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“Brothers” or “Sisters”

And More on Breast-Beating

ROME, JAN. 10, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q1: During the celebration of the Eucharist, when the Confiteor is said, I have been observing in formation houses and religious communities that if the congregation consists only of males they say, “I confess …, and to you my brothers,” and if females only they say, “I confess …, and to you my sisters.” Is this practice correct? — T. P. Shillong, India

Q2: At Mass, at the penitential rite, I have seen priests, when saying, “May Almighty God have mercy … ever-lasting life” raise their hands as a kind of blessing or absolution. Is that proper? — A.P., Margate, Florida

A: The first question involves the particularities of the English language. In many languages, the masculine form does double duty and can refer to just males or to a mixed group. Thus, for example, in Latin, Spanish and Italian it is only necessary to use the equivalent of “brothers” to refer to the whole assembly.

In English “brethren” can serve this purpose and in fact may be used to introduce the penitential rite. However, perhaps for stylistic reasons, it was not included as part of the “I confess.” Thus in the English translation we say “brothers and sisters.”

Some contextual adaptation is foreseen in the rubrics, when Mass is celebrated with only one acolyte. In this case priest and acolyte say “to you my brother” in the singular. Therefore, I think it is theoretically possible for a male community to use simply “brothers” when no women are present.

Another question is whether it is pastorally advisable to do so given that liturgical expressions are habit-forming. If, on some occasion, there are men or women from outside the community present at the celebration, then the change could easily lead to confusion.

The case is different for a female community because at Mass at least one brother will always be present, the celebrating priest. Therefore the standard formula should be used. Nor, as a general rule, should the priest change the gender of the liturgical greetings if celebrating for a women’s community.

With regards to the second question, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 51, reminds us: “Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.”

No gesture is prescribed in the rubrics, and it is presumed that the priest will remain with hands joined. Any gesture which might imply that the words grant absolution should be avoided so as not to confuse the faithful.

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Follow-up: Breast-Beating During the Confiteor

In the wake of our opinion (see Dec. 13) that the new translation of the Confiteor (“I confess”) would allow for a triple striking of the breast, several readers pointed out an official reply from the Holy See on this topic which I had overlooked.

As one California reader pointed out: “Not that I like this responsum, but it is the final word that I know of on this. Gerunds, etc., are speculative; this is direct and clear.”

The text, published in Notitiae 14 (1978), 534-535, says:

“n. 10. In pronouncing certain formulas as in, e.g., the Confiteor, the Agnus Dei, and the Domine non sum dignus, whether on the part of priests or on the part of the faithful, the gestures accompanying the words are not always performed the same. Some strike their breast with a triple strike when saying the aforementioned formulas, others once. Which practice seems that it should legitimately be retained?

“Resp.

“In this case it will help to remember these things:

“1) Gestures and words often tend to give significance to one another.

“2) In this matter, as in others, the liturgical restoration has pursued truth and simplicity according to the passage of Sacrosanctum Concilium: «The rites should be resplendent in their noble simplicity …» (SC, 34).

“While in the Roman Missal promulgated by the authority of the Council of Trent the words were very frequently also accompanied by minute gestures, the rubrics of the Roman Missal restored by the authority of the Second Vatican Council are noteworthy for their discretion with regard to gestures.

“Having said this:

“a) The words mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa which are found in the Confiteor are introduced in the restored Roman Missal by a rubric of this sort: All likewise … striking their breast, say … (OM, n. 3). In the former Missal, in the same place, the rubric read like this: He strikes his breast three times. It does not seem, therefore, that anyone has to strike his breast three times in pronouncing those words in Latin or in another language, even if mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa is said. It suffices that there be a striking of the breast.

“It is obvious also that only one gesture suffices in those languages in which the words for showing one’s fault have been rendered in a more simple manner, as, for example, in English, «I have sinned through my own fault», or in French, «Oui, j’ai vraiment peche».

“b) The discretion of the restored Roman Missal is shown to be noteworthy also in the other texts mentioned, namely the Agnus Dei and the Domine, non sum dignus which by words of penitence and humility in one way or another accompany the breaking of the bread and the invitation to the faithful to receive the Eucharist.

“As it was said in response n. 2 of the Commentary «Notitiae» 1978, p. 301: where the rubrics of the Missal of Paul VI say nothing, it must not therefore be inferred that it is necessary to observe the old rubrics. The restored Missal does not supplement the old one but has replaced it. In reality, the Missal formerly indicated at the Agnus Dei, striking the breast three times, and in pronouncing the triple Domine, non sum dignus, striking the breast … says three times. Since, however, the new Missal says nothing about this (OM 131 and 133), there is no reason to suppose that any gesture should be added to these invocations.”

I had already mentioned in my earlier reply that a single striking was a valid interpretation, and this official response confirms this.

