Purifying Vessels Away From the Altar

And More on Albs

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ROME, JAN. 25, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: Is it proper for the priest to clean the Communion vessels outside the altar of celebration during Mass? Our parish priest, to save time, would move all the vessels/patens, etc., used for Communion to a table at the back of the sanctuary (away from the table of celebration), while the prayer after Communion is said and announcements take place. The cleaning is usually done by a concelebrating priest or deacon as the case may be. I feel this practice is disrespectful to the entire Eucharistic celebration; makes one feel like the vessels are just «dirty»‘ dishes. — J.N.M., Port Harcourt, Nigeria

A: The priest’s mode of action is fundamentally correct and, except for one detail, in conformity with liturgical norms.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in No. 163, states the following about the purification of the sacred vessels:

«When the distribution of Communion is finished, the priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.

«Upon returning to the altar, the priest collects any fragments that may remain. Then, standing at the altar or at the credence table, he purifies the paten or ciborium over the chalice then purifies the chalice, saying quietly, ‘Quod ore sumpsimus’ (Lord, may I receive), and dries the chalice with a purificator. If the vessels are purified at the altar, they are carried to the credence table by a minister. Nevertheless, it is also permitted, especially if there are several vessels to be purified, to leave them suitably covered on a corporal, either at the altar or at the credence table, and to purify them immediately after Mass following the dismissal of the people.»

When a deacon is present, he normally does the purification, not on the altar however but at the credence table, as specified in No. 183:

«When the distribution of Communion is completed, the deacon returns to the altar with the priest and collects the fragments, if any remain, and then carries the chalice and other sacred vessels to the credence table, where he purifies them and arranges them in the usual way while the priest returns to the chair. It is also permissible to leave the vessels that need to be purified, suitably covered, at the credence table on a corporal and to purify them immediately after Mass following the dismissal of the people.»

If no deacon is present, he may be substituted by an instituted acolyte or by a concelebrating priest.

The basic reason for this norm is to reserve, as far as reasonably possible, the use of the altar for the realization of the Holy Sacrifice.

This is why the altar should preferably not be used until the offertory and the priest should preferably say the closing prayer from the chair although it is permissible to pray it at the altar.

The purification of the sacred vessels, while in no way reduced to being a merely practical exercise, could in some cases distract the faithful in making their thanksgiving during the sacred silence after Communion, especially if the number of vessels requiring purification is quite large.

The detail in which I believe that your priest is incorrect is that the purification appears to continue during the closing prayer.

All of the ministers should be at their proper places before the closing prayer and so the purification should be completed during the period of sacred silence following Communion.

If this is not possible, it is preferable to take the option offered by the missal to purify the sacred vessels immediately after Mass.

* * *

Follow-up: Albs, Stoles and Chasubles

Our piece on the requirement of albs even for religious who vest a white habit (Dec. 11) has raised an interesting indirect debate between two of our readers associated with the venerable Order of Preachers.

A reader from Portugal mentions that the Dominicans have a long-standing practice of wearing stole and chasuble over the white habit and he believes that this was due to an official indult.

I myself, while studying theology at the Angelicum in Rome, believed that this was a specific practice of the Dominican rite.

However, another reader, a Dominican priest of some repute, informed me that members of the order started the practice of leaving aside the alb only after the Second Vatican Council, as part of a general simplifying trend and thus the practice cannot claim such a long history.

I do not know if such an indult exists, and although it is possible, it would be unusual for the Holy See to reprobate a custom which it itself had permitted without at least inserting some clause making exceptions for particular privileges.

A Pennsylvania reader suggested some causes for adopting this custom before the recent clarification from the Holy See. To wit:

(1) After Vatican II many religious limited the use of the habit for liturgical functions. As the habit was no longer de facto street dress, and the renewed stress upon the habit was in connection with the baptismal garment, many thought the substitution was legitimate.

(2) In concelebrations, religious priests, in an effort to distinguish themselves from diocesan clergy, turned to wearing the stole over the habit.

(3) In some communities (the Norbertines and Dominicans, for example) the scapular on the habit developed from the canonical alb and not the monastic apron. Hence an «alb» is part of the habit and there was thought to be no need to wear two albs for liturgy.

These could well be plausible and sincere motives. But whatever the reasons, since «Redemptionis Sacramentum» makes no exceptions and insists that the alb be used by all priests on all occasions, I think it is clear that any custom to the contrary should be changed to conform to the Church’s general norms.

On another theme, a reader from the Philippines asked about the chasuble-alb approved for use by the bishops as well as the so-called center-stole.

If the bishops have approved the chasuble-stole, then it may be used according to the norms they have published. In those countries where it has been approved, its use has generally been restricted to celebrations outside a sacred place.

This rather ungainly, and frankly ugly, vestment seemingly originated in Europe. It appears to be steadily disappearing in favor of a return to the traditional liturgical attire.

The center-stole, as far as I know, has never been approved by anyone and is not mentioned in the universal liturgical books.

It is probably a product of liturgical fantasy and should not be used. But if the design and material are of good quality, perhaps it could be retailored to form part of an authentic chasuble.

* * *

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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