Q: I’ve seen concelebrants at a Mass using only stoles over their albs. Is that OK, even if chasubles are available? — J.D., El Cajon, California
A: The new General Instruction on the Roman Missal refers to this question in No. 209: “In the vesting room or other suitable place, the concelebrants put on the sacred vestments they customarily wear when celebrating Mass individually. Should, however, a good reason arise, (e.g., a large number of concelebrants or a lack of vestments), concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may omit the chasuble and simply wear the stole over the alb.”
Few comments are needed as the text is very clear. While simply wearing the stole over the alb is a possibility when there is a good reason, in normal circumstances if chasubles are available they should be used. Preferably the chasubles should be of uniform design and color.
The use of proper vestments enhances the dignity and beauty of the celebration and helps the priest overcome the danger of falling into a certain sloppiness and carelessness in his liturgical gestures, a problem which is particularly acute in large or frequent concelebrations.
There may be other good reasons, apart from lack of chasubles, which would allow for the omission of the chasuble by concelebrants such as an outdoor Mass or excess humidity which might cause damage to the vestments.
Sometimes a partial solution may be adopted in which only those priests closest to the main celebrant wear full vestments. Although the Holy See has granted one or two specific indults allowing priests to either omit wearing the chasuble or use a combined alb-with-chasuble (not in the English-speaking world, however) it is clear that the principal celebrant may not leave aside the chasuble.
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Follow-up: Consecrating Wine in a Flask
My answer to an Australian reader regarding the use of flagons for consecrating wine (Sept. 23) generated a fair amount of correspondence, of varying degrees of insight and courtesy. As some worthwhile comments were made, I wish to address the question once more.
First, some readers were under the impression that I objected to the distribution of the Precious Blood to the faithful. This is not the case. In these replies I strive, insofar as it is possible, to limit myself to the pertinent official norms. One thing is the broad faculties granted to the local bishop by the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal to regulate the occasions for the administration of communion under both species within his diocese. Another question is the most correct or apt means of carrying this out.
In my original response, based above all on universal documents, I stated that flagons were not mentioned in any official texts. I am aware that GIRM 330 speaks of “other vessels,” but within the context of that number and the document as a whole, it is unlikely that it refers to flagons.
A reader from Texas said that I overlooked the document “This Holy and Living Sacrifice: Directory for the Celebration and Reception of Communion under Both Kinds,” produced by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1984. It is true that No. 40 of this document specifically states: “The wine should be placed in flagons or pitchers of careful design and quality.”
I should perhaps have considered this text; however, it has recently been replaced by a new set of norms that, having received approval from the Holy See, came into effect on April 7, 2002, as particular law for the United States. It is available on the bishops’ Web site, www.usccb.org. This new document makes no mention of the flagon and in its Nos. 36-40 gives preference to the practice of pouring from one large chalice into smaller ones.
There is probably more risk of spillage from this practice than from use of the flagon. But the bishops have obviously preferred to give weight to the symbolic value of partaking from the “one cup.”
The flagon is certainly a pragmatic solution to a practical problem. But it is also a novelty with no counterparts even among those Eastern Churches that never lost the tradition of Communion under both species. No matter how beautiful or elegant, the flagon fails to fit well into the overall symbolic language of the eucharistic rite.
When I agreed with my original correspondent as to the flagon’s seeming to contradict the words of consecration — regarding taking and drinking from the cup — it was from this symbolic, rather than from a theological, standpoint.
I believe we need to consider how the liturgical objects we use, because they are also symbols, may eventually affect the perception of the thing they symbolize.
Finally, another American reader took me by surprise by suggesting that I follow the Holy Father’s example in consecrating flagons of wine.
While I always strive to follow his example I would point out that Communion is almost never administered under both species at papal masses as it would be impracticable. If memory serves me well, it was done once, in St. Louis, where the celebration in a covered stadium apparently made it logistically possible.
In fact, at some of the outdoor masses, the local bishop has even temporarily suspended the faculty for receiving Communion in the hand so that the danger of a Host falling due to the jostling and stumbling typical of large crowds on uneven terrain be reduced to a minimum.
My own, admittedly small, firsthand experience in helping to organize these trips at the Vatican has taught me that the input of the host diocese is far from negligible. So one must not be too hasty in drawing universal liturgical lessons from the Pope’s pastoral visits.
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