Combining Stations and the Passion Liturgy

And More on Infant Baptism

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ROME, APRIL 19, 2011 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I know of a parish in Ireland — and there are probably many of them — which combines the reading of the Passion according to St. John with the Stations of the Cross during the Good Friday liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. This was introduced because of the popularity of the Stations of the Cross in Ireland on Good Friday. Even after 50 years of the revised Good Friday liturgy, the 3 p.m. liturgy is often known as «The Stations.» The fear in some parishes is that people won’t come to the 3 p.m. liturgy if there are stations at another time of the day. With fewer priests in rural parishes it is becoming more and more difficult to have both events in each church. Another practice I’ve come across is the insertion of individual veneration of the cross at the 3 p.m. Good Friday liturgy into the Communion procession. In fact, after the invitation to Communion, the people were invited to come forward in procession to venerate the cross and were then told that they could receive Communion if they wished. The reasoning was that there wasn’t enough time for two processions, and that venerating the cross was more important. Apparently, the Communion rite on Good Friday was retained by the Latin Church only at the request of Benedictines! One final observation. I’ve only seen on one occasion the correct practice for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament from Holy Thursday night until holy Communion on Good Friday; that is, the Blessed Sacrament remains in the tabernacle of the place of repose for this period. Is the correct practice followed anywhere in the world? Exposition of the larger host in a monstrance is not unknown in Ireland after the evening Mass on Holy Thursday. Then the Blessed Sacrament is removed to the sacristy until Communion time on Good Friday. — F.R., France

A: These questions reflect the existence of a diffused pragmatic mentality which tends to reduce the most solemn liturgical celebrations to problems of logistics.

First of all, I think it is necessary to recall that, for Catholics, there is no canonical obligation to assist at the celebrations of the Easter Triduum. In other words, the people who attend are there because they want to be there. They are expecting to participate in the fullness and beauty of the Church’s liturgy and indeed have a right to receive this liturgy from their priests.

Attending to the questions at hand, we had dealt in earlier columns regarding combining the Stations of the Cross with exposition on March 1 and 15, 2005, and the integration of the Way of the Cross with Mass on April 4 and 25, 2006. The documents and arguments presented on those occasions are also applicable to the present case. For the moment we would recall the the Holy See’s «Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy»:

«142. The Church celebrates the redemptive death of Christ on Good Friday. The Church meditates on the Lord’s Passion in the afternoon liturgical action, in which she prays for the salvation of the word, adores the Cross and commemorates her very origin in the sacred wound in Christ’s side (cf. John 19:34).

«In addition to the various forms of popular piety on Good Friday such as the ‘Via Crucis,’ the passion processions are undoubtedly the most important. These correspond, after the fashion of popular piety, to the small procession of friends and disciples who, having taken the body of Jesus down from the Cross, carried it to the place where there ‘was a tomb hewn in the rock in which no one had yet been buried’ (Luke 23:53). …

«143. It is necessary, however, to ensure that such manifestations of popular piety, either by time or the manner in which the faithful are convoked, do not become a surrogate for the liturgical celebrations of Good Friday.

«In the pastoral planning of Good Friday primary attention and maximum importance must be given to the solemn liturgical action and the faithful must be brought to realize that no other exercise can objectively substitute for this liturgical celebration.

«Finally, the integration of the ‘dead Christ’ procession with the solemn liturgical action of Good Friday should be avoided for such would constitute a distorted celebrative hybrid.»

The Catholic faithful are more than capable of understanding the difference between the liturgical service and the acts of popular piety even if there is an apparent confusion in the nomenclature.

With respect to the second question, again we are before a pragmatic mentality which undermines the parts of the liturgy. In the first place, those who attend the celebration of the Passion know that it is a long celebration and there is no call to rush it. Second, it is also a false problem. Why? Because although a single cross must be used, the rubrics foresee the possibility of a common adoration if the number of people is very great. Likewise, the Communion procession need not be as long as the adoration of the cross as several ministers may be used to distribute the sacrament.

The reception of Communion on Good Friday became possible only after the reforms initiated by Pope Pius XII. Before that, only the dying could receive Communion on this day.

