Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I am a Catholic priest who believes that by sacred ordination what a validly ordained priest blesses is blessed. There is no half-way blessing. What is blessed is sacred and sacramental in nature. I feel uncomfortable seeing some priests bless the water to be used for consecration before adding it to the chalice — the remaining of the blessed water they also use to wash hands and for ablution. The leftover is also kept for the same process in the next celebration. Is this liturgically correct? — C.I., Imo State, Nigeria
A: I would first say that the rubrics do not foresee the priest blessing or making a sign of the cross over the water before placing it in the chalice.
The Roman Missal simply says, “The Deacon, or the Priest, pours wine and a little water into the chalice .…”
Therefore, if a priest using the ordinary form follows the rite properly, this confusion does not arise.
The practice of making a sign of the cross over the water cruet likely stems from the extraordinary form. In this form the priest makes a sign of the cross over the cruet as the server holds it up and he begins the prayer: “Deus, qui humanae substantiae”; when he reaches the words “da nobis per huius acque et vini mysterium” he takes the cruet in the right hand and pours water into the chalice.
Whatever the origin of the practice, making the sign of the cross over an object is not automatically equivalent to blessing it. The extraordinary form, for example, has many signs of the cross which are not, strictly speaking, blessings. Indeed, since some of these signs of the cross are made over the Sacred Species itself, they could never be regarded as blessings insofar as nobody can impart a blessing upon the Divinity.
Also there are blessings of various sorts. For example, the Church has a proper rite to obtain blessed or holy water and it requires a lot more than a simple sign of the cross. There is a long prayer which expresses the Church’s intentions and goals in blessing water for devotional use. This prayer should normally be used, although it may be abbreviated in an emergency. These are called constitutive blessings which change the purpose of the thing and reserve it for sacred or liturgical use.
It is not the same as when a priest blesses the table before meals. Here the food does not become sacred and may be reused if leftover. These are often called invocative blessings, as they simply call down God’s favor upon persons or things without changing their nature or making them sacred.
Therefore it is not true that once a priest has blessed something it is always and permanently blessed. The Church recognizes several degrees of blessings, and different situations, and thus organizes her rites accordingly.
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Follow-up: Standing at the “Pray, Brethren”
A surprising number of responses arrived regarding the question as to when the people arise following the invitation “Pray, brethren” (see April 23). Unsurprisingly, however, the responses were also divergent.
Some readers maintained that the people should always wait until the invitation is completed; others firmly held that the prevailing custom was to arise during the invitation itself.
One correspondent even suggested arising after the priest has washed his hands and before beginning the invitation. This latter form would not appear to conform to the norms, which clearly tie the people’s standing up with the invitation. An exception is when incense is used, on which occasion they arise before being incensed.
Therefore I think I can safely confirm my previous position that, barring an official clarification, both arising during the invitation or immediately afterward are legitimate possibilities.
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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. 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.