Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Since the Presentation of the Lord, February 2, falls on Sunday this year, what are the options? The two given in the Roman Missal make it difficult for parishes like ours, which have eight Masses on Sunday. It seems there is little difference between the procession and the solemn entrance, and time is a serious consideration in larger parishes. It would help if there were a third, shorter option as there is on Palm Sunday. — H.G., Wilmington, California
A: In the initial rubrics for Palm Sunday the missal says:
“On this day the Church recalls the entrance of Christ the Lord into Jerusalem to accomplish his Paschal Mystery. Accordingly, the memorial of this entrance of the Lord takes place at all Masses, by means of the procession or the Solemn entrance before the principal Mass or the Simple entrance before other Masses. The Solemn entrance, but not the procession, may be repeated before other Masses that are usually celebrated with a large gathering of people. It is desirable that, where neither the procession nor the Solemn entrance can take place, there be a sacred celebration of the Word of God on the messianic entrance and on the passion of the Lord, either on Saturday evening or on Sunday at a convenient time.”
Effectively, there is no third option or simple entrance for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The rubrics state:
“1. At an appropriate hour, a gathering takes place at a smaller church or another suitable place other than inside the church to which the procession will go. The faithful hold in their hands unlighted candles.
“2. The Priest, wearing white vestments as for Mass, approaches with the ministers. Instead of the chasuble, the Priest may wear a cope, which he leaves aside after the procession is over.
“3. While the candles are being lit, the following antiphon or another appropriate chant is sung .…
“4. When the chant is concluded, the Priest, facing the people, says: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then the Priest greets the people in the usual way, and next, he gives an introductory address, encouraging the faithful to celebrate the rite of this feast day actively and consciously. He may use these or similar words …:
“5. After the address the Priest blesses the candles, saying, with hands extended: ….
“He sprinkles the candles with holy water without saying anything and puts incense into the thurible for the procession.
“6. Then the Priest receives from the Deacon or a minister the lighted candle prepared for him and the procession begins, with the Deacon announcing (or, if there is no Deacon, the Priest himself): Let us go in peace to meet the Lord ….
“7. All carry lighted candles. As the procession moves forward, one or other of the antiphons that follow is sung, namely the antiphon A light for revelation with the canticle (Lk 2:29-32), or the antiphon Sion, adorn your bridal chamber or another appropriate chant ….
“8. As the procession enters the church, the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass is sung. When the Priest has arrived at the altar, he venerates it and, if appropriate, incenses it. Then he goes to the chair, where he takes off the cope, if he used it in the procession, and puts on a chasuble. After the singing of the hymn Gloria in Excelsis (Glory to God in the highest), he says the Collect as usual. The Mass continues in the usual manner.
Second form: The Solemn Entrance
“9. Whenever a procession cannot take place, the faithful gather in church, holding candles in their hands. The Priest, wearing white sacred vestments as for Mass, together with the ministers and a representative group of the faithful, goes to a suitable place, either in front of the church door or inside the church itself, where at least a large part of the faithful can conveniently participate in the rite.
“10. When the Priest reaches the place appointed for the blessing of the candles, candles are lit while the antiphon Behold, our Lord (no. 3) or another appropriate chant is sung.
“11. Then, after the greeting and address, the Priest blesses the candles, as above nos. 4-5; and then the procession to the altar takes place, with singing (nos. 6-7). For Mass, what is indicated in no. 8 above is observed.”
Why this difference? Although I have no special insight into the minds of those who formulated the missal, I think that the experts probably took into account that Palm Sunday also includes the solemn reading of the Passion and this would certainly lead to time constraints in large parishes.
There was also the consideration of having only one procession and limiting the solemn entrance to Masses with numerous faithful. Thus the simple entrance would be frequent.
They may also have taken into account that while Palm Sunday is repeated every year, most Catholics will experience the rite of blessing of candles every seven years or so when the feast coincides with a Sunday. They may have seen this more as a pastoral and spiritual opportunity than as a logistic problem and thus did not include a simple entrance that would practically eliminate the specific distinguishing aspect of this feast which is the blessing of candles.
It is true that the solemn entrance on the feast of the Presentation will add a few minutes to each Mass. At the same time, the rites and prayers are shorter than those of Palm Sunday, and the rest of the celebration is fairly normal.
I think that with careful planning, even a parish with eight Sunday Masses could manage to have the solemn entrance. It might even be able to hold at least one procession.
The solemn entrance would especially entail an effective distribution and lighting of candles as the priest approaches the place of blessing. This will often coincide with the habitual gathering place of the entrance procession and so should cause no great difficulty, nor would the procession to the altar be longer than usual.
Since the rite of blessing of candles has taken place, the introductory and penitential rites are omitted and the Mass begins with the Glory to God.
The various celebrants could have a well-prepared, but briefer than usual, homily. I would not think it wise to sacrifice the habitual elements of solemnity used on every other Sunday with respect to singing by celebrant, faithful and choir.
Since this is also the day dedicated to the consecrated life, it would be a good idea, unless there is a parallel initiative on the diocesan level, that consecrated souls living in the parish be invited to participate in a special way in at least one of the Masses.
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