Rosary During Eucharistic Adoration

Anointing for Mental Disorders

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ROME, OCT. 26, 2010 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In a booklet entitled, “Prayers & Devotions for Eucharistic Holy Hour,” Page 13 states: “It is not appropriate to pray the rosary or other devotional prayers to the saints. Benediction and adoration are for the purpose of giving our attention to the worship of Christ the Lord.” The booklet was published by Liguori Publications (in 2000) and has both an imprimatur from the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Most Rev. Michael J. Sheridan, as well as an imprimi potest from Richard Thibodeau, C.Ss.R., provincial, Denver Province of the Redemptorists. On the other hand, another publication entitled, “Thirty-One Questions on Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament: A Resource of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy,” published by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, states on Page 12, in answering question No. 27 (i.e., “May the Rosary be prayed during Eucharistic adoration?”), the following: “Yes. The Rosary, ‘a prayer inspired by the Gospel and centered on the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption,’ ‘should be considered a prayer of deep Christological orientation,’ and may rightly be counted among the prayers designed to ‘direct the attention of the faithful to the worship of Christ the Lord.’ … [T]he recitation of the Rosary before the exposed Sacrament should help lead the faithful back ‘to a knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him, finding great encouragement and support in liturgical prayer before the Eucharist.'” Thus, which do you believe is the right and proper form of Eucharistic adoration: with or without the recitation of the rosary? — F.P., Black Eagle, Montana

A: I can only suppose that, although the pamphlet was published in 2000, it might have simply reprinted earlier material without being updated.

This is because on Jan. 15, 1997, the Congregation for Divine Worship published an official response to a doubt (Prot no. 2287/96/L) in which it clarified that it is permitted to publicly pray the rosary before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. This declaration is the basis of the response of the U.S. bishops’ Liturgy Committee favoring the practice.

Although the statement is dated 1997 the response, along with an explanatory note, was actually published much later in Notitiae, the official organ of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and in Spanish (Notitiae [1998] 507-511). Since this review is not widely disseminated it is understandable that the publishers of the pamphlet might have missed it.

Before the Holy See’s intervention, the appropriateness of praying the rosary during exposition was a matter of debate among liturgists. Some, in good faith, saw it as an inordinate mixing of Marian and Eucharistic devotions. A small number criticized the practice because they approved neither the rosary nor adoration.

In January-February 1999 the newsletter of the U.S. bishops’ Liturgy Committee published an unofficial translation of the Vatican congregation’s notes explaining the reasoning behind its decision. To wit:

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the Praying of the Rosary

I. Origin

1. The conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, number 13, says: “Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See … But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons in such a way as to be in accord with the sacred liturgy, that they be in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds to this citation from Sacrosanctum Concilium: “These expressions are a prolongation of the liturgical life of the Church, but are not substitutes for it.”

Eucharistic exposition is a celebration related to the liturgy as understood in the Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, number 62, from the Roman Ritual: Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass and from the Ceremonial of Bishops which dedicates chapter XXII to this same topic.

The Holy Rosary is, without doubt, one of the pious exercises most recommended by ecclesiastical authority.

(See also The Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 971, 1674, 2678, 2708).

A Catholic sensitivity never separates Christ from his mother or vice versa.

2. The Apostolic Letter Vicesimus quintus annus, number 18, says: “Finally, to safeguard the reform and ensure the promotion of the Liturgy it is necessary to take account of popular Christian devotion and its relation to liturgical life. This popular devotion should not be ignored or treated with indifference or contempt, since it is rich in values, and in itself it gives expression to the religious attitude towards God. But it needs to be continually evangelized, so that the faith which it expresses may become an ever more mature and authentic act. Both the pious exercises of the Christian people and also other forms of devotion are welcomed and encouraged provided that they do not replace or intrude into liturgical celebrations. An authentic pastoral promotion of the Liturgy will build upon the riches of popular piety, purifying and directing them towards the Liturgy as the offering of the peoples.”

