|ROME, 4 NOV. 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q1: 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
A.A., Enugu, Nigeria
Q2: 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
A: 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
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
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
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.
* * *
Follow-up: Postures at Adoration and After Communion
A reader offered a further query on our Nov. 4 comments on postures
after Communion. He wrote: "The Ceremonial of Bishops gives a specific
direction for everyone to sit, in its description of Stational Mass of
the Diocesan Bishop, No. 166: 'When the bishop returns to the chair
after the communion, he puts on the skullcap and, if need be, washes his
hands. All are seated and a period of prayerful silence may follow, or a
song of praise or a psalm may be sung' (Ceremonial of Bishops,
Liturgical Press, 1989, p. 60).
"Everyone adopting the same posture is consistent with 2002 General
Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 42: 'A common posture, to be
observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of
the Christian community gathered for the Sacred Liturgy: it both
expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the
participants.' I cannot recall ever seeing a priest kneeling after
"How should we interpret No. 43: '[T]hey may sit or kneel while the
period of sacred silence after Communion is observed'? Does it
contradict what is said about a common posture? Or does it mean the
common posture can be sitting or kneeling, as the priest decides? I
don't think the contradiction interpretation is justified."
I would say that there is no contradiction but adjustment to different
No. 42 refers above all to those moments when a common posture is part
of the rite itself and specifically prescribed in the liturgical books.
Thus, under normal circumstances, it means everybody sitting during the
readings, kneeling for the consecration or Eucharistic prayer, standing
for the Our Father, etc.
By giving an option, No. 43 basically says that the rite does not
require a common posture at this most personal and meditative of
moments, and thus each member of the congregation may freely choose to
either sit or kneel. This is probably a case of the legislator taking
actual practice into account and is therefore more descriptive than
Also, GIRM No. 164 allows the priest to remain at the altar during the
silence after Communion rather than going to the chair. In this case the
people would be under no obligation to remain standing if he were to do
so. This would be very rare at a bishop's solemn stational Mass as the
prelate almost invariably goes directly to the chair after distributing
Communion while another minister takes the ciboria to the altar.
Since the GIRM is the more recent document, and the legislator took the
Ceremonial of Bishops into account in preparing it, I believe that the
wider option offered by the GIRM is applicable in all cases.