|ROME, 9 SEPT. 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: I am the parish priest for a dual-form parish and some of the
complications are currently unavoidable. I have returned the tabernacle
to the center and shifted the presider's chair to the side. The
free-standing altar is used for both forms, with the placement of altar
cards and candles in the traditional form and the resetting of the altar
for the celebration of the ordinary form. I've returned the altar rail
in two spots and cushions for kneeling at the reception of Communion.
Part of the "experiment" of Pope Benedict XVI lies in the "working" of
both forms where the fervor and piety authentic to the Roman rite can be
regained, nurtured and renewed. It is a pastoral chore to prepare a
decent homily with different working ordos. It gets very interesting
when the feasts don't match (Baptism of the Lord vs. Holy Family) and
when the seasons clash (Septuagesima vs. Ordinary Time); there's more
work for the parish priest. The rather stilted English of the
Douay-Rheims also presents some challenges, yet it is often preferable
to the Revised New American Bible. In the midst of the mayhem, there
seems to be no guidance as to how a solemn high Mass would be celebrated
when the order of subdeacon no longer exists. One might punt and use an
instituted acolyte but that presumes training. The use of the deacon
(transitional or permanent) requires even more training. The suggestion
to use priests in the functions as was often done presumes a liturgical
fluency that simply doesn't exist at present. In addition, the
celebration of the Easter triduum in the extraordinary form is so
ornamented that the presence of a master of ceremonies (archpriest)
seems required. Adding to that conundrum, the present discipline of the
Church in celebrating a true vigil presents a clear conflict where two
communities celebrate two forms under one parish priest in one parish
church. Is there any Roman guidance for local adaptation?
A: When Benedict XVI took the initiative of allowing the universal
celebration of John XXIII’s missal he foresaw that some practical
problems would arise. For this reason he increased the authority of the
Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" precisely to address these issues.
Consultations can be made to the commission at the Vatican.
This commission, along with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Sacraments, is working on an instruction which will help clear up some
of the difficulties that arise from having two forms of the Roman rite
at the same time. Such questions constantly arrive at the desk of
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, the commission president.
Indeed, in a recent interview the cardinal said that he has more work
now than when he was prefect of the Congregation for Clergy.
Closer to home, a priest desiring to celebrate the extraordinary form
may also consult with those institutes dedicated to its celebration.
They already have long experience in this field. They are also able to
provide useful resources for training priests and ministers.
Regarding some of the questions at hand, it is an open question if an
instituted acolyte may perform the duties formally reserved to the
subdeacon. On the one hand the extraordinary form considers subdeacon as
a member of the clergy, whereas the instituted acolyte is certainly a
lay ministry. On the other hand many of the liturgical duties of the
subdeacon were transferred to the ministry of acolyte. The editor of the
new edition of the classic Trimelloni liturgical manual opines that it
is possible to use the instituted acolyte for this purpose.
The order of subdeacon still exists in those institutes specifically
dedicated to the extraordinary form. It is not impossible to suppose
that it could eventually be restored for all seminarians desiring to
celebrate both forms of the rite. Also, I see no particular difficulty
in deacons or a priest performing these functions as this possibility is
foreseen in the rubrics of the extraordinary form.
Regarding the readings, the Holy Father gave permission for the readings
to be in the vernacular, provided that an approved translation was used.
I would interpret this as a translation specifically approved for
liturgical use and not just with an imprimatur.
It is probably permissible to use the translations approved for use
before the reform when it was a fairly common practice to proclaim the
Gospel first in Latin and then read a vernacular version. It should also
be possible to use the vernacular renditions found in the bilingual
missals used by the faithful.
This has the added advantage of corresponding exactly to the official
text found in the Latin missal as some texts might not be found in the
new vernacular lectionary exactly as they were in the Latin.
While the full Easter triduum may be celebrated in a parish dedicated
exclusively to the extraordinary form, I'd say that in a dual-form
parish it is probably better to opt for the ordinary form unless the
majority of parishioners prefer the extraordinary form. This is because
insofar as possible the celebration of the triduum should gather the
whole community together.
Finally, the question of the calendar is perhaps the hardest to resolve
and will probably require much study and patience. The calendar has been
historically the most flexible part of the missal, and several popes
have reformed it over the centuries.
The Holy See might end up publishing a completely new edition of the
missal of the extraordinary form, the “Benedict XVI Missal,” perhaps.
Such a missal would leave John XXIII’s text fundamentally intact, but
would add the celebrations of the new saints classified according to the
traditional mode. The rubrics would probably need to be adjusted so as
to take into account major feasts that have been transferred so that
everybody, for example, celebrates Corpus Christi on the same day.
Also, as the Holy Father suggested in his letter issued "motu propio"
(on his own initiative), a few prefaces and Mass formulas (especially
those coming from ancient Roman sources) could be added. These changes
would help smooth out some of the difficulties in the calendar mentioned
by our reader while remaining faithful to the organic development of the
traditional rite as carried out by Popes such as St. Pius X, Pius XI,
Pius XII and John XXIII.
