Liturgy of the Catholic Church

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What a Deacon Can Do

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 liturgy@zenit.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.



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Concelebrants From Different Rites

And More on Consecrated Hosts

ROME, JUNE 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Are there special norms for the celebration of Mass when priests of different rites concelebrate? — A.E., New York

A: The 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin rite is silent regarding this subject, but it was specifically addressed in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated in 19–

Canon 701 of this code states: “For a just cause and with the permission of the eparchial bishop, bishops and presbyters of different churches ‘sui iuris’ can concelebrate, especially to foster love and to manifest the unity of the Churches. All follow the prescripts of the liturgical books of the principal celebrant, avoiding any liturgical syncretism whatever, and preferably with all wearing the liturgical vestments and insignia of their own Church ‘sui iuris.'”

Unlike most canons, this one lists no sources for its indications in earlier documents, thus confirming that it was specifically composed to address a relatively new situation. As it is the only norm available, its indications are also applicable to Roman-rite priests.

To this may be added the injunction of the instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” No. 113: “Where it happens that some of the Priests who are present do not know the language of the celebration and therefore are not capable of pronouncing the parts of the Eucharistic Prayer proper to them, they should not concelebrate, but instead should attend the celebration in choral dress in accordance with the norms.”

Therefore a priest, with sufficient dominion of the language, may receive permission to concelebrate in a Mass of a rite different from his own. This permission may be for a specific situation or habitual, as may be the case of some Eastern priests studying or residing in Latin-rite institutes or priestly residences.

The priest should normally participate in the vestments of his own rite, as was clearly visible in Pope John Paul II’s funeral and Benedict XVI’s installation Mass where each of the Eastern cardinals who concelebrated wore his own proper vestments.

Canon 7–2 of the Eastern code, however, allows for exceptions to be made to this rule if proper vestments are unavailable. This could easily happen to an Eastern priest traveling in Europe or America or, less likely, a Latin-rite priest in an Eastern country. In such cases he may concelebrate using Latin or Eastern vestments.

As the canon says, there should be no attempt to syncretize or mix elements of different rites. Only one rite may be followed.

The texts and rubrics of some Eastern rites have been translated into several languages. In some cases these translations are for study purposes only, and priests may never concelebrate using a translation that has not been formally approved for liturgical use by the proper authorities.

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Follow-up: When a Host Isn’t Swallowed

Some readers took umbrage toward the affirmation in our June 12 column on corruption of the host: that Christ’s real presence would no longer subsist in a microscopic fragment of the host.

A clarifying link to an earlier reply was provided in the earlier piece. However, given that not all of our readers have access to the Internet, I will restate the essential point here.

My reply was principally based on an application of the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologiae” III pars q — In the corpus of the fourth article of this question, “Whether the sacramental species can be corrupted,” the Angelic Doctor affirms:

“An accident can be corrupted in another way, through the corruption of its subject, and in this way also they can be corrupted after consecration; for although the subject does not remain, still the being which they had in the subject does remain, which being is proper, and suited to the subject. And therefore such being can be corrupted by a contrary agent, as the substance of the bread or wine was subject to corruption, and, moreover, was not corrupted except by a preceding alteration regarding the accidents.

“Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between each of the aforesaid corruptions; because, when the body and the blood of Christ succeed in this sacrament to the substance of the bread and wine, if there be such change on the part of the accidents as would not have sufficed for the corruption of the bread and wine, then the body and blood of Christ do not cease to be under this sacrament on account of such change, whether the change be on the part of the quality, as for instance, when the color or the savor of the bread or wine is slightly modified; or on the part of the quantity, as when the bread or the wine is divided into such parts as to keep in them the nature of bread or of wine. But if the change be so great that the substance of the bread or wine would have been corrupted, then Christ’s body and blood do not remain under this sacrament; and this either on the part of the qualities, as when the color, savor, and other qualities of the bread and wine are so altered as to be incompatible with the nature of bread or of wine; or else on the part of the quantity, as, for instance, if the bread be reduced to fine particles, or the wine divided into such tiny drops that the species of bread or wine no longer remain.”

Thus, our discussion dealt specifically with the theme of corruption of the host by reduction “to fine particles … that the species of bread no longer remain.”

This is a different question to that of Christ being really present in small particles or fragments of a host while retaining the species of bread. So long as the species of bread remains, Christ is really present and it is even possible to administer Communion to the sick or persecuted using very small pieces of hosts or even drops of Precious Blood.

Thus, while Christ would certainly not be present in microscopic or no longer visible fragments, it is almost impossible to establish a dividing line when dealing with small but visible particles — and the Church has never wished to pronounce on this theme.

In part this is due to the objective difficulty and danger in making such a demarcation, but also so as avoid giving any justification whatsoever for a lackadaisical manner of treating the sacred species.

Even when specifically asked about this question in the 1960s, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith merely recalled the necessity of observing due reverence for all fragments by carefully following all Church norms regarding the purification of sacred vessels and altar linens as well as the proper procedure for cleansing the area if a host should happen to fall to the floor.

I hope that this clarifies Church doctrine on this matter for our concerned readers. As for me, my intention is always to coincide with the Church’s teachings.