New Priests Blessing Bishops

And More on Deacons and the Passion Narrative

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ROME, APRIL 28, 2009 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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G.C. from Dhaka, Bangladesh, asked several questions on diverse liturgical topics. I will try to briefly answer each question one by one.

Q1: Almost every year we have a good number of priestly ordinations. In some dioceses I noticed that after the priestly ordination some masters of ceremonies asked the newly ordained priest to bless first the bishops present, then the priests, and then other lay participants. When the bishops come, they kneel in front of the altar, then the newly ordained priest blesses the bishops; then the priests come and also kneel before the altar, and the newly ordained priest blesses them. When I asked them where they found this custom, they answered that they saw it somewhere in Europe. Is it the right rites or is there any instruction regarding this?

A: There are certainly some bishops who of their own initiative request the first blessing of priests they have just ordained. This is a question of personal devotion and an expression of his spiritual paternity. It does not form part of the rites, and I am not aware of its being an established custom in any European country.

At an ordination Mass it is the presiding bishop who imparts the final blessing. The newly ordained begin to impart blessings after Mass is over. Many new priests prefer to reserve their first blessings for their parents, so I think this practice of formalized first blessings should not be encouraged.

Q2: On major occasions such as diaconate or priestly ordination, blessing of a new church, or reception of a bishop or a papal nuncio, there are three or four concelebrant bishops at the Eucharistic celebration. Of course there are a lot of priests also. At the celebration, when all the bishops are around the altar, then we do not have space for deacons next to bishop. Also, when the bishop who is the main celebrant sits, there is also no room for deacons to sit next to the bishop, because all the concelebrant bishops sit next to the bishop. Would you please give me your remarks? Second, in big occasions when more bishops are present, at the end of the Mass the main celebrant bishop asks all other bishops to join him in the final blessing and then all the bishops bless together. Is this liturgical?

A: Having the principal concelebrant accompanied by deacons is a means of emphasizing his presiding role, although their seats are near the bishop but not necessarily flanking him. Other concelebrating bishops should not ordinarily sit next to the presiding bishop, although they should have a prominent place with respect to other concelebrants.

During the Eucharistic Prayer the deacons stand slightly behind the concelebrants. However, these concelebrants, even if they are bishops, should not obstruct the deacon when he has to approach the altar to perform his duties. If space is tight, then it is enough for one deacon to serve at the altar.

At his Wednesday audiences the Holy Father usually invites all bishops present to join him in the blessing, but this is never done at Mass. The practice of inviting all bishops to share the blessing at Mass is not a proper liturgical practice as this falls on the presiding celebrant.

Q3: At the Liturgy of the Hours: when someone reads the short reading, in some places they say at the beginning, «Scripture reading,» and at the end, «This is the Word of the Lord.» Of course, in the introduction it clearly says that the Word of God should be proclaimed. In many places, someone goes to the lectern, reads, and comes back, saying nothing. Which one is the right way according to the instruction? Since nothing is very clearly mentioned, it sometimes creates a little confusion.

A: No greeting is indicated for the short reading because it is customary in this office to simply proclaim or chant the reading. The short responsory constitutes the response to the short reading so the reader also says nothing at the end.

Q4: In the Mass: In the Italian lectionary after the Gospel reading it says, «Parola del Cristo.» Some of our priests studied in Italy. After coming back to our country, Bangladesh, they are also introducing the same. Even Italian priests here say the same. At the end of the Gospel reading they also say, «Word of Christ.» Would you please clarify which one is correct: «Word of God» or «Word of Christ»? Our laypeople are sometimes confused.

A: Actually, the Italian lectionary says, «Parola del Signore,» or «The Word of the Lord,» after the Gospel and the equivalent of «the Word of God» for the other readings. At no time is «Word of Christ» used. This diversified translation brings out the double meaning of the Latin «Verbum Domini» that is testified by the people’s different responses at the end of the readings. It should be clarified, however, that nobody should change approved liturgical translations on his own initiative, no matter where he has studied.

Q5: Incensing: In the General Instruction of the Roman Mass [GIRM] it is clearly said where to give incense at the reading. In our country we do not have the Book of the Gospels. We have the Bible and Bengali lectionary. So when we make the Bible procession before the reading, we take incense with us and incense at the beginning of the first reading. In fact, we incense the whole Bible or lectionary and not always before the Gospel reading. Once we do it at the beginning of the reading, we do not incense at the Gospel reading. If we do not incense at the beginning, then we do it at the Gospel reading according to the GIRM. What is your opinion?

