Lector in an Irregular Relationship

And More on Advent Prayer

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ROME, DEC. 20, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: It is liturgically permissible for a person who has married outside the Church to be appointed as a reader at Sunday Mass? The person concerned had been granted an annulment of a previous marriage and desired to be married in the Church. Unfortunately her husband who was not a Catholic refused to seek an annulment of his previous marriage. This is a sensitive pastoral issue; it is understood that readers should be in good standing. Does the parish priest have some discretion in such a matter? — K.O., Christchurch, New Zealand

A: We must take several things into account. A person who has married outside the Church with a proper dispensation is not impeded from acting as a reader or any similar ministry.

Acting as a minister, however, is also a sign of communion and fidelity. And so, the person who carries out this ministry should be in good standing with the Church.

Therefore a general rule of thumb could be that a person whose personal state impedes his or her habitual reception of Communion should not act in any public role in the liturgical assembly.

Given the public nature of the ministry, however, there may be cases when it is not prudent for a person to act in a ministry even if not impeded from receiving Communion.

Thus we may apply to readers and servers what the 1973 instruction «Immensae Caritatis» says regarding the choice of an extraordinary minister: The choice «should never fall upon a person whose designation could cause astonishment to the faithful.»

The priest does have certain discretion, not regarding the accession to a ministry of a person who is impeded from receiving Communion, but with respect to the prudent admission of a non-impeded person whose designation may cause perplexity for publicly known reasons.

I do not have sufficient elements to form a judgment regarding the specific case at hand. An experienced canonist could gauge the possibilities of regularizing the marriage without the husband having to recur to an annulment process.

If this can be done, and the wife is once more free to receive Communion, then, before admitting her to a public ministry, it falls upon the priest to weigh such questions as to the notoriety and gravity of the case and the likely reaction of the faithful.

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Follow-up: Advent Prayer and the Incarnation

After our comments on the Incarnation (Dec. 6) some readers asked specific questions regarding the liturgy at Christmas.

A Pennsylvania reader asked: «I’d appreciate some direction on the appropriate degree of altar flowers during the Advent and Christmas season and the location of a Christmas crèche. Is it acceptable to have a crèche within the sanctuary? If so, is there a preference for directly in front of the altar or off to the side, about 15 feet from the altar?»

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 305, gives the following indications regarding flowers:

«Moderation should be observed in the decoration of the altar.

«During Advent the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this season, without expressing prematurely the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. During Lent it is forbidden for the altar to be decorated with flowers. Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts are exceptions.

«Floral decorations should always be done with moderation and placed around the altar rather than on its mensa.»

There is a very widespread custom of using poinsettias (usually red or white) during the Christmas season.

There are no official norms regarding the crèche, or crib. Most churches seem to place it to one side of the sanctuary or in some other part of the Church, such as a side chapel. It very much depends on the church’s size and architecture.

I have occasionally seen a crib in front of an altar but it is probably not the best position.

On the one hand, placing it within the sanctuary makes it difficult for the faithful to get close and spend some time contemplating the mystery of Bethlehem. On the other, it can easily become an obstacle to the smooth realization of the liturgical functions.

A more delicate question came in from a Californian correspondent: «I’ve been asked to organize a Children’s Christmas Vigil Mass that includes children dressed as Mary, Joseph, angels, and shepherds entering after the Gospel. The priest will narrate the Nativity story with the children singing songs at certain points. I’ve already deleted all lines to be delivered by the children. Do you have suggestions as to what should be considered distracting elements that just don’t belong?»

I suppose that our reader refers to a Mass at which the vast majority of the participants are pre-adolescent children and not a mixture of older children and adults.

In the latter case the whole project should probably be dropped, as the special norms regarding children’s Masses are specifically tailored to young children. Some form of dramatization by children might be allowed before Mass begins but not during the celebration itself.

Even in the case of the majority being young children, the norms do not appear to lend support for any forms of dramatization even though some special elements may be included.

Below, I present a selection of some of the norms from the directory for Masses for children at which some adults attend; these norms should help our reader prepare a celebration in conformity with the mind of the Church. The full text may be found at a Web site called www.catholicliturgy.com.

