Kneeling Through the Doxology

And More on Bishops as Concelebrants

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ROME, MAY 18, 2010 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I wonder why in the United States the rule is to keep kneeling for the final Amen of the doxology, while in other countries the rule is to stand. In some places, people even elevate the hands, as in the Old Testament, while acclaiming the Amen. That Amen is accompanied by a sign of elevation-offering, which implies a movement of the whole community toward God. Kneeling at that moment seems to contradict the original meaning of the great Amen. What is important is not the rule in itself, but the meaning of the liturgical gesture in the whole context of the celebration. — J.D., Poteet, Texas

A: The U.S. version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says in No. 43: «In the dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer […].» In the original Latin and other languages, the norm states that the people kneel during the consecration from the epiclesis to the «Mysterium fidei.» It adds, however, that the custom of remaining kneeling for the entire Eucharistic Prayer may be praiseworthily maintained in places where it is prevalent.

Therefore, the two alternatives are a question of local tradition and custom. The Holy See approved the U.S. bishops’ adaptation of the general rule because it was already a well-established practice in the country.

Although our reader makes an interesting point regarding the sign of elevating-offering, I believe that asking the people to rise up before the Amen would actually interrupt the prayer’s natural flow. While gestures are important, the faithful’s essential participation at this moment is in joining in the great Amen that concludes the canon. With this Amen the people in a way make all of the prayers and intercessions proclaimed by the priest their own and, through the priest, unite themselves to Christ’s eternal sacrifice.

For this reason, the priest and deacon should hold the paten and chalice aloft until the Amen is fully concluded. As is mentioned in GIRM, No. 180: «At the final doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands next to the priest, holding the chalice elevated while the priest elevates the paten with the host, until the people have responded with the acclamation, Amen.»

Related to this is a recent 2009 official response to a doubt published in Notitiae, the organ of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. The doubt asked if it was licit at a concelebration for several priests to raise sundry chalices during the doxology.

The Vatican congregation responded negatively and specifically reprobated the practice. The congregation stressed that only one paten and chalice should be raised at this moment. The congregation explained that it was not so much a gesture carried out to show the host and chalice to the people but rather to ritually express the words said by the priest in the final doxology.

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Follow-up: Bishop as a Concelebrant

A Canadian canonist sent me the following clarifying note: «In response to your 4 May 2010 column, ‘Bishop as Concelebrant,’ I would like to offer the following clarification. The responses to proposed doubts (Responsa ad dubia proposita) published in Notitiae are not authentic interpretations of the law. Authentic interpretations are treated in c. 16 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. What distinguishes an authentic interpretation of law from, say, a private reply is the following: (1) laws are authentically interpreted by the legislator or the one to whom the same legislator has entrusted the power of authentically interpreting; (2) an authentic interpretation has the same force as the law itself; (3) authentic interpretations put forth in the form of law must be promulgated.»The legislator has not, as far as I am aware, entrusted the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments with the power to authentically interpret laws. This is reserved to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (Pastor bonus, arts. 154-155). What is published in Notitiae is effectively an interpretation in the form of an administrative act in a particular matter. Names and particulars have been removed before publication. Consequently, it does not possess the force of law and it binds only those for whom and affects the matters for which it was given (c. 16, §3). Responses to proposed doubts should not be dismissed on account of this distinction. In publishing them in Notitiae, the CDWDS is revealing the praxis Curiae (cf. c. 19) and suggesting that the response has a more general interest and application. It is not, however, an authentic interpretation of the law.»

I am very grateful to our reader for this note. As I have mentioned on other occasions, I am not a trained canonist and so can easily err with regard to the technical meanings of words.

At the same time, I am inclined to doubt that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has no authority to interpret liturgical law. My reasoning is the following:

— Canon 2 specifically states: «For the most part the Code does not define the rites which must be observed in celebrating liturgical actions. Therefore, liturgical laws in force until now retain their force unless one of them is contrary to the canons of the Code.» This canon affirms the existence of a true body of law that falls outside the aegis of the Code. This law is at the same time narrower in scope and more extensive in volume than the Code of Canon Law. This law is still found in multiple sources and has not been formally codified.

— It would seem strange that such a vast body of law has no official interpretative authority. The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts does not appear to be the appropriate body. Although it has made several authentic interpretations regarding liturgical matters, all of them refer exclusively to the Code. It has so far never issued an interpretation regarding liturgical matters not found in the Code.

— Since the Congregation for Divine Worship officially issues almost all liturgical law, it is the most likely official organism for its interpretation. It would be something of an anomaly that it could not interpret its own laws.

— When this congregation interprets liturgical law it does so in several ways. Sometimes it publishes private replies without any name, and this is certainly an example of the administrative act and the praxis curiae mentioned above by our reader. On the other hand, when it issues a «Response to a doubt,» it adopts a technical Latin language format similar to that used by the Council for Legislative Texts when this body issues authentic interpretations. At the very least it has the appearance of the legislator’s will to issue a definitive interpretation of a doubtful point of liturgical law.

For these reasons, although perhaps the expression «authentic interpretation» is not correct, I do believe that the Congregation for Divine Worship has the authority to interpret those liturgical laws not found in the Code of Canon Law.

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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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