A: Only the Book of the Gospels is brought in procession and placed on the altar at the beginning of Mass. But this could be any decent version of the Book of the Gospels, even in another language. If necessary, a photocopy of the day’s reading can be inserted into this book. At the same time, if there is no Book of the Gospels, the lectionary may be incensed at the time of the Gospel reading in the usual manner. In this case the lectionary is at the ambo from the beginning of Mass and is not carried in at the entrance procession. Since these alternatives exist, I see no reason not to follow the Catholic practice that reserves the incense to the moment of reading the Gospel.

Q6: As far as I know, the deacon can bless at Benediction. If priests and bishops are present at a holy hour, would it be correct for a deacon to give the blessing? If not, then who would be the right person to give the blessing, the bishop or the priest?

A: Except when there is some legitimate impediment, a bishop should preside before a priest, and a priest before a deacon. A deacon should not normally give any blessing when a priest is present and available.

Q7: During the Eucharistic Prayer we mention the name of local ordinary. If there is/are auxiliary bishop(s), is it then proper to add his/their name(s)?

A: As indicated in the missal itself, this is a possibility but not an obligation. If there are several auxiliaries, then a general form such as «Our Bishop N. and his assistant bishops» may be used.

Q8: Our present archbishop received his pallium from the apostolic nuncio at his installation ceremony. He uses his pallium in all the major occasions in the diocese: parish feasts, ordinations, jubilee celebrations, etc. Is there any provision when it has to be used? Or is it optional or obligatory?

A: The pallium (a circular white wool band with pendants) is used by residential archbishops when they preside at any solemn Mass within their own ecclesiastical province. It may not be worn outside of the province. Present law basically leaves it up to the archbishop himself to determine the occasions for its use.

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Follow-up: Deacons and the Passion Narrative

In the wake of our April 7 comments o
n reading the Passion narrative, several readers asked further questions.

An Ohio reader asked: «I would like to know if it is appropriate to play background music (on organ or piano) during the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday/Good Friday. If it is not appropriate, please cite the rule that defines this. I have read through various sections of the Roman Missal, and I cannot find any specific rule prohibiting this practice.»

I would first comment on a question of liturgical interpretation. Usually the missal and other liturgical documents say what is to be done and not the reverse. Therefore the fact that nothing is written against a practice does not mean that it is automatically permitted. Indeed, since Church law generally follows the principles of Roman law, and not Anglo-Saxon common law, the presumption is that what is not expressly permitted is forbidden.

Explicit prohibitions usually arise as the result of people initiating practices that are not contemplated in the norms and that are perceived as going against the letter or the spirit of the liturgical norm.

That said, I would reply that the playing of instrumental music during the Passion reading, and indeed during any readings except the psalms, does not correspond to Catholic tradition which emphasizes the priority of the Word. Throughout the history of the Latin liturgy the readings have been chanted according to simple tones without musical accompaniment.

If this is true of all readings, It is especially so during the proclamation of the Passion in which habitual liturgical solemnities such as incense are left aside.

Finally, on Good Friday the use of all musical instruments is excluded — hence, also during the Passion narrative.

Another American reader asked: «What is the official stance of the Church regarding members of the assembly, the people in the pews, reading the chorus parts of the Gospel during the proclamation of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday?»

As far as I know, there is no official position on this. I once held the opinion that this was possible, deducing that since a choir can take the part of the multitude, the people could substitute a choir. Both reflection and pastoral experience led me to change my opinion. The proclamation of God’s word is best assimilated in silence. I found that when the people were asked to take an active part in this reading, many were so attentive to intervening at the right moment that they lost track of the whole reading. Therefore, based on the legal principle mentioned above and on personal experience, I would not recommend this practice.

A reader from Birmingham, England, asked: «Can a deacon officiate as the only minister at the solemn Commemoration of the Passion on Good Friday afternoon? In our parish, we now have two churches but with only one priest. Our priest celebrates the solemn liturgy in one church at 3 p.m., whilst our deacon celebrates the same solemn liturgy simultaneously in the other church. (Both churches enjoy a full congregation for this particular service.) The deacon even wears his red dalmatic Mass vestments. I have been told that the solemn liturgy on Good Friday can only be celebrated by a priest. Please let me know which is correct.»

Effectively, this rite is reserved to the priest, although not necessarily the same priest. Moreover, since the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the Celebration of the Passion are intimately connected, the norms are explicit that both must be celebrated in the same church. It is forbidden to reserve or transfer the Blessed Sacrament to another church for the purpose of adoration or distribution of holy Communion.

Consequentially for there to be two celebrations of the Passion, there would necessarily have to be two separate Masses of the Lord’s Supper, one in each church. This is certainly allowable, but the priest would also have to celebrate two rites of the Passion, perhaps one at 3 p.m. and the other at 6.

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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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