|ROME, 4 APRIL 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
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Q: My parish usually has a Way of the Cross followed by the Mass
during Fridays of Lent. I saw a priest integrate the Way of the Cross
with the Mass. The Liturgy of the Word was replaced with the Way of the
Cross. He immediately proceeded with the Offertory. Is it right? Also,
can the Way of the Cross take the place of the penitential rite of the
Mass? A second question: If there are still many communicants waiting to
receive Communion and the priest runs out of consecrated hosts, can he
use an unconsecrated host as a vessel for the reception of the Lord in
holy Communion (by dipping it into the Blood of Christ)? —
M.V., Surrey, British Columbia
A: While the Way of the Cross is a venerable and laudable practice it is
certainly not permissible to unite it to the Mass in the manner
First of all, there is the general principle of respecting the integrity
of the rites. No priest has the authority to add or remove anything
prescribed in the liturgical books by his own decision.
Second, this theme is dealt with in a general way in Part 4 of the
instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," "On the Joining of Various Rites
with the Celebration of Mass."
Although it makes no specific reference to the Way of the Cross, it
outlines the principles in play. Nos. 75 and 79 state:
"[75.] On account of the theological significance inherent in a
particular rite and the Eucharistic Celebration, the liturgical books
sometimes prescribe or permit the celebration of Holy Mass to be joined
with another rite, especially one of those pertaining to the Sacraments.
The Church does not permit such a conjoining in other cases, however,
especially when it is a question of trivial matters.
"[79.] Finally, it is strictly to be considered an abuse to introduce
into the celebration of Holy Mass elements that are contrary to the
prescriptions of the liturgical books and taken from the rites of other
The Holy See's "Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy" also gives
indications about the combination of different rites that commemorate
the Passion and the liturgical celebrations of Good Friday (not the
Mass, as it is not celebrated on this day):
"142. The Church celebrates the redemptive death of Christ on Good
Friday. The Church meditates on the Lord's Passion in the afternoon
liturgical action, in which she prays for the salvation of the word,
adores the Cross and commemorates her very origin in the sacred wound in
Christ's side (cf. John 19:34).
"In addition to the various forms of popular piety on Good Friday such
as the 'Via Crucis,' the passion processions are undoubtedly the most
important. These correspond, after the fashion of popular piety, to the
small procession of friends and disciples who, having taken the body of
Jesus down from the Cross, carried it to the place where there "was a
tomb hewn in the rock in which no one had yet been buried" (Luke 23:53).
"The procession of the 'dead Christ' is usually conducted in austere
silence, prayer, and the participation of many of the faithful, who
intuit much of the significance of the Lord's burial.
"143. It is necessary, however, to ensure that such manifestations of
popular piety, either by time or the manner in which the faithful are
convoked, do not become a surrogate for the liturgical celebrations of
"In the pastoral planning of Good Friday primary attention and maximum
importance must be given to the solemn liturgical action and the
faithful must be brought to realize that no other exercise can
objectively substitute for this liturgical celebration.
"Finally, the integration of the 'dead Christ' procession with the
solemn liturgical action of Good Friday should be avoided for such would
constitute a distorted celebrative hybrid."
The 1987 circular letter "Paschales Solemnitatis" on the celebration of
the Easter triduum also mentions these devotions on Good Friday:
"72. Devotions such as the Way of the Cross, processions of the passion,
and commemorations of the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary are not,
for pastoral reasons, to be neglected. The texts and songs used,
however, should be adapted to the spirit of the Liturgy of this day.
Such devotions should be assigned to a time of day that makes it quite
clear that the Liturgical celebration by its very nature far surpasses
them in importance."
None of these documents specifically forbid joining the Way of the Cross
to the Mass during Lent, probably because it never entered anybody's
head that any priest would ever dream of doing it.
The principles enunciated in these documents sufficiently show that such
a hybrid rite is unsound from both the liturgical and pastoral
Regarding question No. 2, and the use of unconsecrated bread to
distribute Communion by intinction: This practice has been explicitly
rejected in No. 104 of "Redemptionis Sacramentum":
"The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in
the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. As for the
host to be used for the intinction, it should be made of valid matter,
also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated
bread or other matter."
We have also treated the subject of a shortage of hosts in our column of
May 17, 2005, with follow-ups on May 31 and June 14. ZE06040422
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Follow-up: "Way of the Cross" Within Mass [04-25-2006]
After our column on joining the Way of the Cross to Mass (April 4), a
priest from California kindly reminded me of Pope Paul VI's doctrine in
"Marialis Cultis," No. 31 (cited in the "Directory on Popular Piety and
the Liturgy," No. 74), which offers further corroboration to our answer.
The text states:
"Secondly there are those who, without wholesome liturgical and pastoral
criteria, mix practices of piety and liturgical acts in hybrid
celebrations. It sometimes happens that novenas or similar practices of
piety are inserted into the very celebration of the Eucharistic
Sacrifice. This creates the danger that the Lord's Memorial Rite,
instead of being the culmination of the meeting of the Christian
community, becomes the occasion, as it were, for devotional practices.
For those who act in this way we wish to recall the rule laid down by
the Council prescribing that exercises of piety should be harmonized
with the liturgy, not merged into it. Wise pastoral action should, on
the one hand, point out and emphasize the proper nature of the
liturgical acts, while on the other hand it should enhance the value of
practices of piety in order to adapt them to the needs of individual
communities in the Church and to make them valuable aids to the
Some readers asked if the rite of the veneration of the cross required a
crucifix or if it was permitted to use a plain cross.
I would reiterate the reply given to similar questions in a follow-up on
April 6, 2004.
Some official documents, such as the U.S. bishops' "Built on Living
Stones" (No. 83), specifically allow either a cross or a crucifix for
veneration on Good Friday.
I personally consider, however, that the sense of the original Latin
rubric, the nature of the rite itself, and pastoral effectiveness, is
better served by the use of a crucifix rather than a plain cross.