What About Inappropriately Dressed Lectors?

ROME, SEPT. 30, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

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Q: At what point should a priest not allow someone to enter the sanctuary? For instance, an inappropriately dressed lector or eucharistic minister? — J.A., St. Paul, Minnesota

A: Your question is very broad; obviously anyone who is drunk or aggressive should be prevented from entering the sanctuary, especially if there is a danger of sacrilege.

With regard to your example, a certain degree of formality is required of all who offer their regular services during the Mass, but a priest has varying degrees of control of what happens in the sanctuary.

First of all, the priest should preach by example, and attend to the state of what he wears under the alb. Next he should give clear indications to those who habitually carry out a liturgical function such as readers or extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and remind them that their spirit of service includes avoiding calling attention to themselves through their apparel.

He should guarantee an adequate degree of modesty, cleanliness and decor through a few specific guidelines so as to what constitutes proper dress.

The priest has less control over irregular events, but can probably head off some problems with adequate foresight. For example, when a couple is planning their wedding they should be reminded that the readers will be engaged in a religious duty and should dress accordingly. Funerals are harder to control, because of scant time for preparation, but problems of inadequate dress are rare on such occasions.

As to when to refuse entry? Once he has given clear indications the priest should be gentle yet firm in applying them but prefer to admonish privately those not up to scratch before the celebration begins.

In general, unless the situation is so obvious that failure to act would be a cause of scandal, it is best to avoid public scenes which may do more harm than the good sought and will probably be misunderstood by the majority of the faithful.

Almost every priest has had to face tough decisions such as the funeral where the brother of the deceased gets up to read in attire that might be offensive to local custom. In some such situations all a priest can do is bite his tongue and bear it.

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Follow-up: Glass chalices

Several readers have written in response to my opinion regarding the use of a glass chalice (see Sept. 16). Although my tendency as an Irishman is to be more ironic than irenic, I would like to thank the readers for their interest and also say that I claim neither omniscience, nor infallibility. And while always striving to base my replies on official Church documents, I will be happy to redress any eventual oversights.

This said, I would point out that the reply was narrowly tailored to the norms regarding the proper materials for chalices and did not refer to the use of glass in other liturgical contexts such as cruets and lavabos.

An Australian reader takes me to task for lack of clarity in saying that due to the breakability of glass, I should have given a clear no. Although I love being able to give yes and no answers I respectfully disagree that in this case the relevant norms allow for such a position.

Although I believe that the law excludes almost all glass chalices, it does not give any guidelines as to the definition of “not easily breakable.” Glass comes in many degrees of breakability and some heavy cut crystals can take quite a bit of knocking.

Certainly no glass chalice will survive falling on the floor, but even a metal chalice can be rendered unworthy of liturgical use by such treatment, so I do not consider this a viable test.

Even such heavy crystals are not without problems. They are often hard to drink and pour from, can be difficult to purify and, once damaged, cannot be repaired or used again. But since these difficulties are not directly addressed by the law (unless that is what is meant by “become unsuitable”) they do not affect the question of legitimate, as distinct from practical, use.

Experience shows that, if used at all, these rare chalices are usually used by just one priest who takes good care lest they suffer damage, this again is an argument against their practicality for common use.

Another correspondent suggests that, in virtue of the rules of reception by the Church and established tradition, the widespread use of glass over the last 30 years constitutes “1) [That the] Church as a whole has accepted the use of glass as suitable for use. … 2) Since the use if over five years, it can be considered a valid tradition of the Church which by canon law and liturgical law make it a completely valid and licit option for Mass.”

I would first question the reality of the widespread use of glass in the whole Church. While hardly a globetrotter, I have visited about eight countries, including the United States, over the last few years without ever being offered a glass chalice.

Even if it were true that glass is widely used, the fact that glass, while not specifically mentioned, does not fulfill the conditions for proper materials according to liturgical law by either the new or old GIRM, would prevent its consideration as a legitimate custom as specified in Canons 23-29 of the code.

If this were true then, logically, many widespread abuses could be considered “valid traditions” in spite of their being repeatedly reproved by legitimate authority.

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Readers may send questions to news@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.

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