When Returning Hosts to the Tabernacle

And More on the Passion Narrative

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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: When the consecrated hosts are replaced in the tabernacle after holy communion, are the people are asked to stand up? I ask myself why is this, if I have just received Communion? — T.Z., Messina, Italy

A: There have been several questions regarding this practice recently, above all from Italy, but also from other countries. In some cases our readers described elaborate rites for returning the Eucharist to the tabernacle, even accompanying it with candles as during a Eucharistic procession. In these situations the faithful are requested to remain standing.

The reason given for introducing these practices is that it forms part of an effort to restore respect and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. While this is a laudable goal, I have my doubts that this is the best moment to do so and also it appears contrary to the explicit indications from the Holy See.

First of all, with regard to the posture of the faithful No. 43 of the British translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says the following:

“43. The faithful should stand from the beginning of the Entrance chant, or while the priest approaches the altar, until the end of the Collect; for the Alleluia chant before the Gospel; while the Gospel itself is proclaimed; during the Profession of Faith and the Prayer of the Faithful; from the invitation, Orate, fratres (Pray, brethren), before the Prayer over the Offerings until the end of Mass, except at the places indicated below.

“They should, however, sit while the readings before the Gospel and the responsorial Psalm are proclaimed and for the Homily and while the Preparation of the Gifts at the Offertory is taking place; and, as circumstances allow, they may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed.

“But they should kneel at the consecration, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration.

“Nevertheless, it is up to the Conference of Bishops to adapt the gestures and postures described in the Order of Mass to the culture and reasonable traditions of the people. The Conference, however, must make sure that such adaptations correspond to the meaning and character of each part of the celebration. Where it is the practice for the people to remain after the Sanctus until the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and before Communion when the priest says Ecce Agnus Dei (This is the Lamb of God), this practice is laudably retained.

“With a view to a uniformity in gestures and postures during one and the same celebration, the faithful should follow the directions which the deacon, lay minister, or priest gives according to whatever is indicated in the Missal.”

Since some interpreted this number as obliging the faithful to remain standing during the whole time of the distribution of communion, the Holy See responded with an answer to a doubt published in its official organ “Notitiae” (39 [2003] page 533):

“In many places the faithful are accustomed to remain kneeling in private prayer or to sit after they return to their seats once they have individually received the holy Eucharist at Mass. Whether the provisions of the Third typical edition of the Roman Missal prohibit this practice?

“℟. In the negative and with a rationale.

“The rationale is that by the prescripts of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n. 43 is intended to give, on the one hand, within broad limits some uniformity of posture in the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of the holy Mass, and at the same time, on the other hand, not to regulate posture so rigidly that those who wish to remain kneeling or to sit would no longer be free to do so.”

Therefore, it does not appear correct to oblige the faithful to adapt a particular posture after communion.

Second, the GIRM does not give such importance to returning the Blessed Sacrament to the tabernacle as to warrant an elaborate rite. To wit:

“163. When the distribution of Communion is finished, the priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated Wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.

“Upon returning to the altar, the priest collects any fragments that may remain. Then, standing at the altar or at the credence table, he purifies the paten or ciborium over the chalice, then purifies the chalice, saying quietly: Quod ore sumpsimus (Lord, may I receive), and dries the chalice with a purificator. If the vessels are purified at the altar, they are carried to the credence table by a minister. Nevertheless, it is also permitted, especially if there are several vessels to be purified, to leave them suitably covered on a corporal, either at the altar or at the credence table, and to purify them immediately after Mass following the dismissal of the people.”

As can be seen, there is nothing here that suggests a specific rite. This is a practical question that is done within the context of the purification. While all due reverence should be observed, there is no need to unduly emphasize this moment.

The missal is, however, clear that it should be the priest or deacon, and not an extraordinary minister of holy communion, who should perform this duty in the context of Mass. The priest or deacon should make a genuflection on closing the tabernacle.

I believe that there are several reasons why this is not an apt moment for underlying the Eucharistic presence. First of all, as reflected in the rubrics cited above, this has never been a particularly solemn moment of the celebration. Second, and more importantly, we are still within the context of the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass and the emphasis at this moment is on thanksgiving for having partaken of this sacrifice through holy communion.

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Follow-up: Acting Out the Passion Narrative

Pursuant to our March 24 piece on the Passion narrative, an attentive reader, who is also a liturgist, sent me in the following observation:

“In addition to the points that you listed in your column on March 24 regarding acting out the Passion narrative, you missed one crucial resource that would have answered the question asked. The introduction of the Lectionary for Masses with Children No. 52 reads: ‘Plays within the Liturgy of the Word: 52. The Mass is not an historical re-enactment of the events of salvation history and care should be taken not to give the impression that the Liturgy of the Word is a play. This is not to say that dramatic elements may not be used, e.g., the readings may at times be divided into parts distributed among the children. However, the use of costumes, etc. is more appropriate in the context of other celebrations or services. Care should be taken especially at Christmas and during Holy Week and the Easter Triduum not to stage the various liturgies as plays. The Christmas Mass should not be presented as a birthday party for Jesus, nor should secular notions of Santa Claus be introduced into the Christmas liturgy.'”

I am most grateful to our reader for sending me in this text, which further strengthens the original reply.

Even though this introduction to the childrens lectionary has legal force only within the United States, it is based on sound liturgical principles and develops norms which are already found in the Directory of Children’s Masses issued by the Holy See.

It is obvious that the composition of such childrens lectio
naries can only be done by each bishops’ conference, as it requires adaptations that are specific to the pastoral requirements of each country.

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Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. 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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