A Christmas Play After the Homily

And More on Deacons

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

Q: Our parish has a Christmas play during Mass after the homily but before the prayer of the faithful. Is this allowed? My priest tried to find the answer this year but had difficulty. But I think I found the answer in the Lectionary of the Mass for Children No. 52 which says that plays should not happen during Mass. I know that this happens at a lot of parishes in America so an answer would be great! — G.G., Pasadena, California

A: First of all, not finding an express prohibition in liturgical documents does not mean that something can be done. Many, if not most, liturgical abuses are not named because nobody can possibly foresee all that the human imagination can conjure. Specific reprobation on certain abuses arrives only after they have come to the attention of ecclesiastical authority.

Usually it is sufficient to recur to general principles in order to know if something is allowed. For example, there is the elemental principle that no priest may add or remove anything from the liturgy on his own initiative. Another principle applicable to our case is found in the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, No. 75:

«On account of the theological significance inherent in a particular rite and the Eucharistic Celebration, the liturgical books sometimes prescribe or permit the celebration of Holy Mass to be joined with another rite, especially one of those pertaining to the Sacraments. The Church does not permit such a conjoining in other cases, however, especially when it is a question of trivial matters.»

If there are severe restrictions on joining the Mass to other rites, including officially approved rites, the exclusion of non-liturgical elements such as Nativity plays would certainly be included.

Our correspondent’s use of the Introduction to the Children’s Lectionary has a certain validity in view of the fact that since the norms for children’s liturgies allow for extensive adaptations, the fact that something is forbidden for this kind of celebration means «a fortiori» that it is not allowed in regular Masses.

It must be recognized though that the Introduction to the Children’s Lectionary is not a universal document. It was produced by the U.S. bishops’ conference and, I believe, has yet to reach its definitive form. It is interesting that the Italian bishops’ conference also included a ban on dramas, slide shows and the like during Masses with children in its own directory.

Perhaps a more useful universal source would be the Directory for Children’s Masses issued by the Holy See in November 1973. The adaptations refer to Masses where the vast majority of participants are children ages 6 to 9. These norms do not apply to assemblies of older children.

I will offer selections of what I believe are relevant texts. The full document may be found at a Web site called www.catholicliturgy.com.

«Chapter III, Part 1. Offices and Ministries in the Celebration

«22. The principles of active and conscious participation are in a sense even more significant for Masses celebrated with children. Every effort should therefore be made to increase this participation and to make it more intense. For this reason as many children as possible should have special parts in the celebration: for example, preparing the place and the altar (see no. 29), acting as cantor (see no. 24), singing in a choir, playing musical instruments (see no. 32), proclaiming the readings (see nos. 24 and 47), responding during the homily (see no. 48), reciting the intentions of the general intercessions, bringing the gifts to the altar, and performing similar activities in accord with the usage of various peoples (see no. 34).

«To encourage participation, it will sometimes be helpful to have several additions, for example, the insertion of motives for giving thanks before the priest begins the dialogue of the preface.

«In all this, it should be kept in mind that external activities will be fruitless and even harmful if they do not serve the internal participation of the children. Thus religious silence has its importance even in Masses with children (see no. 37). The children should not be allowed to forget that all the forms of participation reach their high point in eucharistic communion, when the body and blood of Christ are received as spiritual nourishment.

«23. It is the responsibility of the priest who celebrates with children to make the celebration festive, familial, and meditative. Even more than in Masses with adults, the priest is the one to create this kind of attitude, which depends on his personal preparation and his manner of acting and speaking with others.

«24. Since the Eucharist is always the action of the entire ecclesial community, the participation of at least some adults is desirable. These should be present not as monitors but as participants, praying with the children and helping them to the extent necessary …

«Even in Masses with children attention is to be paid to the diversity of ministries so that the Mass may stand out clearly as the celebration of the community. For example, readers and cantors, whether children or adults, should be employed. In this way a variety of voices will keep the children from becoming bored.