At the same time, I think this official pronouncement fails the reality test. More than 33 years have gone by since the response was issued and practically everybody using Latin, Spanish and Italian strike their breasts three times at the Confiteor, no matter what the rubric says or fails to say.

I think that the same is going to happen in English now that the triple form is restored, and it would be an exercise in futility on behalf of bishops and priests to attempt to oblige the faithful to do otherwise.

Nor would I consider the attempt a good thing in itself. People will naturally do this, and I believe it makes the sign of striking the breast more meaningful.

The present rubrics are clear about not striking of the breast during the Lamb of God, and the practice is now uncommon. The fact that the Agnus Dei is often sung makes it less natural to strike the breast than in the staccato beat of the Confiteor.

At the same time, there are very good arguments to defend the practice. The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, for example, wrote the following in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy: “During the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), we look upon him who is the Shepherd and for us became the Lamb and as Lamb, bore our iniquities. At this moment it is only right and proper that we should strike our breasts and remind ourselves, even physically, that our iniquities lay on his shoulder, that ‘with his stripes we are healed'” (page 207).

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On Changing the Corporal

And More on Words at the Consecration

ROME, JULY 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Does the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) stipulate that the use of a new corporal on the altar at each Mass celebration is no longer needed? I see that a corporal is placed on the altar at some parishes for a week or more before changing it. I always thought the purpose of this cloth was to take proper care of any particles of Jesus’ body that might fall from the hands or ciborium or paten. If this is the case, then I think proper care should be taken of the cloth and crumbs at the end of each Mass, and not have it lie there for a week, just accumulating more particles or crumbs. With all the care that a priest might take, the host particles on the white cloth is not always noted — I have learned this from sacristan duties. — E.M., Bridgewater, Virginia

A: The corporal is a square piece of linen or other fine fabric sometimes starched so as to be fairly firm. It is customarily folded into nine sections and hence stored flat. A larger corporal or more than one corporal may be required for concelebrations and other solemn celebrations.

Before use, the corporal is usually left on top of the chalice and, while no longer obligatory, it may be kept in a flat, square case called a burse.

Before the present reform, hosts were placed directly upon the corporal and although this is rarely the case today, as our reader points out, it may gather any fragments that fall from the host during the celebration although these mostly fall into either the ciborium or chalice.

The GIRM mentions the corporal in several places, first of all in describing the preparation of the gifts, in No. 73: “[T]he Lord’s table, which is the center of the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist, is prepared by placing on it the corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice.”

No. 118 says that the corporal should be on the credence table before Mass. Other indications require that a chalice or ciborium should be placed on a corporal whenever it is left on the altar or credence table for purification.

With respect to our reader’s queries, it would appear that in her parish they follow the bad habit of leaving the corporal unfolded upon the altar between Masses and even for days on end. The norms require that the corporal be unfolded during the presentation of gifts and properly folded again after Communion.

All the same, extra corporals may be placed on the altar before especially solemn Masses in which more sacred vessels are used than can fit on the corporal directly in front of the priest.

The GIRM does not require a new corporal for each Mass, it is sufficient for the corporal to be opened and folded with due care to avoid any mishaps. For this reason a corporal should be opened one section at a time while lying flat and never shook open.

A corporal is washed in the same manner as a purificator although less frequently. It is first soaked in water; this water is then poured either down a sacrarium or directly upon the earth. Afterward, the corporal may be washed in a normal fashion.

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Follow-up: When Words Over the Host Are Repeated

After our piece on repeating the words of consecration (July 3), some related questions came to light.

A reader from Los Angeles asked: “Our priest took the chalice in his hands and said the text of consecration of bread. But before the elevation, he realized his mistake, put down the chalice, and elevated the host. After that he took the chalice again in his hands and said the text of consecration of wine and elevated. At the end of Mass he told us (without apologizing) that this Mass was a valid Mass. Was it?”

From the information supplied, I would say that it was a valid Mass. The priest was clearly distracted. But the taking of the bread in his hands, while necessary for the authenticity of the rite by illustrating the meaning of the words “This is,” is not usually considered as absolutely essential to validity.

Otherwise, it becomes harder to justify that the priest validly consecrates all the breads and all the wine in other chalices, without any physical contact.

A Toronto reader asked: “An 84-year-old priest who has suffered lung injury, often when saying Mass for an assembled congregation loses his breath. Is it licit for him to say some parts of the canon silently to himself whenever he loses his breath?”

I am sure that the faithful are understanding and edified by the fidelity of this priest in persevering in his mission as long as he is physically able.

Although the canon is a public prayer and should normally be spoken in a clear voice, in cases such as these, it is sufficient for the priest to be able to hear himself speak. It would be illicit, however, to only mentally recite the Eucharistic Prayer without using the voice, and the consecration would be invalid if carried out in this manner.

Modern microphones can also help to amplify even a feeble voice.

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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.