Deviations in Holy Week

And More on Friday Abstinence

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ROME, MARCH 20, 2012 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. 

Q1: The past two years at our parish the liturgy for Good Friday has been changed in the following manner: The pastor and other readers begin the liturgy by reading a part of the account of the Passion. Then, they stop about a fifth of the way through, and the readers respectively proceed with the first and second reading. Then, the pastor and readers resume, reading another fifth of the Passion, after which the general intercessions take place. Another fifth of the Passion is read, after which the veneration of the Cross takes place. Again, another fifth of the Passion is read, and then Holy Communion is distributed. After Holy Communion is distributed, the final fifth of the Passion account is read and the liturgy ends. Obviously, this ordering of the liturgy does not follow the rubrics. Since the Good Friday liturgy is not a Mass, does the following statement from Sacrosanctum Concilium still apply, since the Good Friday liturgy is, indeed, a sacred liturgy: «Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop …. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority» (22.1, 2)?

Q2: [Last] Lent, during the Sundays leading up to Palm Sunday, our pastor and his assistants employed the following changes when reading the Gospel: The priest and another layperson(s) read the Gospels very much in the same manner as the Passion is read, by multiple readers, on Palm Sunday or Good Friday, that is, the priest reads the part of Jesus, and the other readers read the parts of the blind man, Martha, Mary, the Samaritan woman, etc. In addition, the music minister invited the congregation to sing a response throughout the Gospel. So, at different points during the Gospel, either the priest or the layperson would cease reading, and the entire congregation would sing a response, very much in the same manner as the psalm is recited. I am concerned that this is taking place because, according to Redemptionis Sacramentum: «[I]t is not permitted for a layperson, even a religious, to proclaim the Gospel reading in the celebration of Holy Mass, nor in other cases in which the norms do not explicitly permit it» (63). While the lector did not read the entire Gospel, is it still right to be concerned that a layperson read parts of the Gospel? It seems to me that the liberty taken by making this change is a liturgical abuse. — E.R., San Clemente, California

Q3: I am not so sure that my country is unique in trying to «re-create» the liturgy of the Easter triduum, but I’ve seen and heard enough to imagine that perhaps our clergy are not so familiar with either the rubrics or the meaning of the paschal triduum. My question is, basically, how far can a priest go before what is celebrated is no longer, legally speaking, the Easter triduum? Some examples from televised liturgies: [One] Good Friday, a Liturgy of the Passion was shown from County Kerry. The only Scripture reading was from Matthew’s Gospel (it seemed to be an edition of the Good News Bible) and dramatized by mime. I think the remainder of the liturgy was more or less per the liturgy. Then the Easter Vigil from the same parish was structured as follows: Fire blessed (outside), clergy came inside and began the Old Testament readings. After the last Old Testament reading, the Easter candle was prepared in the usual way, people’s candles were lit, Exsultet sung and then the Gloria. The remainder of the liturgy was as per usual. — F.R., Dublin, Ireland

A: These are just a selection of many inquiries about blatant reordering of the liturgy in general and the Easter celebrations in particular. Why these things happen and why some priests are deluded into thinking that this is a more «pastoral» approach than following the prescribed rubrics, remains a mystery.

I remain convinced that the best and most effective pastoral policy is to offer Christ’s faithful the rites that his Church proposes. This is what has stood the test of time and of widespread use. Our personal tinkering can only impoverish and weaken their effectiveness.

From the legal standpoint, all of these initiatives violate Sacrosanctum Concilium 22’s basic principle of liturgical law quoted by our first questioner. This norm is not restricted to the Mass but to the entire liturgy, including all celebrations of the sacraments and also the sacramentals. In the case of the sacramentals and the Liturgy of the Hours the official books themselves occasionally allow for greater leeway in choosing texts and modes of celebration, provided that certain core criteria are always met.

