Holy Water, Abstinence and Mimes

And More on Alternative Texts for Mass

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ROME, FEB. 24, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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As Lent approaches I wish to deal with some questions which we have addressed in previous years but which are continually raised.

One refers to the novel practice of removing holy water from the stoops during Lent. We explained on March 23, 2004, why this should not be done, quoting from an official reply of the Congregation for Divine Worship (3/14/03: Prot. N. 569/00/L). To wit:

“This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:”1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being ‘praeter legem’ is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.”2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the sacraments is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The ‘fast’ and ‘abstinence’ which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church.”The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).”
Many questions refer to the nature and obligation of the Lenten fast. A fairly extensive treatment of this topic can be found March 14 and 28, 2006, in which we deal with the general rules and acceptable exceptions to the laws of fast and abstinence.

Regarding this, a priest reader from Oklahoma asked: “Is it a grave matter to eat meat, knowingly and without necessity, on a Friday in Lent?”

This is more related to moral theology than liturgy. There are sins in which the matter may be grave or not grave according to other circumstances. For example, stealing even a small sum would be grave matter if the thief knows the victim to be desperately poor and needy. It would not necessarily be grave matter, although still a sin, if it represented a slight loss.

Considering this, I would say that the act of eating meat on a Friday of Lent could be grave or venial according to other circumstances. If this act is carried out knowingly, without necessity in such a way that the Church’s laws are openly despised and denigrated, then it would be grave matter and should be confessed as such.

However, there may be many circumstances that could mitigate the culpability. For example, in a religiously pluralistic society a Catholic could easily find himself invited to a gathering where refusing what was offered would deeply offend the host. Strictly speaking, he is knowingly and unnecessarily eating meat on a day of abstinence but finds himself in a social conundrum that would make his fault less grave.

Not that he is off the hook completely. A Catholic should foresee these situations and avoid them whenever possible. He should also be willing to testify and defend his faith. After all, precisely because we have a pluralistic society nobody ridicules Buddhists for vegetarianism nor Jews and Muslims for abstaining from pork. Therefore Catholics should be courageous and visible in observing our somewhat miniscule rules on the days the Church asks us to make a sacrifice.

Finally, several readers asked if it was permitted to incorporate mimes and dramas during the reading of the Passion and other Holy Week readings. We repeat what we said in April 2007: “While such elements may be incorporated into extra-liturgical events such as a Way of the Cross or catechesis, they are never permitted within the liturgy. God’s Word must be heard in the silence of the soul with as little interference as possible from visual or audible distractions.”

Of course, this rule applies to all seasons of the year. The liturgy is simply not the appropriate situation for such demonstrations even though they are praiseworthy and effective catechetical tools in other circumstances.

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Follow-up: Alternative English Texts for Mass

Related to our Feb. 10 comments on alternative English texts for Mass, a South African reader asked: “Is it permissible at Mass for the readings to be read from a non-Catholic version of the Bible rather than from the authorized Catholic missal or lectionary? The reason for this is that the non-Catholic version (particularly of one of St. Paul’s letters) is couched in a language which is more understandable today.”

The short answer is no. All scriptural texts used at Mass must be approved by both the bishops’ conference and the Holy See before they can be used in a particular country.

It is possible that a translation toward which both Catholics and non-Catholics have contributed may be approved for liturgical use. For example, in 2006 the Holy See approved a lectionary based on the second Catholic edition of the New Revised Standard Version (published by Ignatius Press) for use in the Antilles.

If they so desired, other bishops’ conferences could adopt, or at least allow, the liturgical use of this highly appreciated translation.

Another reader asked about other liturgical books: “I’m a little confused about the Latin and English versions of the Catholic liturgical and ritual books. Post-Trent there was the Roman Ritual, the Roman Pontifical, the Roman Missal, the Breviary, the Martyrologium, and to a lesser degree the Ceremonial of Bishops. What are they now, after Vatican II? Do these books (like the Rituale Romanum) still exist, or have the liturgical books been combined and placed into other books? What about the official Latin version of these books? I can’t find them.”

The books which retain an identity similar to that of the extraordinary rite, albeit in updated versions, are the missal, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Ceremonial of Bishops, and the Martyrologium. Each one of these is a distinct book.

The new rites developed after Vatican II usually had a greatly expanded selection of Scripture and several forms of carrying out the rite according to different circumstances. For this reason the rites formally contained in The Roman Pontifical (rites pertaining to the bishop) and the Roman Ritual (the principal sacraments and sacramentals) have been divided into several books.

Thus we have a book with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, another for children, another for weddings, another for attention to the sick and dying, and so on.

As far as I know there is no official book which contains all of the rites together in a practical volume. There are some private or semiofficial publications available. For example, there is a two-volume book in English called “The Rites” which gathers all of the rites together; but it is a study version, not designed for liturgical use, and some of the translations have since been renewed. There is a very practical Spanish version which collects the most frequently used rites in a small-sized book ideal for use in places such as hospitals and homes. Similar resources may exist in other countries.

The official Latin versions of most of these books can usually be picked up in Rome or via the Internet using the Web site of the Vatican Bookstore, www.vaticanbookstore.com.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should inc
lude your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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