ROME, NOV. 4, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Question 1: When a priest is presiding at a penitential service with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, should he leave his presidential seat to go and hear confessions for penitents even when the Blessed Sacrament is still exposed? -- A.A., Enugu, Nigeria
Questions 2: At the end of Mass, when all are kneeling while the sacred vessels are purified, etc., when is it appropriate to sit down? I thought it was when the principal celebrant sits, but I find myself sitting down alone, when all others are waiting for a deacon or someone to finish at the altar. -- P.G., Baltimore, Maryland
Answer: As both questions relate to posture and can be answered fairly briefly, I will address them both here.
Regarding the first question, there is no reason why a priest may not enter the confessional after exposing the Blessed Sacrament during a penitential service or any other period of adoration.
After all, almost all prayers and readings used while adoration lasts may be conducted by a deacon or a lay minister. Only the priest, however, is able to hear confessions and impart absolution.
If a deacon is present, he would usually expose the Blessed Sacrament and, if the priest is busy hearing confessions, the deacon may also impart Benediction.
The situation described by our reader suggests that the priest exposes the Blessed Sacrament, introduces the celebration in a general way, goes to hear confessions, and probably returns later for Benediction. I believe that this procedure is correct.
The priest should remain if he is to preside at an office of the Liturgy of the Hours during the period of adoration. But he may also withdraw before the recitation of the office begins and allow another minister to lead the community, in accordance with the norms for the Divine Office.
With respect to the second question, No. 43 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says: "The faithful should … stand from the invitation, Orate, fraters (Pray, brethren), before the prayer over the offerings until the end of Mass, except at the places indicated below. … [A]s circumstances allow, they may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed …
"With a view to a uniformity in gestures and postures during one and the same celebration, the faithful should follow the directions which the deacon, lay minister, or priest gives according to whatever is indicated in the Missal."
These indications would appear to allow some degree of flexibility in the posture during the sacred silence after Communion, and the choice as to kneel or sit at this moment seems to fall upon the individual.
The norms do indicate that singing of the Communion chant should continue while the sacrament is distributed (GIRM, No. 86). This would suggest that those who have already received would do better to remain either standing or sitting so as to accompany the assembly in song. If, however, there is no song or the song is executed by the choir alone (GIRM, No. 87), then the faithful could also sit or kneel on returning to their pew.
The period of sacred silence (or a song after Communion) begins after Communion has been distributed to all. There is no need to wait until the purification of the vessels is completed. If, however, the ablutions by the priest take very little time, then it is customary in many places for the Communion chant to continue until the priest returns to the chair. Initiating the silence on the priest's returning to the chair would be the common practice when a deacon or instituted acolyte purifies the vessels.
Although either posture may be freely adopted at this moment of the celebration, GIRM No. 43's recommendation of uniformity is worth taking into account. Long-established parishes often develop certain habits, such as that described by our reader, which interpret a norm in a particular way. If these habits don't violate liturgical law, then it is often better not to make a point of it even though our own spiritual sensibility inclines us to something else.
One might also charitably point out any inexact practices to the pastor so that he may choose the most opportune remedy if one is needed.
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Follow-up: Saturday Mass for Sunday
We received numerous e-mails from readers on the topic of Saturday evening celebrations of Sunday Mass. Although I responded from a pastoral rather than a canonical stance (see Oct. 21 column), several correspondents offered valuable canonical pointers that serve to complement and in part correct some of my assertions.
Several readers pointed out that most canonists, based on Pope Pius XII's apostolic constitution "Christus Dominus" and the Code of Canon Law, No. 1248.1, which speaks of Saturday evening ("vespere") Mass, say that 4 p.m., and not 5 p.m. as I affirmed, is the recognized time after which Sunday Masses may be celebrated.
This canon also states that Catholics may fulfill their Sunday and holy-day obligations by assisting at any Catholic Mass after this time. Therefore, if a Catholic were to attend a wedding at this time, even if the ceremony lacked the elements proper to a Sunday Mass, he or she would be fulfilling the Sunday precept.
This would also be the case if a holy day of obligation fell on a Saturday or Monday. A Catholic who assisted at morning and evening Mass on either Saturday or Sunday would fulfill both holy-day precepts, even if the Mass formulas were of the same day. It would always be required to go to Mass twice though, so there is no "killing two birds with one stone," as the saying goes.
To be clear, I am merely stating the minimum legal requirements and am not recommending this as a practice, which I believe would often be pastorally and spiritually detrimental to the faithful.
Therefore a pastor should do all that he can to assure that a Saturday evening wedding has all the elements of Sunday Mass as well as inculcate the faithful to fulfill their calling to glorify God and celebrate the fullness of the liturgical year.
Finally, due to an oversight of mine, in an earlier follow-up regarding the celebration of the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on Jan. 3, I failed to offer the simplest and most obvious solution to finding the texts: that is, the use of the already approved texts from the votive Mass of the Holy Name. These texts are already found in the missal and basically correspond to those of the feast day.
On the Net
This matter a reader informed me of the existence of a 2004 supplement to the Sacramentary that can be looked up at: CatholicbookPublishing.com.
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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.