Celebrating in an Eastern Rite

And More on Female Servers

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ROME, SEPT. 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: My [Latin rite] diocese coexists with the Syrian diocese as well. As a child I used to attend the Syrian Mass; but when I want to celebrate a Syrian Mass there, I was told that I need certain canonical permission that is to be obtained from the Holy See. At the same time, I find that the Syrian priests in so many Latin congregations have no problem in celebrating in both rites. I approached many priests and liturgists, but I did not get a satisfactory answer. — J.F., Kerala India

A: While I am not sure that I will be able to provide a satisfactory answer, I will do my best.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches sets some of the rules regarding the participation of Latin-rite priests in Eastern celebrations. We must first observe that not just priests, but also members of the faithful, are ascribed to a specific rite. Canon 32.1 of the Eastern Code says: “No one can validly transfer to another Church sui iuris without the consent of the Holy See.” Although the following canons list some cases when this transfer is more or less automatic, the underlying principle of permanence in one’s own Church remains.

Ascription to a rite is different from attending the rite, and Catholics can attend Mass in any Catholic rite.

If a lay Christian needs permission to transfer rites, then one can understand that a priest who wishes to habitually serve in more than one Church would have to receive a special permission.

Leeway is allowed, however. For example, Canon 701 allows the bishop to permit priests from other rites to concelebrate. Canon 705 allows the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated at the altar of any Catholic church, while Canon 707 allows priests to use the Eucharistic elements and vestments of another Church if one’s own are not available.

Celebration in one rite or another is not quite the same as a Latin priest celebrating in different languages or even celebrating both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite. Celebrating in the rite of an Eastern Church implies entering into a different canonical discipline because each Church has its own rules that entail much more than alternative ways of celebrating the Eucharist.

This might help explain why it is usually easier for an Eastern priest to be allowed to celebrate in the Latin rite than a Latin in an Eastern. Since the Latin rite is the most widespread of all Catholic rites, it is more common that an Eastern priest will find himself in an exclusively Latin environment than the opposite case. This often happens in places such as Rome and Germany where many Eastern priests go for postgraduate studies or to minister for a number of years. In such cases, their bishop can give the necessary permission for the priest to use the Latin rite during their stay.

It is also usually easier for an Eastern priest to learn the Latin rite than the opposite case.

Our correspondent’s situation of growing up in Kerala, where Catholics from three rites frequently mingle, is rare although not unique. It is also unusual that all three rites mostly use Malayalam, the local language, in their respective liturgies. As we mentioned above, in most cases a Latin priest with a good pastoral reason for celebrating Mass according to an Eastern rite has to learn a series of complex rituals, a new liturgical calendar, and a host of other details. In some cases he also needs to learn a new language.

Likewise, the liturgy is not just a book with a set of instructions but forms part of a living tradition. In order to effectively minister to Eastern Church Catholics the Latin priest must also immerse himself in that spiritual tradition so that, as far as possible, he moves from within and not without.

These challenges are also faced by Eastern priests ministering to Roman-rite Catholics, but Eastern seminarians have far more contact with Latin theology and spiritually during their priestly training than their Latin colleagues have of Eastern traditions.

I think that these are the principal reasons why the Church, before allowing Latin priests to use both the Roman and an Eastern rite, seek to verify both the pastoral necessity of the permission and the priest’s adequate preparation.

* * *

Follow-up: Female Servers in the Extraordinary Form

In the wake of our Sept. 8 reply on the use of female altar servers in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, we received two very interesting comments from our readers.

A Canadian correspondent, an expert canonist, wrote: “I read your recent response concerning use of female altar servers at Masses celebrated according to the extraordinary form with great interest. I recently prepared a similar reply to this same topic in the 2008 edition of Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions, published by the Canon Law Society of America: C.J. Glendinning, ‘Use of Female Altar Servers in Liturgical Celebrations using the Extraordinary Form,’ in S. Verbeek, et al. (eds.), 2008 Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions, Washington, Canon Law Society of America, pp. 77-79.

“I reached a different conclusion, based on CIC/83, cc. 6, 20 and the authentic interpretation of c. 230, §2, 6 June 1994 (AAS, 86 [1994], p. 541).

“You state: ‘Since the rubrics of this missal in no way contemplate the possibility of female servers, then it must be surmised that only altar boys or adult men are allowed as servers in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.’


