Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I was helping in a South American diocese and I saw there how the bishop invited the people to recite with him the opening prayer. Then he invited the people to do the same for the doxology. Also there they sing some songs during the Eucharistic Prayer; in between paragraphs the people sing short songs. I also celebrated Mass for the military, and right after I consecrated the host, during the elevation, the band played the national anthem and I had to wait till they finished before I consecrated the wine. And during the whole consecration everybody stood up. I asked local priests about those practices, and they told me that this was mandated by the conference of bishops and by the military bishop although they failed to show me any document. My question is: Can a bishop modify these parts of the Mass? -- J.S., Bolivia

A: This question needs to be divided into parts as various laws apply in different cases.

First of all, an overarching principle regarding the bishop's authority over the liturgy is that he should not forbid what is permitted nor permit what is forbidden. There might be some punctual exceptions to this principle based on the bishop's general authority to dispense from universal and particular disciplinary laws not reserved to the Holy See (Canon 87).

However, a bishop does not have any general power to adjust the texts or rubrics of the Mass, nor should he do so. In the case mentioned above, the bishop erred in inviting the people to join him in parts of the Mass reserved to the celebrant.

A two-thirds majority of the bishops' conference, plus the approval of the Holy See, are required in order to make any stable modifications to the universal liturgy.

With respect to what our reader calls "some songs" during the Eucharistic Prayer, such interpolations have been specifically approved for Brazil. As the country mentioned by our reader borders on Brazil, it is quite possible that some of its liturgical practices have crossed the frontier. As far as I am aware, however, no other country has received specific approval for this practice from the Holy See.

Since Brazil is now revising its current translation, which in many respects resembles the former English version, there appears to be a tendency to reduce these interventions.

Finally, the custom of playing the national anthem during or after the consecration seems to be of Spanish origin, especially in military circles. This is why it is probably found in some South American countries.

It is a custom which appears to be generally dying, especially as current liturgical law is quite clear that no music should be played during the Eucharistic Prayer. Thus the 1967 instruction Musicam Sacram states:

"The use of musical instruments to accompany the singing can act as a support to the voices, render participation easier, and achieve a deeper union in the assembly. However, their sound should not so overwhelm the voices that it is difficult to make out the text; and when some part is proclaimed aloud by the priest or a minister by virtue of his role, they should be silent (no. 64).

"In sung or said Masses, the organ, or other instrument legitimately admitted, can be used to accompany the singing of the choir and the people; it can also be played solo at the beginning before the priest reaches the altar, at the Offertory, at the Communion, and at the end of Mass (no. 65)."

In this case, however, it could be argued that an exception is warranted in virtue of immemorial custom. It is also sometimes argued that the anthem is sung in honor of the Blessed Sacrament or as a sign of a country's consecration to Christ.

This was the meaning when, in 1899, the national anthem was sung after the consecration in the solemn act in which Venezuela was consecrated to the Blessed Sacrament by the country's bishops.

As I say, the argument from custom could be made. But it would still probably be better to let the practice fade away, as it is no longer in conformity with current liturgical law and easily open to misinterpretation.

* * *

Follow-up: What Should Be Prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours

In relation to the Jan. 15 question regarding the Liturgy of the Hours, a reader asked:

"My community is very Eucharistic-centered and celebrate two 'holy hours' of adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament (one in the morning and one in the evening) each day. During our time of adoration we pray the major hours of the Liturgy of the Hours in common. My question has to do with the blessing that is included at the conclusion of these hours. Is it appropriate for the priest to give the blessing when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed?

"We begin our morning prayer with the invocation and the invitatory before exposition. This is followed immediately by exposition and the singing of the hymn. We continue with the rest of morning prayer and finish with the concluding prayer and the blessing. As the community will be staying in adoration with our morning meditation in silence, in place of the dismissal we pray, 'Let us praise the Lord' with the response 'And give Him thanks.' At the end of the hour of adoration we have Benediction following the rite as it is prescribed in the liturgical books.

"Our afternoon holy hour ends with the praying of evening prayer. Since we have Benediction in the morning, we do not repeat it again in the afternoon. Nevertheless, we finish evening prayer in the same way as the morning, with the blessing and the same substitution of the dismissal. Following this, there is simple reposition of the Blessed Sacrament by the presider without the singing of the Tantum Ergo or incensation, but with the invocation 'You have given them bread from heaven" and its response followed by the prayer. All make a reverence and the presider proceeds to repose the Blessed Sacrament without giving the blessing.

"Some say that since the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, no blessing should be given at the end of the praying of the hour, but that the invocation said when one prays alone, namely, 'May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life,' should be said instead. Others have said that if Benediction is to immediately follow the praying of the hour, then the concluding prayer of the hour should not be followed by the blessing, that the Benediction itself serves as the blessing for the hour. Still others say that the blessing is part of the rite of praying the Liturgy of the Hours and as such should not be omitted. The last option is the one being followed by our congregation. Something in me tends to think that in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament I should not be imparting my priestly blessing (even Benediction is given without invoking the Holy Trinity as the Lord himself is actually bestowing his blessing). That is just my sense but I have been unable to find any proper response in any of the liturgical documents."

Long-established liturgical tradition has always excluded any blessing in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed.

The present custom of silently blessing the incense is a relative novelty. Before the Second Vatican Council, and in the extraordinary form, no such blessing was given.

Therefore, it is correct to use the form at lauds and vespers: "The Lord bless us, and keep us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen."

The form "Let us praise the Lord…" is used after the prayer during the day and the office of readings if no other hour follows.

If I may be so bold as to make a practical suggestion: Since there are two holy hours a day, it would be liturgically more appropriate to end the second one with Benediction and not the first. In this way the reservation a t the end of the first could be seen as an interruption in a continuing adoration, and the rites would follow a more logical sequence.

It is a mere suggestion -- I am loath to interfere in a community's legitimate traditions.

* * *

Readers may send questions to 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.