively discouraged by priests from wearing hats and veils because they “cause distraction.”

The principal reason why St. Paul mandated women to cover their heads was to foment modesty during the liturgy, especially because in the cultural context of the time a woman who did not cover her head conveyed a message of impropriety.

Since modesty is the primary reason, a woman is free to cover her head for the sake of modesty, or simply out of respect for long-standing custom.

While modesty would also advise against using elaborate hats and veils that tend to draw attention to oneself, there is no authority in canon law or in common-sense social mores that would allow a blanket prohibition or discouragement of all head coverings. Priests should be flexible enough to accommodate the various spiritual sensibilities of their flock, except in the case of clear incompatibility with the nature of the sacred rite.

A similar point could be made regarding the so-called Malayan traditionalists. These faithful should be encouraged to participate in the common gestures of the celebration which express unity of prayer and purpose.

Although the priest should try to educate them as to Church norms and genuine piety, it is usually pastorally advisable to be patient and avoid creating unnecessary divisions regarding points that are not always clearly defined in liturgical law.

At the same time, the Holy See has made it clear that even when the bishops’ conference has established the practice of receiving Communion standing as a general norm, the faithful who wish to, may kneel down to receive the Host. It has also emphasized in very clear terms that under no circumstances may the faithful be refused Communion simply because they kneel.

Such members of the faithful, however, should also be careful lest their practice cause any disturbance to the flow of the Communion lines and if necessary they should, for example, wait until the end to receive kneeling.

As one version of the classic spiritual adage says, “In important things unity, in less important things liberty, in all things charity.”

Father Edward McNamara