Dramatic Readings at Mass

And More on Processions, and Extra Hosts

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ROME, JUNE 14, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: If a reader at the Mass proclaims the passage with appropriate facial expressions, sufficient gestures of hands and right modulation of voice, only to bring out different characters and emotions concealed in the passage, would it go against the spirit of liturgy? — M.G., Bangalore, India

A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal touches upon this subject in No. 38 regarding “The Vocal Expression of the Different Texts”:

“In texts that are to be spoken in a loud and clear voice, whether by the priest or the deacon, or by the lector, or by all, the tone of voice should correspond to the genre of the text itself, that is, depending upon whether it is a reading, a prayer, a commentary, an acclamation, or a sung text; the tone should also be suited to the form of celebration and to the solemnity of the gathering. Consideration should also be given to the idiom of different languages and the culture of different peoples.

“In the rubrics and in the norms that follow, words such as ‘say’ and ‘proclaim’ are to be understood of both singing and reciting, according to the principles just stated above.”

Thus the text refers above all to tone of voice and makes no mention of accompanying a reading with facial expressions or gestures.

This would be in conformity with the traditional sobriety of the Roman Rite and with the ministerial nature of such services as reading.

The fundamental criterion is, I believe, that of service to God’s Word. The task of the lector is to bring out and proclaim the sense of the divine message to the best of his or her ability while avoiding drawing attention to the person doing the reading either by dress or manner.

There is also perhaps some danger of a reader imposing his or her interpretation of the emotions concealed in the passage rather than allowing God’s word to speak heart-to-heart to each member of the assembly.

Hence some variation in intonation is desirable in order to clarify the sense of the text, distinguish a question from an admonition, a cry for mercy from its granting, etc.

Using an unvarying deadpan tone, or monotonous drawl for every passage is a disservice to God’s Word and to the assembly. But any hint of acting, whether by facial expressions, gestures, changing intonation or voices for different characters, should be avoided as they tend to draw attention away from the text and toward the reader.

The traditional Latin tones for singing the readings could suggest a model for reading the sacred texts, or even compose new vernacular tones for singing the Scripture as has been successfully achieved in some languages.

Singing the texts, at least on solemn occasions, reminds us that this is no ordinary text but God’s Word to us. It also fixes the attention very much on the Word itself.

The traditional tones come in several variations. There are slightly different tones used for the Old Testament, the epistles and for the Gospels. Within the reading, slight variations of rhythm and intonation bring out questions and different characters so as to highlight the meaning of the text.

At the same time, the need to submit oneself to singing a simple but common tone eliminates most of the reader/cantor’s personal traits while emphasizing the attitude of service to something greater than oneself.

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Follow-up: Who’s First in a Procession

An Ohio reader has made an interesting point with respect to my interpretation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal regarding the possibility of non-instituted lectors carrying the Gospel in the entrance processions (see May 31).

He asserts that sometimes the word “lector” is used in an expanded sense to include the commissioned reader as in GIRM, No. 135: “If no lector is present, the priest himself proclaims all the readings and the Psalm, standing at the ambo.”

If this were the case it would remove all doubt as to the legitimacy of having readers who were not instituted lectors from carrying the Gospel. I think our reader’s close reading of the GIRM has a high degree of probability but, even if this were not so, I still believe that it would be allowable as a custom interpretative of law.

I may be beyond my ken in venturing into canonical epistemology but, as mentioned before in our final follow-up on blessings, that is how I see the interpretation of this kind of law.

A Canadian correspondent asked about the following directive given, in the name of a bishop, by a pastor in the United States: “Ordinarily, lectors (readers), unless carrying the Book of the Gospels, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, whose ministries are limited to specific moments, do not process, nor are they seated in the sanctuary.” The correspondent asked for a possible reference to this directive.

The GIRM simply mentions “other ministers” who may participate in the procession without specifying who they are or any degree of obligation as to their participation.

No. 294 of the GIRM does indicate that, if possible, lectors should have a place in the presbytery. But that does not necessarily mean participation in the procession.

I believe that this is a prudential decision to be made at the local level in accordance with the demands of space, logistics and pastoral needs.

A bishop would be perfectly within his rights to determine which of these “other ministers” enter in procession so as to ensure a broad uniformity of practice within the diocese.

Likewise, it falls within the range of responsibilities of a pastor, in organizing the liturgy in his parish, to decide how to apply the liturgical norms to the concrete situation of his church, especially with regard to aspects where the law allows for various possibilities.

* * *

Follow-up: 2nd Batch of Hosts, Continued

Thanks be to God for our careful readers who manage to keep me orthodox in spite of myself.

In our follow-up regarding adding water to the chalice after the consecration (see May 31) I said that the corruption of the species of wine “would be practically certain to have happened if the quantity of water were more than half. In such a case, those who received this mixture would have received only Christ’s Body during Communion.”

The point I, maladroitly, tried to make was that the mixture no longer contained Christ’s real presence. However, the phrasing could easily be understood that one did not receive the whole Christ: body, blood, soul and divinity, under the species of bread alone. Likewise, in those special cases where, for medical reasons, a person receives only the Precious Blood, he also receives the whole Christ. I apologize for any confusion or distress I may have caused.

Although receiving Communion under both species is more perfect from the point of view of the sign, and Church law now gives fairly wide leeway to bishops to grant this permission, the distribution of the Eucharist under the species of bread alone remains the ordinary mode of Communion in the Church.

I will take the opportunity to answer some other questions that arose in this context.

A Virginia reader asks: “Regarding ‘homemade’ bread with additional matter (other than flour and water), it is my understanding that because it is invalid matter it cannot be transubstantiated into Jesus’ Body and Blood. I assume the Mass is also invalid. Is this correct?”

While there is no absolute prohibition on using homemade bread that respects the conditions for valid matter, it is usually not very practical. The making of hosts is something of an art and homemade hosts are often flaky and brittle.

If, in addition, other elements are added (for example, sugar, molasses or honey), the probability that it is no longer valid matter is very high although one would have to examine each case on its merits. As “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” No. 48, says:

“The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools.”

The Church requires certainty and not probability as to the validity of the sacraments. Thus, doubtful matter may never be used in any circumstances whatsoever. A priest who finds himself in such a situation should not proceed with the celebration until all doubt has been removed.

A Scottish priest asks: “Is reception under both kinds necessary for validity for clergy to have said Mass at a concelebration? Linked to that, if a priest has not received under both kinds at a Mass at which he is a concelebrant, may he still take a stipend?”

Strictly speaking, except in the case of a priest who, due to illness, has been granted special permission from the bishop to receive under one species, reception of Communion under both kinds is necessary for all concelebrants for a licit celebration. But it would not normally be required for validity as the Mass — that is, the full consecration — was celebrated and at least the main celebrant consumed both under both species.

Thus, if due to some accident, a concelebrant was unable to receive from the chalice, he may receive a regular stipend if this is his only Mass that day. A priest may never receive a stipend for a concelebrated Mass if he celebrates another Mass on the same day — for example, at his parish and at a funeral. He may offer the concelebrated Mass for any intention he wishes but without receiving a stipend.

The situation of an invalid participation in a concelebration might arise if a priest where to join in, so to speak, as an uninvited guest, and where from the beginning there is no possibility of full and licit participation.

I have unfortunately seen this happen at papal Masses where attending priests pull a stole out of the pocket and pronounce the words of consecration. There are several liturgical and theological reasons to doubt the validity of this procedure although the question has not yet been addressed officially.

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