An Alb Alone; Delayed Penance

Author: Father Edward McNamara


An Alb Alone; Delayed Penance

ROME, 24 JAN. 2006 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: 1) Can a priest celebrating a private Mass in a chapel wear simply an alb with a stole on the ground of convenience and nothing more? 2) When does it become sinful for a penitent who has gone to confession to delay his penance (satisfaction) given to him or her by a priest after the confession? Does this prevent him/her from receiving holy Communion in the Mass which comes up before the penance is begun or completed? — A.E., Onitsha, Nigeria

A: The answer to the first question is relatively simple: no.

Except in those few cases where the Holy See has granted a special dispensation from using the chasuble, it must be used by a single celebrant in all celebrations, or by at least the principal celebrant in concelebrations.

As "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 123, states: "The vestment proper to the Priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole. Likewise the Priest, in putting on the chasuble according to the rubrics, is not to omit the stole. All Ordinaries should be vigilant in order that all usage to the contrary be eradicated."

The second question requires some nuance.

It is necessary to recall that accepting the penance is one of the essential acts of the penitent. And thus is necessary for the validity of the confession itself.

It is one thing to accept the fulfillment of the penance and another to actually fulfill it. The state of grace is restored immediately on receiving absolution and a delay in fulfilling the penance does not affect this. Subsequent failure to fulfill the penance, however, can be sinful if due to neglect.

From this principle a person may receive the Eucharist and the other sacraments immediately after confession even if, for some good reason, they have not yet been able to fulfill the penance.

In principle, one should complete the penance as soon as possible, preferably before leaving the church after making one's confession.

On some occasions, however, the nature of the penance itself implies some delay or is spread out over time. If the sin has merited a more severe penance — such as praying the 20 mysteries of the rosary, visiting a specific sanctuary, or a day of fasting — then clearly they must be carried out later, albeit within a reasonable time.

At times external circumstances may arise which limits fulfilling a penance in the short term. If, for example, after accepting a penance to visit a certain place, or fast for some time, a person develops a condition impeding the penance, then he does not fall into any sin.

If a person has not fulfilled a penance due to neglect, laziness or forgetfulness, then this fact must be confessed in a subsequent confession. It is not necessary to confess the non-fulfillment of a penance which has been delayed but which one has the intention of fulfilling as soon as practically feasible.

On the other hand, if unforeseen circumstances have made fulfillment of a previously accepted penance excessively burdensome, the penitent may explain the difficulty to either the same or another confessor, who may substitute the original penance for another one which is possible to fulfill.

In the same way, if, at the moment of confession, a priest were to impose a penance which a person would find impossible to fulfill — for example, fasting to a person suffering from diabetes — then the person should explain the circumstances so that the priest may change his mind. ZE06012420

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Follow-up: An Alb Alone [02-07-2006]

Our brief comments on the use of albs and stoles (Jan. 24) generated a surprisingly heavy response.

A reader from Detroit, Michigan, took me to task for injecting personal opinion, rather than Church norms, into my commentary that wearing the stole over the chasuble was a fad.

While my opinion that this vesture is less than elegant is certainly personal, the use of the stole under the chasuble conforms to Church norms as witnessed by "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 123:

"'The vestment proper to the Priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole.' Likewise the Priest, in putting on the chasuble according to the rubrics, is not to omit the stole. All Ordinaries should be vigilant in order that all usage to the contrary be eradicated."

One cannot defend the argument, as some attempt to do, on the basis that the Pope has concelebrated with priests who wore the stole over the chasuble.

The Holy Father is hardly in control over every detail of a celebration and such things do not create legal precedence. Stoles are worn underneath the chasuble in Vatican concelebrations.

This reader also offered a history of the use of the stole that was inaccurate in some details.

This vestment was originally a kind of protective towel or scarf, but was not a symbol of senatorial authority as asserted by our reader. Deacons originally wore it on the left shoulder over the dalmatic as a symbol of service.

It was only after the 12th century that it began to be used in its present form, hanging as a sash from left to right. During this period it was always white in color and continued to be worn over the dalmatic until around 1500 when the stole assumed the liturgical color of the day and began to be worn under the dalmatic, as is still done today.

Unlike the deacon, the bishop and priest wore the stole under the chasuble a practice for which there is evidence from at least the fifth century.

Another reader asked about some vestments no longer in use: "I noticed one who had offered the new rite but wore the maniple and crossed his stole as is done in the 1962 rite. The rationale was that the maniple had not been suppressed, but simply that it was no longer required."

In a column of Jan. 11, 2005, I offered an answer on the matter of crossing the stole.

I do not think that the rationale justifying the use of the maniple (an ornamental vestment worn over the left forearm by the celebrant in the Latin rite prior to 1968) is correct.

It is not necessary for the Holy See to issue a decree abolishing every single detail. When, as it does above in "Redemptionis Sacramentum," the legislator lists the vestments to be worn, then logically any further additions no longer correspond to the norms.

A South Carolina reader asked if a priest could celebrate using only alb and stole in exceptionally hot and humid weather.

The Holy See has given a similar permission in some very exceptional cases, but the preferred solution is to use a very lightweight chasuble. An individual priest does not have authority to omit the liturgical vestments but could wear lighter garb underneath the alb.

Some deacons also sent in questions.

One asked: "Is there ever an occasion when the deacon should/may wear cassock and surplice, and if so, how is the stole worn?"

Another asked: "I often serve as a master of ceremonies for liturgies at the cathedral. My understanding is that 'Choir Dress' is the accepted vesture for an M.C., typically a cassock and surplice. Our faculties, however, strictly forbid permanent deacons from the use of the cassock and surplice. Many times I've been asked to wear an alb and stole, or alb, stole and dalmatic when I am in this role. My understanding was that, when serving as an M.C., you would put on the stole when handling the Blessed Sacrament. What is the appropriate vesture? An alb alone? Alb and stole? Both with the dalmatic?"

The Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 36, states: "The master of ceremonies wears either an alb or a cassock and surplice. Within a celebration a master of ceremonies who is an ordained deacon may wear a dalmatic and the other diaconal vestments."

Thus, the wearing of the dalmatic is a legitimate option but also the cassock and surplice. In the latter case, however, a priest or deacon serving as a master of ceremonies wears a stole only when receiving Communion or during duty at the tabernacle.

The diocesan prohibition of permanent deacons wearing the cassock and surplice probably exists so as to distinguish permanent deacons from priests and seminarians. The function of master of ceremonies could probably be considered as a legitimate exception which the bishop could authorize.

Except when there is some specific prohibition on the part of the bishop, as seen above, the general rule of thumb is that the cassock and surplice may substitute the alb for any rite were the alb is not prescribed.

Thus, for example a deacon may don a cassock and surplice, along with a cope, when he participates with other clergy at solemn lauds or vespers. He may use them to expose the Blessed Sacrament, for Benediction, and to administer those sacraments open to a deacon. Cassock and surplice may be used along with a cope but never with the dalmatic. In all cases the deacon wears his stole in the usual fashion over the surplice. ZE06020721

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