Blessings at First Masses

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Blessings at First Masses

ROME, 8 MAY 2007 (ZENIT)

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

Q: I have two questions: 1) The Benedictine Ordo for the American Cassinese Congregation has the following note concerning "Rescripts from the Holy See": "His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, has decreed that a newly ordained priest may, on the occasion of his first Mass, celebrated with some solemnity outside of Rome, grant once the Papal Blessing, using the formula given in the Roman Ritual. The plenary indulgence attached to this blessing may be gained by the faithful who devoutly assist at the first Mass, provided they have received the sacraments of penance and holy Communion, and have prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father. Given at Rome by the Sacred Penitentiary on November 5, 1964." Do you have any idea what the present status of this rescript is? Since the Roman Ritual has been edited since 1964, which text would be used? What is the status of the plenary indulgence? 2) A deacon asked that I serve as the assistant priest, vested in a cope, for his first Mass. From what I understand, the assistant priest at the first Mass was more a matter of custom than law. Is this allowed in the current liturgy? — M.M., Latrobe, Pennsylvania

A: I would say that the rescript is no longer in force as its effects have been absorbed by the general norms of the Enchiridion of Indulgences.

The document mentions the papal blessing to which a plenary indulgence is attached. The present Enchiridion in concession No. 43 attaches a plenary indulgence to the priest and faithful who assist at a newly ordained priest's first solemn Mass, but this indulgence is now dissociated from imparting the apostolic blessing.

The Enchiridion grants the right to impart the apostolic blessing only to the diocesan bishop, who may impart it three times a year at the end of particularly solemn Masses (norm No. 10.2).

Therefore, as the papal blessing is no longer granted, the question as to what ritual should be used in imparting it is moot. The priest may use any of the blessings proposed in the missal according to the liturgical time and season.

With respect to the second question, effectively, the use of an assistant priest at a first Mass is custom and not prescriptive. This priest is usually an experienced priest whose principal task is to guide an understandably nervous new priest through the intricacies of the celebration.

The role of such a priest is similar to that of a master of ceremonies, although, unlike this figure, he usually simply vests the stole over an alb or surplice. The cope would not ordinarily be worn on this occasion, although its use may be a legitimate local custom in some places or within some orders.

The assistant priest does not usually perform the functions pertaining to the deacon, although it is not unknown for him to read the Gospel and preach the homily at a first Mass. ZE07050829

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Follow-up: Blessings at First Masses [5-22-2007]

Regarding our piece on blessings by a newly ordained priest (May 8), a Durban, South Africa, reader asked: "There are parishes where the priest blesses ministers of the Word and Eucharistic ministers prior to their performing their respective duties at Mass. Are these blessings appropriate and liturgically correct?"

The short answer is no. The only such blessings foreseen in the present liturgical books are those of the priest who blesses the deacon, or the bishop who blesses the deacon or priest who is about to read the Gospel.

Some Oriental rites do have a blessing of the reader, who is almost always a cleric. The Latin rite, before the present reform, foresaw that the subdeacon received a blessing after chanting the epistle at solemn Mass.

In the present Roman rite the reason for this blessing is to both prepare the minister to carry out his task and to emphasize the special role of the Gospel with respect to the other readings. This is why the Gospel is the only text reserved to an ordained minister, carried in procession, laid upon the altar, and incensed before being proclaimed.

Thus, while the idea of blessing the other readers is not totally foreign to liturgical tradition, its introduction into the present rite is an unauthorized novelty and tends to detract from the special role that the liturgy assigns to the Gospel. ZE07052229

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