“The reasons why the rubrics ‘in no way contemplate the possibility of female servers’ is because female servers were restricted by the 1917 Code (c. 813, §2). The 1917 Code is now completely abrogated, along with the prohibition on female altar servers, in virtue of the promulgation of the 1983 Code (c. 6). This was confirmed by means of an authentic interpretation of c. 230, §2. Such interpretations have the same force as the law itself (c. 16, §2).

“Due to the above juridical considerations, I concluded: ‘If female altar servers are employed in other celebrations of the Mass according to the ordinary form, there is no reason to restrict the use of female altar servers when utilizing the 1962 Roman Missal on the basis of abrogated liturgical discipline. Of course, the liturgical setting of the extraordinary form, and the sensibilities of the faithful would be especially important to consider when deciding whether to permit the use of female altar servers when celebrating according to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. Nevertheless, the same disciplinary laws — the ius vigens — govern these two usages of the one Roman rite’ (p. 79).”

An Irish reader also wrote: “Father, I must respectfully disagree with something from your column. You wrote, ‘In the ordinary form the clerical minor orders have been replaced by the lay ministries of lector and acolyte,’ and ‘In the extraordinary form, though, the minor orders and the liturgical logic behind them still exist.’

“I don’t think this is accurate. Subdiaconate no longer exists as an order (though the title and role may be retained by acolytes, as is the case, I think, in Greece) and there are no minor orders. There is no provision for someone to enter into minor orders for use in the extraordinary form.

“There is a danger of confusing rubrics, role, function and office. I’ve heard of priests reluctant to allow permanent deacons to exercise their functions at high Mass because there were no permanent deacons before Vatican II. This is nonsense. Today we have instituted acolytes and lectors and, as always, ordinary laypeople. The rubrics of the extraordinary form have to be interpreted to take account of those realities. For example, the Holy See has determined that an instituted acolyte may carry out the functions previously assigned to subdeacon but he does
n’t become a subdeacon. You can’t say the extraordinary form has subdeacons and the ordinary form doesn’t. Neither form now has subdeacons because they don’t exist.

“As regards female servers, I think they’re bad for vocational promotion reasons. But if the bishop allows them, and the pastor has no objections, I cannot see how the rubrics can be used to prevent their use in the extraordinary form.

“I am very happy that the Pope has allowed and encouraged the use of the two forms, but it cannot be understood as creating two churches or two rites ­– the Pope warned very much about that danger.”

As I have stated before, I am not a trained canonist and must defer to the experts in canonical interpretation. In investigating my reply, however, I found different opinions and was more convinced by the argument that Pope Benedict XVI’s authorization was specifically to celebrate Mass according to the texts and rubrics of the missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII.

Since the Holy Father’s motu proprio is also law, its prescriptions to follow the rubrics of the 1962 missal could also be considered as binding. Likewise, as the most recent law, it could also be interpreted as the actual ius vigens which by mandating the use of the 1962 missal establishes an exception to the general principle established in the 1994 authentic interpretation of Canon 232.2. We should also remember that this decision was taken in the context of the new liturgical books and new Code of Canon Law and need not be retroactively applied to the rubrics of a rite that moves in a different canonical and theological context.

The canonical implications of the motu proprio are admittedly murky; however, and, while awaiting a definitive clarification from the Holy See, I would still tend to consider that female altar servers are not allowed in the extraordinary form.

In response to my fellow countryman, I would agree with him that the instituted acolyte can carry out the functions of the subdeacon. I also agree with him that it is wrong to impede a permanent deacon from serving in the extraordinary form, because there is no difference in orders between a permanent and transitory deacon.

I would not quite agree with him that the order of subdeacon no longer exists. It certainly exists and is fully approved by the Church for those congregations, such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), dedicated to the exclusive celebration of the extraordinary form. Likewise there is no fundamental reason why the Holy Father could not restore it for other seminarians outside the ambience of those congregations.

Since the Church has approved the use of the subdiaconate for the extraordinary form, there is no danger of creating two Churches or infringing unity.

That the Church can live with the two forms of the Roman rite with distinct orders of ministers — one with minor orders and the other with only lay ministries — shows that it can also get by with one form having the possibility of female altar servers and the other without it.

* * *

Readers may send questions to liturgy@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. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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