ROME, NOV. 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Is it correct for a priest to take part in a Protestant funeral by doing a reading and being up with the minister? Further, is it correct for a lay Catholic to do readings at a Protestant marriage or baptism? — K.C., Melbourne, Australia
A: The essential lines of a response to this question are outlined in the Ecumenical Directory published by the Holy See. Referring to non-sacramental Protestant worship, such as funerals, it says:
“117. In some situations, the official prayer of a Church may be preferred to ecumenical services specially prepared for the occasion. Participation in such celebrations as Morning or Evening Prayer, special vigils, etc., will enable people of different liturgical traditions — Catholic, Eastern, Anglican and Protestant — to understand each other’s community prayer better and to share more deeply in traditions which often have developed from common roots.
“118. In liturgical celebrations taking place in other Churches and ecclesial Communities, Catholics are encouraged to take part in the psalms, responses, hymns and common actions of the Church in which they are guests. If invited by their hosts, they may read a lesson or preach.
“119. Regarding assistance at liturgical worship of this type, there should be a meticulous regard for the sensibilities of the clergy and people of all the Christian Communities concerned, as well as for local customs which may vary according to time, place, persons and circumstances…. Catholic clergy invited to be present at a celebration of another Church or ecclesial Community may wear the appropriate dress or insignia of their ecclesiastical office, if it is agreeable to their hosts.”
While there is no specific mention of a priest or other Catholic assisting at Protestant baptisms and weddings, the document gives the following general norm for Catholic participation in Protestant sacramental worship:
“135. For the reading of Scripture and preaching during other than Eucharistic celebrations, the norms given above (n. 118) are to be applied.” Catholics may also serve as witnesses at other Christian weddings as may Protestants at Catholic ones (Directory, No. 136).
The case of a priest assisting at a mixed marriage in an official capacity is more complex and is often subject to special laws emanated by each bishops’ conference. These laws adapt the general indications given in canon law and the Ecumenical Directory to a particular country.
Therefore we may conclude that a Catholic priest or layperson may participate as a guest at a Protestant funeral, wedding or baptism for any justified reason. This is especially likely to happen in countries where many churches and ecclesial communities are present beside the Catholic Church.
If invited, a Catholic priest may read a lesson, preach and may also impart to Protestants any appropriate blessings from the Catholic Book of Blessings (Directory, No. 121).
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Follow-up: Using the Chalice Pall
Pursuant to our observations on the use of the chalice pall (Nov. 13), a reader commented: “How you respond to liturgical inquiries might be enhanced by your becoming more familiar with versions of the Missale Romanum from 1962 and before. Although there are no current rubrics for the use of the pall, questions about proper use could be more adequately examined according to historical usage rather than ‘common practice’ or one’s own ‘common sense.’
“I think your questioner below was looking for something more ‘authoritative,’ shall we say. In the Missale Romanum of 1962, the pall is not removed during the epiclesis, but only when the time came for the consecration of the wine. Further, after the consecration, every time the pall is removed there is a genuflection, and every time it is replaced, there is a genuflection. It would seem that history might provide us some guidance here.”
Our correspondent is, of course, correct in saying that reference to practice before the current reform can be most useful in interpreting some current doubts. And I have often been enlightened by reference to liturgical texts and manuals from that period.
These texts have also recovered much of their actuality, now that the possibility of celebrating Mass according to the 1962 missal has been universally extended.
Our reader’s observations, however, also show the difficulty involved in deciding if a rubric from the 1962 Roman rite may be applied “tout court” to the present celebration or if it is no more than a useful rule of thumb.
Thus, for example, the rule that there is a genuflection every time that the pall is removed or replaced, certainly does not apply to the present form of Mass. The present form clearly specifies the genuflections to be made during Mass.
Since the use of the pall is no longer obligatory, the earlier norms are not legally binding for when the pall happens to be used for the present rite. The earlier norms, however, can indicate the maximum possible use of removing the pall only for the consecration of the wine.
Therefore, even though the earlier norms can be a useful guide we must necessarily have recourse to other criteria such as custom and common sense in interpreting their use for the present rite.
Indeed, many liturgical rubrics originated as custom and common sense and only gradually became fixed as precise and exact norms.
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Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.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.