Finally, I think the correct practice is followed in many places and might even be the most common. Exposition in a monstrance is totally forbidden on Holy Thursday and this is an abuse. Solemn adoration at the altar of repose ceases at midnight. Ideally the Blessed Sacrament should remain there until the time of Communion on Good Friday so as to permit private visits and adoration.

After midnight the Blessed Sacrament should only be withdrawn to the sacristy or some other safe place for objective safety concerns such as the danger of theft or profanation.

By the way, I wish a blessed and holy Easter to all our readers!

* * *

Follow-up: Infant Baptism in Lent

A reader commented on our April 5 column: «I think you missed a great point in your instruction about the infant baptism during Lent. There is the question of jurisdiction. It is to the parish priest that authority is given to baptize. I also question why grandparents are assuming the duties of arranging the baptism; what hope is there that the child will be raised in a Christian home if the parents do not even take initiative in the baptism of their child? While I would personally baptize the child, I would still require a statement of membership in a parish and permission to baptize another’s subject. Salvation of souls is the greatest concern, but indiscriminate baptisms cause scandal to our Church and the sacrament itself by assuming it is merely a rite of birth or passage and not entrance into the Body of Christ with all the responsibilities and promises therein.»

Although I am not aware why the grandparents were organizing the baptism, I presumed their good faith and assumed that they made the inquiries because they have a residence in the area were the family reunion was to take place. I also presumed that the necessary permissions had been sought and obtained. That is why I centered my attention on the question of baptism during Lent. In this sense, my answer would have been the same even if the parents had written regarding the policy of their own parish.

However, the point of jurisdiction is a valid one. As our reader points out, in former times being baptized in one’s own parish by the pastor was a strict obligation. A 1907 article in The Catholic Encyclopedia notes: «It is to be noted that though every priest, in virtue of his ordination is the ordinary minister of
baptism, yet by ecclesiastical decrees he can not use this power licitly unless he has jurisdiction. Hence the Roman Ritual declares: ‘The legitimate minister of baptism is the parish priest, or any other priest delegated by the parish priest or the bishop of the place.’ The Second Plenary Council of Baltimore adds: ‘Priests are deserving of grave reprehension who rashly baptize infants of another parish or of another diocese.’ St. Alphonsus […] says that parents who bring their children for baptism without necessity to a priest other than their own pastor, are guilty of sin because they violate the rights of the parish priest. He adds, however, that other priests may baptize such children, if they have the permission, whether express, or tacit, or even reasonably presumed, of the proper pastor. Those who have no settled place of abode may be baptized by the pastor of any church they choose.»

Today, the law still holds a preference for baptism by one’s own pastor in the parish church but allows for more flexibility in practice.

The 1973 introduction to the Rite of Baptism for Children affirms:

«10. So that baptism may clearly appear as the sacrament of the Church’s faith and of incorporation into the people of God, it should normally be celebrated in the parish church, which must have a baptismal font.

«11. After consulting the local parish priest (pastor), the bishop may permit or direct that a baptismal font be placed in another church or public oratory within the parish boundaries. In these places, too, the right to celebrate baptism belongs ordinarily to the parish priest (pastor).»

The 1983 code enshrined this principle in canon law:

«Can. 857 §1. Apart from a case of necessity, the proper place of baptism is a church or oratory. §2. As a rule an adult is to be baptized in his or her parish church and an infant in the parish church of the parents unless a just cause suggests otherwise.»

This general principle regarding the minister is further specified in the 1988 introduction to the rite of Christian initiation:

«11. The ordinary ministers of baptism are bishops, priests, and deacons ….

«11.3. Except in a case of necessity, these ministers are not to confer baptism outside their own territory, even on their own subjects, without the requisite permission.

«14. Other priests and deacons, since they are co-workers in the ministry of bishops and pastors, also prepare candidates for baptism and, by the invitation or consent of the bishop or pastor, celebrate the sacrament.»

Thus, by positing a «just cause» rather than a «grave» one for baptizing outside of one’s own parish, the code retains this as preferred but allows some degree of flexibility and adaptation to the realities of modern life.

Although the universal law, as such, would not absolutely require permission from the parent’s pastor in order to for an infant to be legitimately baptized in another parish, this is often required by national and local Church law.

This permission is also prudently requested by a pastor whenever an unknown couple asks for baptism so as to ensure, as far as reasonably possible, that the child will be raised and formed as a Catholic.

* * *

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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