When the Holy See Is Vacant

And More on Marriage Vows

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: After Feb. 28, and before the election of a new pope, do we continue to name Benedict in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass? My opinion is that we do what we do when the pope dies: Say no name but continue on to the bishop. — E.R., Keimoes, South Africa

A: Our reader’s opinion is correct. Even though Pope Benedict XVI will be thankfully still alive, the Holy See will be vacant as of 8 p.m. Rome time (2 p.m. New York time; 4 a.m. March 1, Sydney time).

With respect to naming the pope most of the recent liturgical manuals don’t go into such detail, but manuals from before the Second Vatican Council can still be found that touch on the more arcane aspects of liturgy.

In this case the pope’s name, and the entire phrase referring to the pope, is omitted from the Eucharistic Prayer during the period of the sede vacante. Mention is made only of the local bishop and the clergy according to the literary form of each prayer.

For example, in Eucharistic Prayer II it would be: «Together with … N. our bishop, and all the clergy.»

In the Diocese of Rome: «Together with …. all the clergy.» Even though the cardinal vicar of Rome and the auxiliary bishops remain in their functions, their collective mention is optional.

An analogous procedure is followed in each diocese following the death or retirement of the local ordinary. During a time of vacancy of the episcopal see, the clause «N., our Bishop» is also simply omitted. The name of an apostolic administrator is mentioned but not that of a temporary diocesan administrator.

In the case where both diocese and the Holy See are currently vacant, the priests would follow the same practice as in Rome, omitting both names.

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Follow-up: Renewal of Marriage Vows

In the wake of our Feb. 5 column, several readers pointed out that the latest official edition of the Rite of Marriage has a sort of renewal of vows.

A reader from Washington, D.C., wrote: «Your recent column stated that ‘The universal Church has not proposed any ritual for the renewal of marriage vows either within or outside of Mass.’ But the Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium, editio typica altera (1991), does include in Appendix III: ‘Ordo benedictionis coniugum intra Missam, occasione data anniversarii Matrimonii adhibendus.’ This appendix recommends that on the main anniversaries of marriage, e.g., 25th, 50th, or 60th, a special remembrance of the sacrament may be held within Mass. This includes inviting the couple to renew before God their commitment to live a holy married life. The ‘renewal’ then includes the exchange of a formula between the couple: ‘Blessed are you, Lord, for by your goodness I took N. as my wife/husband.’ And then both together pray a prayer of renewal. A blessing of the rings may also follow. And following the Our Father, there is a special blessing which the priest bestows. Thus, it would seem that the universal Church has indeed proposed such a renewal of commitment to married life, though the terms ‘renewal of vows’ — as you pointed out — is avoided.»

This is correct, of course, although it is not, strictly speaking, a renewal of vows but rather a blessing — and in my original answer I desired to stick to this precise theme.

Another reader, this time from a new spiritual community originating in France, wrote about the group’s experiences in offering retreats to married couples.

«My husband and I have been now for almost 35 years members of a community in France. One of the major areas in our community life is also liturgy. We are running in the center of France a quite big retreat center, opened 30 years ago. Right from the beginning, a priest from another new community has been with us, with a very special charism toward couples. We have had hundreds of these retreats so far, and very soon (almost right from the beginning) have felt that, at the end of a strong, deep, re-sharpening time for a couple, those who could should be invited at the conclusion of Mass to renew their vows before a priest or a deacon. This is very simply proposed; they are invited to do so after the Creed and the prayer of the faithful, before the offertory. They come to the altar, where the appropriate ministers are waiting for them. We invite them to hold each other’s hands and to address each other with their own words, with the purpose of reformulating their promise of love for the future, in the presence of an ordained minister. In the meantime, the congregation will sing and pray silently for them. This can be a challenge, both for those coming up and doing it (and we have always had great testimonies after) and for those not doing so (it is always a shock, but a beneficial shock, because all will gain ground to their hearts in due course). I know that most new communities do the same.»

Although what is described here is not liturgical as such, it is in fact very close to the blessing proposed above in the new Rite of Marriage. This rite could also be profitably used at the end of such retreats.

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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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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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