ROME, 25 JAN. 2011 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Regarding the genuflections during the old rite, would a profound bow suffice for a priest suffering from arthritis, etc.? I am 70 years young, and was ordained according to the new rite and have never celebrated Mass in the old rite. One of my biggest joys will be to celebrate Mass using the old rite. I am also a Dominican tertiary priest. Can I use the Dominican rite? — F.A.C., Comayagua, Honduras
A: The Code of Canon Law covers the case of priests with physical limitations. To wit:
"Can. 930 §1. If an infirm or elderly priest is unable to stand, he can celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice while seated, but not before the people except with the permission of the local ordinary; the liturgical laws are to be observed.
"§2. A blind or otherwise infirm priest licitly celebrates the eucharistic sacrifice by using any approved text of the Mass with the assistance, if needed, of another priest, deacon, or even a properly instructed lay person."
These canons specifically refer to the present rite but are probably applicable to the extraordinary form. In the case of doubt one can always have recourse to the local ordinary as Canon 930 codifies faculties granted to bishops in 1963. Before this date it was necessary to have recourse to the Holy See which, however, habitually granted such favors.
The novelty is that the code allows the infirm priest to decide himself if his condition merits remaining seated while celebrating Mass alone or with one or few attendants.
I believe that the same basic rule would apply — for both forms of the Roman rite — in the case of omitting or substituting gestures such as genuflections when a priest is impeded by some physical limitation. Even young priests can sometimes have injuries which make it practically impossible to perform these gestures, and this should not prevent them from being able to celebrate Mass.
Once more, each priest can decide for himself how best to proceed when celebrating alone. He can probably also make an ad hoc decision with respect to Mass for the people in the case of a short-term impediment. If the impediment is long term or permanent, he should ask the bishop's permission and explain his situation to parishioners.
The venerable Dominican rite, a form of celebrating Mass that was proper to the Order of Preachers, is no longer in general use. In 1968 the general chapter of the religious order opted to adopt the reformed Roman rite of Paul VI. The old rite was not abolished, however, and Dominican provincials may grant permission to their subjects to celebrate according to its provisions. I do not know if this authority extends to tertiary priests, and it would be necessary to consult the local provincial to find out.
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Follow-up: Bows in the Extraordinary Form [2-8-2011]
Related to our question of possible adaptations for infirm priests (see Jan. 25), a reader from Toronto asked the following:
"We have a dear old priest who comes to say Mass at one of the churches we attend. He moves very slowly and now uses a walker. He has now begun to leave distribution of Communion to the congregation in the hands of laypeople. While Communion is being distributed, he remains standing at the altar. Is there a rubric which would prevent him from distributing Communion while seated? A possible reference is Inaestimabile Donum, No. 10: 'The faithful, whether religious or lay, who are authorized as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist can distribute Communion only when there is no priest, deacon or acolyte, when the priest is impeded by illness or advanced age, or when the number of the faithful going to Communion is so large as to make the celebration of Mass excessively long. Accordingly, a reprehensible attitude is shown by those priests who, though present at the celebration, refrain from distributing Communion and leave this task to the laity."
I would say that, following the principles that allow the bishop to permit an infirm priest to celebrate Mass for the people while he is seated, it follows that he can also grant permission to distribute Communion from this position. In his final years Pope John Paul II did so regularly.
At the same time, it is up to the priest to decide to ask for this permission. Administrating Communion can be quite tiring on the arm and more so for an elderly man. If the priest feels that he is no longer up to the task, and especially if he fears dropping the Sacred Host, his decision should be respected.