II. Relationship Between Eucharistic Exposition and the Holy Rosary

One quote from each of the three most important documents follows:

1. “During the exposition everything should be so arranged that the faithful can devote themselves attentively in prayer to Christ Lord …” (Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, number 62)

2. “To encourage a prayerful spirit there should be readings from Scripture with a homily or brief exhortations to develop a better understanding of the Eucharistic mystery.” (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, number 95)

3. The Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus indicates that the rosary “as a prayer inspired by the Gospel and centered on the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption should be considered a prayer of deep Christological orientation.” (Number 46)

III. At this time it is important to note:

From the Second Vatican Council until the present, the following have been observed:

In the first two decades after the Council, more or less, there arose within the Catholic Church a tendency to suppress adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament within the Christian community.

In recent years, prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament has been increasingly appreciated once more. Two phenomena have been observed with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, namely: adoration takes place according to the same style and mentality and with the same prayers as before the Council, or it is celebrated in accordance with the guidelines provided by the Church’s documents.

Pastorally, this is an important time to encourage the prayer of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament according to the spirit of the Church documents. An opportunity to reorient this popular practice should not be wasted.

The restoration of the rosary should be promoted in its authentic form, that is, with its Christological character. At times, the traditional manner of reciting the rosary would seem to be limited to a recitation of the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Currently in some places the stating of the mysteries is accompanied by a reading of a brief biblical text to assist in meditation. This is very positive. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Cf. 2708) indicated that Christian prayer
ought to go further. It should lead to a knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him, finding great encouragement and support in liturgical prayer before the Eucharist.

One should not expose the Eucharist only to recite the rosary. However, among the prayers that are used during adoration, the recitation of the rosary may certainly be included, emphasizing the Christological aspects with biblical readings relating to the mysteries, and providing time for silent adoration and meditation on them.

“During the exposition, the prayers, songs, and readings should be arranged so as to direct the attention of the faithful to the worship of Christ the Lord. To encourage a prayerful spirit, there should be readings from the Scriptures with a homily or brief exhortations to develop a better understanding of the Eucharistic mystery.” (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, number 95) In the area of popular piety there is still much to be done so that pious exercises will support liturgical life and vice versa. There is a need to educate the Christian community to deepen the understanding of this pious exercise in order to appreciate fully its true worth.

* * *

Follow-up: Anointing for Mental Disorders

Our discussion on anointing of the sick (see Oct. 12) generated much positive interest, and I wish to revisit the topic by sharing some of the insights offered by our readers.

A medical researcher from Australia offered two especially pertinent comments.

First: “The physical basis of a state of illness, while relevant to treatment, can be a somewhat slippery science, especially in mental and psychiatric illness. As you dutifully point out, severity and pathology are better distinguished; the former is relevant to the sacrament while the latter probably much less so. The particular question of whether a certain kind of illness is primarily ‘physical’ can be somewhat academic — and even more so if trying to dissect the contribution of ‘physical’ and ‘non-physical’ components behind the suffering of a particular individual.”

I agree with our correspondent that severity is the principal consideration to make in deciding when to anoint. As our reader points out, diagnosis is very difficult in these cases. One of our correspondents commented that she had been misdiagnosed for 20 years as suffering from mental illness when the cause was a severe food allergy.

Although the possible physical origin of apparent mental illnesses is not a fundamental argument, I thought it germane to the theme as in former times there was much insistence on the sacrament of the sick being primarily orientated to physical illnesses.

Second: “You say, ‘[S]uch situations should be handled on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the person’s physician.’ I agree that case-by-case is the only sensible option, and I hope I have not misunderstood your intention but it seems that you also advise uncertain priests to routinely approach the individual’s treating physician. For better or for worse, in the majority of situations the treating physician will probably be unwilling to discuss particular patients, even with a priest. I can think of exceptions, for example, some hospital chaplaincy contexts, but these would be the exceptions to the rule. It may be that physicians may be flexible for priests in very Catholic countries (of which I claim no experience) but again, this would represent an exception to the usual practice. Also, in community-based (i.e., non-hospital) situations, access to the treating physician usually has to be via the patient and this also raises potential complications.

“I don’t have access to the ‘Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum’ document; however, based on what you have quoted, the document (PCS, No. 8) says, ‘If necessary a doctor may be consulted.’ This does not appear to imply the person’s actual treating physician, and I read this as recommending that an uncertain priest could approach an uninvolved doctor for generic advice.

