Extra Kneeling; Monstrance on Holy Thursday

And More on Chrism

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ROME, MARCH 30, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q1: Is it permissible to kneel (priest, deacon and people) during the penitential rite of the Mass during Lent? It seems to me to be adding a rubric that is not there. — J.T., Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Q2: I’ve been told by priests who studied in Rome and observed this in Rome that on Holy Thursday to transfer the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose one may use the monstrance and have exposition until midnight. Is this permitted? The sense I’ve gotten from reading the rubrics is that the Blessed Sacrament is transferred in a ciborium and then placed inside the tabernacle and the door closed. If that is correct, though, what does the rubric mean that there is to be no solemn adoration after midnight? If the Eucharist, for adoration on Holy Thursday, is kept inside the tabernacle, what makes it solemn and what therefore must change after midnight? — J.S., Mobile, Alabama

A: With reference to the first question, I would say that kneeling during the penitential rite is adding an unnecessary rubric to the prescribed rites and should not be done.

If the Church is satisfied with leaving the penitential rubrics unchanged during Lent, pastors should follow suit and not add novelties.

This is especially true for Sundays in which penitential or impetrative kneeling, unlike kneeling as an act of adoration, has not been in use since being banned by the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. For this reason, when celebrations in which the litany of saints is sung on a Sunday (for example, during ordinations), the congregation remains standing.

On the other hand, the whole congregation may optionally kneel during the great general intercessions on Good Friday. This may be for the entire general intercessions or, if so decreed by the bishops’ conference, the deacon can direct the people to kneel and rise for the common period of silent prayer between the introduction to each intercession and the priest’s solemn prayer.

Regarding the second question, I have lived in Rome for more than 20 years and have never seen the monstrance used on Holy Thursday. Rome being Rome, it is always possible that some church or religious order has some immemorial privilege to practice this usage. It could also be — since living in Rome does not per se concede infused knowledge and wisdom — old-fashioned ignorance of liturgical law.

In this respect the law is very clear. The Congregation for Divine Worship’s circular letter on the Easter celebrations says in No. 55: «The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a closed tabernacle or pyx. Under no circumstances may it be exposed in a monstrance.»

The prohibition of solemn adoration after midnight when Good Friday begins is because the liturgy’s focus moves away from the altar of repose and turns toward the Cross. Therefore, all community activities before the altar of reposition such as holy hours, the Liturgy of the Hours, community devotions and the like should cease after midnight.

The faithful may continue to privately venerate the tabernacle after this hour and until before the celebration of the Passion on Good Friday, but community activities should be held elsewhere.

This is one reason why the place of reposition should not be situated in the sanctuary area. It may be the usual tabernacle if the church has a special Blessed Sacrament chapel, a side altar, or a place set up especially for the occasion.

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Follow-up: Why Only One Chrism Mass

Somewhat related to the question regarding two Chrism Masses (see March 16) is one from a Brighton, England, reader regarding how to store the holy oils. The reader asked: «I want to display the three oils. I have been told one should be elevated. If this is true, which one should be elevated (of the three)?»

We dealt in part with this question on Oct. 4, 2005. Since the practice of visibly displaying the holy oils is of very recent coinage, there are practically no official norms describing the manner of their reservation.

The U.S. bishops in their document «Built of Living Stones» do establish some parameters:

«The Place for the Sacred Oils

«§ 117 § The consecrated oil of chrism for initiation, ordination, and the dedication of churches, as well as the blessed oils of the sick and of catechumens, are traditionally housed in a special place called an ambry or repository. These oils consecrated or blessed by the bishop at the Mass of Chrism deserve the special care of the community to which they have been entrusted. The style of the ambry may take different forms. A parish church might choose a simple, dignified, and secure niche in the baptistry or in the wall of the sanctuary or a small case for the oils. Cathedrals responsible for the care of a larger supply of the oils need a larger ambry. Since bright light or high temperatures can hasten spoilage, parishes will want to choose a location that helps to preserve the freshness of the oil.»

Thus, no official document requires elevating one of the oils. Should a parish for aesthetic or pastoral reasons desire to elevate one of them in the ambry, the obvious candidate is the sacred chrism. This is because of its important part in baptism and ordination and its essential role in confirmation.

It is also the only oil that must be blessed by the bishop in both Eastern and Western liturgical traditions. The other oils are either habitually blessed by the priest, as in most Eastern Churches, or at least may be blessed by a priest in emergencies, as is the case for the oil for anointing the sick in the Roman rite.

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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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