ROME, 6 JAN. 2004 (ZENIT).
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor
of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
Q: Is a layperson allowed to remove Jesus from the tabernacle, place him
in the monstrance and process him into the main church for adoration? (The
tabernacle is in a remote chapel.) I think only our priest has the
privilege to do this. Am I wrong?
P.M., Londonderry, New Hampshire
A: While solemn exposition (with the use of servers and incense) can only
be carried out by a priest or deacon, a simple exposition, either by
opening the tabernacle or placing the Host in a monstrance, can be done by
an instituted acolyte or by an authorized extraordinary minister of the
(The monstrance is a sacred vessel designed to expose the Blessed
Sacrament or for carrying it in procession. It usually has the form of a
cross with a circular window in the center, often surrounded by a silver
or gold frame with rays like the sun.)
Only an ordained minister may impart Benediction with the Blessed
Sacrament. However, should no priest or deacon be available, an authorized
extraordinary minister may perform a simple reposition of the Eucharist
once the turns of adoration have been completed (see the 1973 document "Eucharistiae
Sacramentum" of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Nos. 91-92).
Of course, should a priest or deacon be available, he may not delegate the
exposition to someone else.
In selecting a suitable person for extraordinary ministries of this kind
when the priest is unable to do so, the order is: instituted acolyte,
instituted lector, major seminarian, religious brother, nun, layperson of
either sex (see the 1973 instruction "Immensae Caritatis").
In your description of the rite of simple exposition as performed in your
parish I do note a technical liturgical error: The layperson may bring the
pyx (a small round metal case used to carry the Host) to the altar and
place the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance on the altar itself, but
should not bring the monstrance with the Eucharist in procession.
The function of the extraordinary minister of exposition is limited to the
simple exposition or reposition of the Blessed Sacrament with a minimum of
ceremonial, though the exposition may be accompanied by a eucharistic
Although things may not be technically perfect in your parish, it is a
wonderful gift, and a boon to the spiritual life of the whole community,
that eucharistic adoration is cultivated and promoted.
* * *
Follow-up: Exposition by a Layperson [1-20-04]
Some readers asked for clarifications to my response regarding exposition
by a lay person (Jan. 6). A reader from Memphis, Tennessee, asked if a
deacon should have led my list of those suitable for the role of
It would not have been correct for me to have included the deacon because
he is an ordinary, not an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and,
except for the celebration of Mass, in the absence of a priest he can
perform most of the liturgical rites involving the Eucharist, such as
solemn Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.
Even when a priest is present it is liturgically preferable for the deacon
to expose the Blessed Sacrament at the beginning of adoration and repose
it after the priest has imparted Benediction.
The same correspondent also asked what is an "instituted acolyte," and how
he differs from altar servers who are also sometimes called acolytes.
The ministry of acolyte, alongside that of instituted lector, is an
instituted ministry of the Church. These ministries replaced the former
minor orders (porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte) and the order of
subdeacon. These minor orders were reserved to seminarians but rarely
in the case of exorcist, never
exercised. Rather, they served as different stages leading up to the
reception of major orders.
Pope Paul VI abolished the minor orders and the order of subdeacon in 1973
and replaced them with the two ministries of lector and acolyte.
All seminarians and candidates for the permanent diaconate receive these
ministries before ordination to the diaconate, usually during the period
of theological studies.
These ministries, however, are no longer reserved to seminarians, but in
virtue of their connection to priestly formation, may only be received by
The rite of instituting a lector or acolyte is usually reserved to the
bishop or to a major superior in the case of members of religious
Their functions are superficially similar to those of an altar server
during Mass but with the important difference that when he exercises his
ministry the acolyte is acting as a minister of the Church.
His functions are also broader; he must be chosen first whenever an
extraordinary minister is required to either give out communion or expose
the Blessed Sacrament.
In the absence of a deacon an instituted acolyte may also purify the
sacred vessels, an action which is usually not permitted to extraordinary
Because a period of specific liturgical training is required before
institution the acolyte is often responsible for training and organizing
other altar servers.
This ministry, although open to many adult laymen, has been used in
relatively few dioceses as a stable institution.
Another ZENIT reader, an authorized eucharistic minister from Maryland,
presented a particular case of a pastor who, in order to promote frequent
adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, instructed the laity to expose anytime
they came by the chapel for prayers
with little solemnity, only genuflecting and lighting candles.
He comments and then asks: "This to me seems to breed an unhealthy
familiarity with Most Blessed Sacrament among the laity. I like to have at
least a little more solemn exposition and reposition with the prayers from
the rite and incense at the beginning and end. A seminary liturgy
professor said he thought a layperson exposing could wear a cope for
exposition/reposition. Altar servers are frequently called upon to use
incense in the Latin rite to incense the people during Mass or to incense
the Most Blessed Sacrament during the benediction. Would it be allowable
for me to use incense for exposition and reposition? Also do you have any
other suggestions to promote solemnity while avoiding over familiarity?"
While the desire to promote eucharistic devotion is laudable, it must be
done with full respect for liturgical norms.
Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament should always be something special and
never a casual affair
indeed, the Lord is no less present because the tabernacle doors are
It is at least as important to foster frequent visits to our Lord in the
tabernacle as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, for this option
is far more widely available. In this sense, familiarity with the
Eucharist is most desirable but you are quite correct in lamenting any
practice that might diminish the sense of wonder before the mystery.
In an emergency a priest may authorize a layperson to act as an
extraordinary minister of Communion. But only an acolyte or another person
duly authorized by the bishop may act as an extraordinary minister of
exposition. Therefore, while well intentioned, the actions of the priest
you mention contravene liturgical norms.
By the way, the liturgy distinguishes between brief and prolonged
Brief expositions are normally held when there is a group of people who
gather for a reasonably extended period
a minimum of about 30 minutes
during which they may sing, read Scripture, pray together and above all
dedicate some time in silent prayerful conversation with Christ.
In prolonged expositions, people usually take turns in adoration although
this does not exclude periods of community prayer.
In both cases exposition should ordinarily be carried out by an ordained
minister and conclude with Benediction.
If a prolonged exposition is to be temporarily interrupted
example, during the night or to allow some other celebration
Blessed Sacrament is reserved and later exposed anew with no special
ceremonial whatsoever except the usual reverence attributed to the
If an ordained minister is impeded, then for a just cause the bishop may
authorize an extraordinary minister to expose and repose the Blessed
Sacrament. This faculty has allowed many parishes to foment prolonged
exposition even on a daily basis.
However, the exposition and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament carried
out by a layperson is always simple with reduced ceremonial.
The extraordinary minister may wear an alb and a eucharistic hymn may be
sung during the exposition or reposition. But in this case incense is
never used. I fear I must disagree with your seminary professor as to the
propriety of a lay minister using the cope as it is a liturgical vestment
reserved to the ordained minister.
Although incense may not be used it is possible to emphasize the
exposition and reposition in other ways. There is no reason why you may
not use some of the prayers provided in the ritual, unless they are
explicitly reserved to an ordained minister.
You may lead one of the offices of the Liturgy of the Hours immediately
after exposition or before reposition. Or you can lead those present in
the Divine Praises or use some other booklet prepared for eucharistic
I hope I have not dashed your enthusiasm for using incense, which may
still be used in many other contexts and adds solemnity to the sacred