«Chapter III, Part 1. Offices and Ministries in the Celebration

22. The principles of active and conscious participation are in a sense even more significant for Masses celebrated with children. Every effort should therefore be made to increase this participation and to make it more intense. For this reason as many children as possible should have special parts in the celebration: for example, preparing the place and the altar (see no. 29), acting as cantor (see no. 24), singing in a choir, playing musical instruments (see no. 32), proclaiming the readings (see nos. 24 and 47), responding during the homily (see no. 48), reciting the intentions of the general intercessions, bringing the gifts to the altar, and performing similar activities in accord with the usage of various peoples (see no. 34).

«To encourage participation, it will sometimes be helpful to have several additions, for example, the insertion of motives for giving thanks before the priest begins the dialogue of the preface.

«In all this, it should be kept in mind that external activities will be fruitless and even harmful if they do not serve the internal participation of the children. Thus religious silence has its importance even in Masses with children (see no. 37). The children should not be allowed to forget that all the forms of participation reach their high point in eucharistic communion, when the body and blood of Christ are received as spiritual nourishment.

«23. It is the responsibility of the priest who celebrates with children to make the celebration festive, familial, and meditative. Even more than in Masses with adults, the priest is the one to create this kind of attitude, which depends on his personal preparation and his manner of acting and speaking with others …

«24. Since the Eucharist is always the action of the entire ecclesial community, the participation of at least some adults is desirable. These should be present not as monitors but as participants, praying with the children and helping them to the extent necessary …

«Even in Masses with children attention is to be paid to the diversity of ministries so that the Mass may stand
out clearly as the celebration of the community. For example, readers and cantors, whether children or adults, should be employed. In this way a variety of voices will keep the children from becoming bored.

«Chapter III, Part 5. Gestures

«33. In view of the nature of the liturgy as an activity of the entire person and in view of the psychology of children, participation by means of gestures and posture should be strongly encouraged in Masses with children, with due regard for age and local customs. Much depends not only on the actions of the priest, [29] but also on the manner in which the children conduct themselves as a community …

«34. Among the actions that are considered under this heading, processions and other activities that involve physical participation deserve special mention.

«The children’s entering in procession with the priest can serve to help them to experience a sense of the communion that is thus being created. The participation of at least some children in the procession with the Book of the Gospels makes clear the presence of Christ announcing the word to his people. The procession of children with the chalice and the gifts expresses more clearly the value and meaning of the preparation of the gifts. The communion procession, if properly arranged, helps greatly to develop the children’s devotion.

«Chapter III, Part 6. Visual Elements

«35. The liturgy of the Mass contains many visual elements and these should be given great prominence with children. This is especially true of the particular visual elements in the course of the liturgical year, for example, the veneration of the cross, the Easter candle, the lights on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and the variety of colors and liturgical appointments.

«In addition to the visual elements that belong to the celebration and to the place of celebration, it is appropriate to introduce other elements that will permit children to perceive visually the wonderful works of God in creation and redemption and thus support their prayer. The liturgy should never appear as something dry and merely intellectual.

«36. For the same reason, the use of art work prepared by the children themselves may be useful, for example, as illustrations of a homily, as visual expressions of the intentions of the general intercessions, or as inspirations to reflection.

«45. In the biblical texts «God is speaking to his people … and Christ is present to the faithful through his own word.» Paraphrases of Scripture should therefore be avoided. On the other hand, the use of translations that may already exist for the catechesis of children and that are accepted by the competent authority is recommended.

«46. Verses of psalms, carefully selected in accord with the understanding of children, or singing in the form of psalmody or the Alleluia with a simple verse should be sung between the readings. The children should always have a part in this singing, but sometimes a reflective silence may be substituted for the singing …

«47. All the elements that will help to explain the readings should be given great consideration so that the children may make the biblical readings their own and may come more and more to appreciate the value of God’s word.

«Among such elements are the introductory comments that may precede the readings and that by explaining the context or by introducing the text itself help the children to listen better and more fruitfully. The interpretation and explanation of the readings from the Scriptures in the Mass on a saint’s day may include an account of the saint’s life, not only in the homily but even before the readings in the form of an introduction.

«When the text of the readings lends itself to this, it may be helpful to have the children read it with parts distributed among them, as is provided for the reading of the Lord’s passion during Holy Week.»

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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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