«Chapter III, Part 5. Gestures

«33. In view of the nature of the liturgy as an activity of the entire person and in view of the psychology of children, participation by means of gestures and posture should be strongly encouraged in Masses with children, with due regard for age and local customs. Much depends not only on the actions of the priest, [29] but also on the manner in which the children conduct themselves as a community ….

«34. Among the actions that are considered under this heading, processions and other activities that involve physical participation deserve special mention.

«The children’s entering in procession with the priest can serve to help them to experience a sense of the communion that is thus being created. The participation of at least some children in the procession with the Book of the Gospels makes clear the presence of Christ announcing the word to his people. The procession of children with the chalice and the gifts expresses more clearly the value and meaning of the preparation of the gifts. The communion procession, if properly arranged, helps greatly to develop the children’s devotion.

«Chapter III, Part 6. Visual Elements

«35. The liturgy of the Mass contains many visual elements and these should be given great prominence with children. This is especially true of the particular visual elements in the course of the liturgical year, for example, the veneration of the cross, the Easter candle, the lights on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and the variety of colors and liturgical appointments.

«In addition to the visual elements that belong to the celebration and to the place of celebration, it is appropriate to introduce other elements that will permit children to perceive visually the wonderful works of God in creation and redemption and thus support their prayer. The liturgy should never appear as something dry and merely intellectual.

«36. For the same reason, the use of art work prepared by the children themselves may be useful, for example, as illustrations of a homily, as visual expressions of the intentions of the general intercessions, or as inspirations to reflection.

«45. In the biblical texts «God is speaking to his people … and Christ is present to the faithful through his own word.» Paraphrases of Scripture should therefore be avoided. On the other hand, the use of translations that may already exist for the catechesis of children and that are accepted by the competent authority is recommended.

«46. Verses of psalms, carefully selected in a
ccord with the understanding of children, or singing in the form of psalmody or the Alleluia with a simple verse should be sung between the readings. The children should always have a part in this singing, but sometimes a reflective silence may be substituted for the singing ….
Nov. 16 column on the service of deacons:

«We have a large suburban parish with six weekend Masses. Every fourth Sunday is ‘deacons preach’ weekend, an event which we permanent deacons look forward to with eagerness and no small amount of joy.

«When we had three deacons each of us would preach at two Masses. This worked very well for us. Recently, however, the bishop transferred one of our deacons to another parish. That left two of us to cover six Masses. The question has arisen as to the mechanics of one deacon serving at three Masses. It is our understanding that we should not serve as Mass deacon at more than two celebrations in a single weekend.

«The solution we have come up with is for us to serve as Mass deacon for two Masses and to be the preacher only at one other Mass. Now the question. When not serving as Mass deacon, is it proper for us to proclaim the Gospel in addition to preaching? Or should the celebrant be the one to proclaim the Gospel? It seems to be an odd reversal of roles. One priest — an associate — insists on doing it this way. My brother deacon says that the rubrics are clear: The deacon, if present, should proclaim the Gospel.

«If the deacon is not Mass deacon but is preaching only, is he ‘present’ in the sense the GIRM [General Instruction of the Roman Missal] intended?»

Although this question addresses a particular situation, I would say the following.

I am supposing that the general rule that nobody may receive Communion more than twice in one day applies also to deacons.

On that basis, there would be some difficulty with a deacon serving three Masses on a single day. It is true that it would not be obligatory to communicate at the third Mass, but it would be strange to carry out all of the diaconal ministries and not receive Communion.

However, there is no reason why he could not serve at one Saturday evening Mass and two Sunday Masses, or the reverse. The fact that the same liturgy is followed on Saturday and Sunday has no bearing on the norm that allows no more than two communions in any one day.

Thus, I believe that our reader’s supposition that the deacon can serve no more than two Masses over the weekend does not hold up.

At the same time, I would say that it would not generally be in conformity with the norms for a deacon to read the Gospel or preach if he were not actively ministering at Mass. GIRM, No. 66, says: «The Homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate ….»

Therefore, while GIRM allows for an exceptional case in which a non-concelebrating bishop or priest may preach at Mass, no such exception is envisioned for a deacon.

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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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