Prelude Music; Eucharist in Sacristy Safe

And More on Abstinence in Lent

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ROME, MARCH 10, 2009 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q1: What is the rule/thought of prelude music during Lent? I thought I read in liturgy documents that silence should be observed during Lent. — V.K., Fremont, Nebraska

Q2: I have noticed that it is becoming common for priests to remove the Blessed Sacrament from the altar of repose at midnight on Holy Thursday and place it in the sacristy safe. By my reading of the rubrics, the Blessed Sacrament should remain at the altar of repose until it is brought to the main altar in the liturgical action of Good Friday. But some priests insist that what they are doing is the correct liturgical interpretation of the rubric that says «Solemn adoration ends at midnight.» To my mind, it’s not just a fine point. This removal of the Blessed Sacrament disturbs the nexus between Holy Thursday and Good Friday. What do you advise? — M.W., Melbourne, Australia

A: The first question is basically covered in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 313:

«The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments are to be placed in an appropriate place so that they can sustain the singing of both the choir and the congregation and be heard with ease by all if they are played alone. It is appropriate that, before being put into liturgical use, the organ be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.

«In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season’s character and does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.

«In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing. Exceptions are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.»

Regarding the second question, the missal for Holy Thursday states: «The faithful should be encouraged to continue adoration before the Blessed Sacrament for a suitable period of time during the night according to local circumstances, but there should be no solemn adoration after midnight.»

The above norm implies that adoration may continue during the night but not «solemn adoration.» This interpretation is confirmed by other documents such as the Directory of Popular Piety and a circular letter on the celebration of the Easter solemnities published by the Holy See in 1988. No. 56 of this letter states: «Where appropriate, this prolonged Eucharistic adoration may be accompanied by the reading of some part of the gospel of Saint John (ch. 13-17). From midnight onward, however, the adoration should be made without external solemnity, for the day of the Lord’s passion has begun.»

The crux of the matter, therefore, lies in the interpretation of «solemn adoration» and here the authors take different views.

Some authors say that at midnight, almost all the lights and candles of the altar of repose should be extinguished but that people may still take turns «watching» with the Lord during the night.

Others believe that the prohibition of solemn adoration simply means that there should be no community vocal prayer, nor any reflections or exhortations before the altar of repose once Good Friday has begun.

There is sufficient leeway in the norm to allow for different expressions in accordance with local traditions and culture.

Therefore the practice of withdrawing the Blessed Sacrament to the sacristy safe is not a correct interpretation of the norms of the Roman Missal.

Even if local circumstances don’t allow for the church to remain open after midnight, the Blessed Sacrament should remain in the altar of repose until the moment of holy Communion during the Good Friday rites.

Placing the Blessed Sacrament in the safe would be a viable option only if theft of the tabernacle or closed pyx of the altar of repose was a positive danger. In this case it should be restored to the altar either before the church is reopened or at least before the Good Friday services begin.

Finally, all the documents recall that it is totally forbidden to expose the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance at any moment of Holy Thursday.

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Follow-up: Holy Water, Abstinence and Mimes

Related to our Feb. 24 comments on the Lenten fast, some readers asked for specifications.

A New York reader asked: «In your article on abstinence you said, ‘This is why people who are sick, very poor or engaged in heavy labor (or who have difficulty in procuring fish) are not bound to observe the law,’ but I think you missed one category, those who are allergic to fish. Following this I was wondering what degree of obligation was put on those who are allergic or cannot easily obtain fish, to use other protein sources (beans, nuts, cheese, eggs), before resorting to meat? My mother is allergic, so Fridays in Lent meant bean casserole in our house.»

Here we must distinguish a little. Abstinence for Catholics means to abstain from flesh meat — not an obligation to eat fish.

Once again, circumstances play a part. In the developed world there are many nutritious and delicious alternatives to bean casserole, so that it is fairly easy to provide options that require neither meat nor fish.

At the same time, one does not have to go to extraordinary lengths to substitute fish, and an allergy to fish could be classed as an illness that exempts from the obligation to refrain from meat. I therefore think that while it is spiritually better for someone in this condition to try to avoid meat during Lent, they would be able to take it with a clear conscience if this causes a significant burden.

A Michigan reader asked: «On Sundays during Lent are Catholics allowed to continue their sacrifices? For example, if someone gave up television for Lent and he did not want to watch television on Sundays either, would it be canonically incorrect for him to continue abstaining from this amusement? Or by the laws of the Church, should he make a point of watching television in order to show the observance of Sundays as not being days of fasting and penitence?»

Again we must distinguish. One thing is that historically the Church never classes Sunday as a penitential day; another thing is the range of healthy and wholesome voluntary sacrifices that many Catholics offer during Lent. Among other reasons, these sacrifices prepare for Easter, make reparation for failings and constitute an act of inner freedom from the attachments toward worldly things.

Because of the voluntary nature of sacrifices, a Catholic is under no obligation to leave them aside on Sunday and may freely observe them during the entire Lenten season.

Indeed, ascetically this is often the best thing to do, since interrupting these sacrifices can weaken the resolution to make it to the end. Some people, however, especially those imbued with a more liturgical spirituality, might find a Sunday interval to be helpful in living the spirit of Lent. It very much boils down to what each person considers as being most spiritually beneficial to his soul and for the good of others.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include 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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