As our first correspondent observed, they also explicitly violate many other liturgical norms. This is the case in Q2 where, effectively, the only occasions when laypeople are allowed to read the Gospel along with the priest is Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The other exception, foreseen in No. 47 of the Directory for Masses with Children, does not apply to Masses celebrated for the whole parish community.

With respect to Good Friday I would say that even though it is not a Mass it is one of the most ancient and important celebrations of the year and merits the maximum degree of adherence. The Congregation for Divine Worship’s circular letter on the celebration of these feasts is very explicit:

«64. The order for the celebration of the Lord’s passion (the liturgy of the word, the adoration of the cross, and Holy Communion) that stems from an ancient tradition of the Church should be observed faithfully and religiously and may not be changed by anyone on his own initiative.

«66. The readings are to be read in their entirety. The responsorial psalm and the chant before the gospel are to be sung in the usual manner. The narrative of the Lord’s passion according to John is sung or read in the way prescribed for the previous Sunday (cf. n. 33). After the reading of the passion, a homily should be given, at the end of which the faithful may be invited to spend a short time in meditation.»

Regarding the Easter Vigil the indications are similar:

«2. The Structure of the Easter Vigil and the Significance of Its Different Elements and Parts

«81. The order for the Easter Vigil is arranged so that after the service of light and the Easter proclamation (which is the first part of the Vigil), Holy Church meditates on the wonderful works that the Lord God wrought for his people from the earliest times (the second part or liturgy of the word) to the moment when, together with those new members reborn in baptism (third part), she is called to the table prepared by the Lord for his Church, the commemoration of his death and resurrection, until he comes (fourth part).

«This liturgical order must not be changed by anyone on his own initiative.»

Thus these rites have an inner spiritual logic that is broken when the rite is not respected.

Some of the manipulations described by our reader are so egregious that one could say that the rite is no longer that of the Catholic Church.

* * *

Follow-up: Friday Abstinence and Local Solemnities

In the wake of our March 6 column, a reader kindly offered some further additions to the theme of the norms of fasting and abstinence. To wit:

«(1) Whereas the 1917 Code mentions only the two categories of days of fast and days of abstinence, the 1983 Code introduces the third-category penitential days, which are the Fridays through the year and every day of Lent (c. 1250) and on which the faithful are encouraged to devote themselves to voluntary acts of prayer, charity and self-denial (c. 1249). It should be noted that when a solemnity falls on a Friday it is no longer a day of abstinence (c. 1251), but it is still
a day of penance. It can also be noted that on Sundays or solemnities that occur during Lent the faithful are still encouraged to these penitential works.

«(2) The tabula dierum liturgicorum lists local solemnities as the principal patron of the place, city or state, the anniversary of the dedication of a particular church, the titular saint of a particular church, and the titular saint, founder or principal patron of an order or congregation. You mention local diocesan solemnities, however, the tabula shows that these are all feasts (the feast of the patron and the anniversary of the cathedral dedication, except of course in the cathedral itself).

«(3) It should be noted too that in the dioceses of the U.S. only, a solemnity falling on a Friday of Lent remains a day of abstinence according to On Penance and Abstinence (18 November 1966, still in force), no. 13. If you check your 2011 edition of the ubiquitous The Liturgical Desk Calendar, you will see that 25 March 2011 (a Friday in Lent and a solemnity) is clearly marked as a day of abstinence for this reason.»

A Canadian reader had a somewhat more tongue-in-cheek observation: «A few years ago we had an elderly, very Irish pastor who ardently claimed that God never intended for the Irish (or those who wish they were) to practice Lenten fast and abstinence should March 17 fall on a Friday in Lent. I would think that with a surname such as yours that you would be in concurrence with Father Shea.»

Such an exception might apply to us Irish. It is often assumed anyway, no matter what God might have intended, since Irishmen bank heavily on the Good Lord having a sense of humor. I would have my doubts that it applies to those who wish they were Irish, since that category embraces everybody else.

* * *

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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