ROME, AUG. 31, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: During the homily after the Gospel, is the priest allowed to walk down the aisle while preaching? — R.F., Bombay, India.
A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is rather sparse regarding this point.
No. 136 says: “The priest, standing at the chair or at the ambo itself or, when appropriate, in another suitable place, gives the homily. When the homily is completed, a period of silence may be observed.”
It would probably be an excess of legalism to interpret “standing” as meaning necessarily immobile or fixed in one place.
The reason for mentioning “standing” is far more likely to distinguish the priest’s posture from that of a bishop, who may preach while seated in his cathedra, or throne.
Preaching while seated symbolizes the bishop’s role as teacher and guide of his people. This was the customary posture of teachers since ancient times.
While perhaps the GIRM does not strictly forbid moving around while preaching the homily, it certainly indicates a preference on the part of the Church that the homily be preached from a stable position.
I personally do not favor the practice of wandering around while preaching the homily, as it can give rise to theatrics that distract from the message. Such theatrics are often inappropriate in the context of the entire celebration as there is a danger of converting the Mass into a kind of show.
Thus once the homily is over it may be difficult for the people to recover their recollection and prepare themselves to participate in the sacrifice.
However, I don’t want to make categorical statements on this point. Some priests have particular talents in this regard and use such methods to great spiritual effect, especially in Masses for young people.
This method may also be used while preaching outside Mass, such as during retreats.
When preparing a homily, a priest must also consider the most effective mode of delivery. And he should remember that his first and foremost duty is to present Christ’s message.
Getting the message across to the best of his ability has to be his priority.
If his oratorical resources tend to draw attention away from the message and toward his personality, then in some way he is not completely fulfilling his mission.
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Follow-up: Eucharist for Non-Catholics
Pursuant to our reply regarding holy Communion for Protestants (see Aug. 17), a reader from Toronto asked about the matter vis-à-vis the members of the Orthodox and other Eastern Churches. Likewise, another reader asked at what Eastern-rite Churches a Catholic may receive Communion.
The rules for Eastern Orthodox and other Eastern Christians are different from that for Protestants, since the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of Orthodox and Eastern priesthood and the common faith in the sacraments.
For this reason the Catholic Church admits them to Communion if they are unable to assist at their own liturgy.
As stated by No. 25 of the Ecumenical Directory: “Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and the anointing of the sick to members of the Eastern Churches, who ask for these sacraments of their own free will and are properly disposed.”
Some Eastern Churches, however, discourage their members from availing of this possibility. The Ecumenical Directory asks that “due consideration should be given to the discipline of the Eastern Churches for their own faithful and any suggestion of proselytism should be avoided.”
Any Catholic may participate in the Eucharist of any Catholic Eastern Church.
Of those Eastern Churches not in communion with the Holy See, the directory says in No. 123: “Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, it is lawful for any Catholic for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick from a minister of an Eastern Church.”
This means that there must be a good motive and not done out of curiosity or desire for variety. It would not usually be permissible, for example, for a Catholic to attend a non-Catholic Eastern rite if there were a Catholic church readily available.
The directory also admonishes Catholics to be careful about not offending the sensibilities of our fellow Christians, for charity must always be the supreme law.
“Since practice differs between Catholics and Eastern Christians in the matter of frequent communion, confession before communion and the Eucharistic fast,” No. 124 states, “care must be taken to avoid scandal and suspicion among Eastern Christians through Catholics not following the Eastern usage. A Catholic who legitimately wishes to communicate with Eastern Christians must respect the Eastern discipline as much as possible and refrain from communicating if that Church restricts sacramental communion to its own members to the exclusion of others.”
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