“Accessing the patient’s own treating physician won’t usually be feasible, but any priest should be able to find a friendly and reliable doctor for generic advice quite easily and independently of the person in question. As well as helping the priest with the ‘seriousness’ assessment, a doctor can also provide advice on how best to interact with the person if their condition includes problematic features unfamiliar to the priest (e.g., psychosis, delusions, etc.).”

Again, I agree with this thoughtful comment. The judgment of a doctor is to help gauge the degree of severity in cases in which a priest might have little expertise. The indications of canon law regarding doubtful cases are also important in this regard:

“Can. 1005 This sacrament is to be administered in a case of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead.

“Can. 1006 This sacrament is to be conferred on the sick who at least implicitly requested it when they were in control of their faculties.”

There might be some exceptions in which it is very useful to consult with the treating physician in order to best help the patient. I had personal experience of a now-deceased parishioner who suffered from a severe mental illness with a particularly religious bent. The unfortunate gentleman was constantly petitioning prayers of exorcism and blessing, believing himself possessed by his ancestors. Although such blessings brought some temporary relief, it also tended to keep him away from the doctor and might have hastened his mental and physical decline.

Another priest, who is also a trained mental health counselor, suggested: “To promote ‘frequent recourse to the sacraments of reconciliation’ continues to place mental illness, which is never in my professional experience chosen,” in the realm of a condition of sin.

It was certainly never my intention to make any such association. I suggested the frequent use of reconciliation because it is one of the normal means of grace among other means, such as frequent Communion. I recognize that there are surely forms of mental illness where such a suggestion could be counterproductive, but there are surely others where the habitual life of grace contributes to the healing process.

On a related point a priest correspondent asked: “Are there guidelines for giving Communion to Alzheimer’s patients? Is some degree of awareness of Our Lord necessary? Can it be presumed or assumed? Especially if the patient has been a lifelong practicing Catholic even though they show no consciousness of their surroundings now? Who is to make the judgment call in these cases, if it comes down to such a decision: spouse, family, caregiver, Eucharistic minister, or priest?”

While there are clear requirements of knowledge for first Communion, there are no corresponding restrictions for declining years. Since viaticum may be given to the dying even if not fully conscious, there seems to be no reason not to offer it to those for whom the dying process is drawn out over a long period.

We are also ignorant of their true level of awareness. Sometimes, deep-down religious habits are the last to go. Many priests have experience of parishioners who do not respond to questions but who make the sign of the cross or join in the Our Father or hymns learned as a child. The decision to give Communion usually falls upon the minister after having discussed the issue with the family. But I believe that in general the tendency should favor the administration of the sacrament.

I would be reluctant predominantly in those cases of people not fully in control of their reactions and who might inadvertently profane the sacrament.

Another priest, writing from Rome, asked: “Can a Catholic priest validly/licitly anoint a baptized non-Catholic who at his sick bed consciously requests the sacrament from him (the pries
t)? He has no intention of becoming a Catholic but desires this sacrament because he believes in its efficacy. What about if he is in evident danger of death?”

In such cases the following norms from the Ecumenical Directory are applied.

“130. In case of danger of death, Catholic ministers may administer these sacraments when the conditions given below (n. 131) are present. In other cases, it is strongly recommended that the diocesan Bishop, taking into account any norms which may have been established for this matter by the Episcopal Conference or by the Synods of Eastern Catholic Churches, establish general norms for judging situations of grave and pressing need and for verifying the conditions mentioned below (n. 131). In accord with Canon Law, these general norms are to be established only after consultation with at least the local competent authority of the other interested Church or ecclesial Community. Catholic ministers will judge individual cases and administer these sacraments only in accord with these established norms, where they exist. Otherwise they will judge according to the norms of this Directory.

“131. The conditions under which a Catholic minister may administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, of penance and of the anointing of the sick to a baptized person who may be found in the circumstances given above (n. 130) are that the person be unable to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his or her own Church or ecclesial Community, ask for the sacrament of his or her own initiative, manifest Catholic faith in this sacrament and be properly disposed.”

* * *

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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