* * *
Complications of 2 Forms in 1 Rite [9-23-2008]
Pursuant to our
reply on the difficulties of combining both ordinary and extraordinary
forms of the Roman rite (see Sept. 9), we received some very interesting
comments and clarifications.
First of all, several readers, using different sources, confirmed
that it is legitimate for an instituted acolyte to fulfill the duties of
the subdeacon. The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei officially
confirmed this disposition in Protocol 24/92 published on June 7, 1993.
Several sources pointed out that even before the reform the subdeacon
could be substituted with a seminarian who had received first tonsure
(admission as candidate or religious profession in the present system),
if there were insufficient ministers present for a solemn high Mass.
This substitute subdeacon does not wear the biretta or maniple. Nor
is he allowed to perform those functions that involve touching or
purifying the chalice.
A Belgian reader questioned the practice of using priests to serve as
other ministers. He writes: "In your discussion in your column dated
Sept. 9 you refer to a practice in the Roman rite which has persisted
for several centuries
and even in some places till today. That is, having men ordained as
priests (or even bishops) dressing and acting in a liturgical
celebration as if they were in a 'lower order.' This seems to be,
despite the constant usage in some places and circumstances, a serious
abuse of the sacrament of orders.
"To use an example, to ask a priest to act and dress as a deacon
and/or a subdeacon is like asking a butterfly to act as a caterpillar or
even as a chrysalis. It is obvious that there is a certain continuity in
the individual butterfly from one stage to another 'more-developed'
but to 'go backward' is impossible. I am well aware of the arguments
which are used in the Roman rite to justify the usage, but it still
seems to be 'stretching the theology' of the sacrament, practically,
beyond recognition of the true separation of the orders. It should be
added that this practice is unknown in our sister Churches in the
Eastern half of Christianity.
"My question beyond stating the 'facts on the ground' is: Why is this
(seemingly abusive) practice still permitted, and even encouraged in
some quarters, within the Roman rite?"
This is a very interesting question. I would be very hesitant to use
the term "abuse" for a custom that was and is still practiced in the
Its use in the ordinary form is for all practical purposes limited to
the occasional use of two cardinal deacons serving the pope in some
Otherwise, a priest, even if he sometimes substitutes a deacon, never
wears a dalmatic. A bishop sometimes wears a dalmatic under the chasuble
as a sign of the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders.
I would suggest that the use of priests to undertake the other
clerical roles in a solemn Mass arose historically as a practical
solution to a real difficulty.
Unlike the Eastern Churches, the diaconate and subdiaconate
disappeared as permanent ministries in the Latin Church after a few
centuries and were imparted only to candidates for the priesthood who
exercised the office for only brief periods of time.
Nevertheless, the liturgical functions performed by these orders were
considered as necessary to the solemn celebration of Mass.
If we keep in mind that concelebrations had also become practically
extinct in the Latin rite, then the combination of a lack of available
deacons and subdeacons, together with a surplus of non-celebrating
priests, led quite naturally to the priest's taking up the role of these
At the beginning having priests fulfill these roles was probably not
seen as adding solemnity to the rite, but as the practice grew it quite
likely came to be seen in this light. In some cases, such as papal and
episcopal Masses, serving as deacon and subdeacon even became something
of a privilege reserved to high-ranking prelates.
Among arguments that could justify the custom would be the principle
that he who can do more can also do the less. The butterfly analogy is
not entirely adequate for although there is continuity between the
different stages, the break is not quite as radical as when the
butterfly leaves the chrysalis behind.
Thus even though the deacon has his proper place in the hierarchy and
represents, among other elements, the gift of service in the Church,
this aspect is not extinguished if the deacon later becomes a priest;
rather, it is assumed in his new role.
That said, however, our reader has a genuine ecclesiological point.
In the liturgy it is best that each order fulfill its proper liturgical
role whenever possible as this best reflects the Church as an assembly
in hierarchical communion. This is probably one reason why the fact that
the ministries of deacon and subdeacon were habitually carried out by
priests is almost never formally acknowledged in the Roman Missal. At
best we can find an occasional, indirect recognition of the situation on
the ground in some norms and decrees from the Congregation of Rites. For
example, there is the norm that says if one of the ministers is a priest
and the other a deacon, then the deacon fulfills the office of deacon
and the priest that of subdeacon (1886 Ceremonial of Bishops 1, XXVI;
Decree 668 of the recompilation "Decreta Authentica" of the Sacred
Congregation of Rites). This norm also serves to show the importance of
each minister carrying out his proper role.
The practical difficulty of the unavailability of specific ministers
persists in the extraordinary form and it is probably necessary to
continue using priests as ministers if solemn Mass in the extraordinary
form is ever to be celebrated outside of monasteries and seminaries. A
permanent solution to this difficulty would probably require some fairly
major changes such as instituting the permanent diaconate for this form
Any such proposal would be premature at present but might not be
excluded in the long term. It is to be hoped that the habitual presence
of both forms will eventually bring out the best in both of them.