Extraordinary Form; Book of Blessings

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ROME, NOV. 2, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Latin-rite Mass, do prescriptions and indults given for the ordinary form apply, such as those in the United States permitting the lay faithful to receive Communion in the hand and expressing a preference for the laity to stand while receiving Communion? Another question: In 1989 the Book of Blessings was published in the U.S. The title page indicates that it is «The Roman Ritual» «Revised by Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and Published by Authority of Pope John Paul II.» It contains a decree from the U.S. bishops’ conference that includes this statement: «From 3 December 1989, the First Sunday of Advent, the use of the Book of Blessings is mandatory in the dioceses of the United States of America. From that day forward no other English version may be used.» Does this mean that the use of the «old» Roman Ritual — for example, the 1964 version based on the 1952 editio typica — is now forbidden? I know priests who use the old Roman Ritual. It certainly appears that some of the prayers in it are more robust, theologically elevated, and spiritually richer than their counterparts in the Book of Blessings. — M.R., Corcoran, Minnesota

A: Regarding the first question there is some debate among canonists. From what I have been able to gauge, the majority believe that since Summorum Pontificum approved the liturgical books according to the rubrics of 1962, then later concessions based on the new liturgical books do not apply to them.

The most authoritative commentary is from now Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature. The original text was published in German as the preface to a book on Summorum Pontificum. The translation was provided by the New Liturgical Movement website:

«In the second chapter of his commentary, Weishaupt [Author of the Book in German] answers a number of practical issues that arise regarding the implementation of Summorum Pontificum and result from recent changes to the discipline of the celebration of the sacraments, such as e.g. those regarding female altar servers or lay people who perform the ministry of lectors or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. To answer these questions, the commentary correctly applies two general canonical principles.

«The first principle requires that liturgical norms, which were in force in 1962, are to be diligently observed for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, for these norms protect the integrity of the Roman rite as contained in the Missal of Blessed John XXIII. The second principle states that the subsequent liturgical discipline is only to be introduced in the Extraordinary Form, if this discipline affects a right of the faithful, which follows directly from the sacrament of baptism and serves the eternal salvation of their souls.

«The application of these two principles to the cases mentioned leads to the conclusion that neither the service at the altar by persons of the female sex nor the exercise of the lay ministries of lector or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion belong to the basic rights of the baptized. Therefore, these recent developments, out of respect for the integrity of the liturgical discipline as contained in the Missale Romanum of 1962, are not to be introduced into the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite. The commentary presents here in an impressive manner that the mutual enrichment of both forms of the Roman rite is only possible if discipline peculiar to each of the two forms is accordingly carefully observed.»

Another recent document is a supposed form letter in German from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. The letter, dated June 21, 2010, contains the letterhead and seal of the pontifical commission but lacks a signature and protocol number. If it is genuine, then it is probably a prepared reply to a question presumably frequently put to an overworked office and merely corroborates the reasoning presented above, to wit: «In reference to your letter of 15 June, this papal commission would like to point out that the celebration of Holy Mass in the extraordinary form envisages the reception of Holy Communion while kneeling, as the Holy Host is laid directly on the tongue of the communicant. There is no provision for the distribution of Holy Communion on the hand in this form of the Holy Mass.»

Regarding the Book of Blessings, the situation is somewhat more confused. Most commentators seem to favor the possibility of using the 1964 English translation but do not always present airtight canonical arguments. The promulgation of Summorum Pontificum has also modified the situation.

In the Introduction to the Book of Blessings, Chapter V, No. 39, deals with: Adaptations Belonging to the Conferences of Bishops. This chapter grants wide leeway to the bishops with respect to blessings, including adding new ones. With respect to the former ritual, No. 39c says that the conference has the faculty «to retain or to adapt blessings belonging to particular rituals or those of the former Roman Ritual that are still in use, as long as such blessings are compatible with the tenor of the Constitution on the Liturgy, with the principles set out in this General Introduction and with contemporary needs.»

Since the bishops had the faculty to incorporate blessings from the older ritual into the new book, I believe that it was their intention that only those formulas eventually incorporated into the new book were to be used in the United States.

The publication of Summorum Pontificum has probably changed that situation. I believe that any priest may use the Latin blessings of the Roman Pontifical. It is true that the Blessings Book is not specifically mentioned in Pope Benedict’s motu proprio, but it was listed in an information sheet issued by the Vatican Press Office as among the books required for celebrating the extraordinary form. It also follows logically that if the papal document permitted the celebration of the sacraments, it would naturally permit the sacramentals. Some sacramentals, such as the blessing of water and salt, are intimately linked to the sacramental celebrations themselves.

I also am of the opinion that it is possible to use the approved 1964 translation of the 1952 Book of Blessings. Summorum Pontificum permits the use of approved translations of the vernacular readings at Mass, and this certainly includes translations approved after 1962. The older Book of Blessings was also still in force in Latin until 1984 and in English until the present volume was published.

This opens up an interesting question as to whether the papal initiative also permits the use of translations of the extraordinary form officially approved before the conciliar reform. Bilingual rites for some sacraments and sacramentals were already approved by Popes Pius XII and John XXIII and were in use before the Second Vatican Council. Lacking any definitive statement from the Holy See, I am unable to give an answer. But the question is intriguing.

Some authors offer other arguments that might permit a partial use of the 1964 translation. Some say that «liturgical blessings» must be according to the new rite while «non-liturgical blessings,» which are more flexible, may use the older texts.

I am not convinced of this distinction; it must be remembered that the Church holds that all the rites contained in the Book of Blessings are liturgical acts, including those imparted by laity.

Perhaps a better distinction would be between constitutive and invocative blessings. A constitutive blessing is one in which the person or object is separated
from normal use and constituted as a sacred person or object. These blessings are reserved to an ordained minister: to a bishop (blessing of an abbot, consecration of a Church) or to a priest (blessing of a chalice). The blessing of devotional objects such as rosaries, medals and small crosses can be done by priest or deacon.

An invocative blessing is one that implores God’s favor on the person or object blessed but does not change their nature nor reserve them for a sacred function. These are the vast majority of blessings.

Even if there is no general permission for the use of the1964 translation, the fact that the present Book of Blessings offers a wide degree of flexibility to the celebrant would allow for the use of some prayers from the older ritual, especially with respect to invocative blessings and the simpler constitutive blessings. This would not be possible for the more important constitutive blessings such as those reserved to the bishop or the blessings of objects for the liturgy or public veneration.

Quite a number of ministers have expressed disappointment with the new Book of Blessings. The decree of approval states the reason for the new book: «In ordering the reform of sacramentals, Vatican Council II decreed that in their celebration special attention should be given to the full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful and that any elements should be eliminated that in the course of time had obscured the true nature and purpose of sacramentals …»

The complaints about the result do not stem so much from the introduction of community blessings, of readings from Scripture, and of general intercessions. Rather, the complaints relate to the quality of the prayers of blessings themselves which often seem to lack a specific moment in which the person or object is clearly blessed or when to make the sign of the cross as is traditional in blessings.

In order to clarify the latter point the Congregation for Divine Worship issued a statement that the sign of the cross is made when the word «bless» is used, or, if this word is lacking, at the end of the prayer.

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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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