Changing the Presider

And More on the Fraction Rite

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ROME, AUG. 21, 2012 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: When our new priest was installed as parish priest, I saw something I have never seen before — they swapped who was presiding at Mass. Background: In the absence of the bishop we had Monsignor A. in his stead. Monsignor A. started as presider, wearing the chasuble, whereas Father V. did not. After Monsignor A. gave the homily, we had a little installation ceremony. Monsignor A. asked us to extend our hands in blessing; after he said the prayer, took the chasuble off and Father V. put in on; from that point on Father V. was presiding. If the bishop had been there instead, I would be very surprised if he handed over the role of presider during the Mass. Something else I wish to ask. The following Sunday he brought back the procession of the lectionary before the readings, after the penitential prayer. We don’t have a Book of the Gospels only, nor a deacon. The reader of the second reading carries it in procession from the back of the church to the front, led by two altar servers, bows to the altar when (s)he gets to the front, turns, holds it aloft to the congregation, then gives it to the reader of the first reading who is waiting at the lectern. We had recently stopped it when our priest said it was supposed to be a Book of the Gospels carried by a deacon. — J.V., Auckland, New Zealand

A: In principle there are no situations when there is a change of principal celebrant in the liturgy. This was emphasized in a private 2007 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship dealing with a different case of change of principal celebrant. The congregation wrote: «From a liturgical point of view it is inadmissible for there to be a change of president in the course of one and the same liturgical celebration.»

To forestall possible objections, the letter also addressed the apparent exceptions to this principle such as those «That occur when the Bishop presides over a celebration in choir dress or when a newly ordained Bishop becomes the president of the Eucharistic celebration from the moment of his Ordination.» The first example occurs when a bishop assists at a Mass but does not celebrate, for example, on the occasion of a priestly jubilee. In such cases the bishop may give the homily and the final blessing.

The letter concludes that these are not true exceptions but «arise from the nature of the Bishop’s ministry, and do not take the general rule.»

An analogous case of a brief change in presider can occur when a newly appointed bishop takes possession of his diocese. If he does this himself, he is received by the ranking priest of the cathedral who offers him a crucifix to be kissed and holy water to sprinkle himself and the people. He briefly visits the Blessed Sacrament, goes to the sacristy, vests and presides over the Mass from the beginning.

At the beginning of Mass he goes to the cathedra, sits and puts on the miter. The apostolic letter of his appointment is then read. After reading the text he is greeted by the ranking priest and some other members of the clergy. After this, omitting the penitential rite (and optionally the Kyrie), he intones the Gloria.

However, on some occasions the new bishop is introduced into the diocese by the local metropolitan archbishop. In this case No. 1145 of the Ceremonial of Bishops says: «If, however, the Metropolitan himself brings the Bishop into his cathedral church, he presents the Bishop at the door of the church to the highest-ranking member of the chapter and presides at the entrance procession; at the cathedra he greets the people and requires that the apostolic Letter be shown and read. When it has been read, and after the acclamation of the people, the Metropolitan invites the Bishop to be seated in the cathedra. Then the Bishop rises and sings Glória in excélsis according to the rubrics.»

As we see, these are all exceptional cases and refer only to bishops. Therefore, it was not liturgically correct to substitute the presider at the Mass in which a pastor is introduced into his parish. The different possible rites are described in the Ceremonial of Bishops, Nos. 1185-1198. Although the possibility is foreseen of the new pastor presiding over the Mass because the bishop does not celebrate, at no moment is a change of president foreseen.

A very exceptional case involving a change of a presider would be when a priest is stricken, or even dies, during the course of a Mass. In such a case another priest can continue from the point where the first left off until the end of Mass.

Regarding the procession of the lectionary, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 120, says that in the procession there may be «A lector, who may carry the Book of the Gospels (though not the Lectionary), which should be slightly elevated.» If there is a deacon, he will normally carry the Book of the Gospels.

Therefore, no procession of the lectionary is foreseen during Mass.

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Follow-up: The Fraction Rite

Several readers responded to our July 24 piece on the fraction rite.

Since we mentioned the singing of the «Lamb of God,» one correspondent asked if it is always sung. While singing is preferred — especially on Sundays, feasts, and when the fraction rite is extended — a simple recitation is always possible and is probably common on most weekdays.

A Charleston, South Carolina, priest made the following interesting observation: «While I did not notice such a change as did the reader, it is important to recognize the significance of the connection of these two different yet interconnected rituals of the fractioning and the singing of the Agnus Dei. As the Mass is about the Word of God being made flesh, from the Liturgy of the Word into the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it is important that we help the faithful to recognize this. And this time of fractioning the Eucharistic Lamb of God could be used to reinforce that. John’s Gospel portrays the night of Jesus’ last supper as taking place the night before, so that Jesus is being slaughtered on the cross among the lesser, unblemished lambs that were being slain for the Passover meals. And just as the lambs would then be fractioned for families to celebrate the Passover in their homes, Jesus is being fractioned for us at Mass.»

All I can say is that I totally agree that both rituals receive their true recognition and certainly did not intend to lessen the importance of either.

Finally, a writer from London asked: «Following your explanation on the fraction rite, I wonder if you would be so kind as to explain the exact meaning of the philosophical words ‘Corpus in substantia et corpus in omnibus partibus.’ I know of one bishop who refuses to use the corporal at Mass and countless priests who place the missal on the corporal directly in front of them during Mass, thereby eliminating the possibility to collecting any crumbs of the host that may have fallen during the fraction rite.»

To do justice to this question would require a treatise on Eucharistic doctrine beyond the limits of this column. The use of the corporal is obligatory at Mass, and its primary function is to gather any possible fragments that might fall. Therefore, it is unlawful to omit it or to obstruct its proper use.

For very large celebrations with many chalices and ciboria on the altar, very large corporals, sometimes covering the entire altar table, are sometimes used.

In this context it must be observed that since hosts are rarely placed directly upon the corporal in the ordinary form of the Mass, the presence of visible fragments is usually far less of a problem than before. Because of this, placing the missal partly upon the corporal might not in fact obstruct its proper use.

With respect to the interpretation of the philosophical words regarding the extent of the Real Presence in very small fragments, we prev
iously tried to clarify this point using the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas; see the columns of June 12, 2007, and June 26, 2007.

The Church has never wished to officially determine this extent and, even when asked, has preferred to simply remind all involved to closely follow the rubrics with respect to purification of the sacred vessels and the overall care and reverence due to the Eucharistic species.

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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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