Combining Stations and the Passion Liturgy

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Combining Stations and the Passion Liturgy

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

Q: I know of a parish in Ireland — and there are probably many of them — which combines the reading of the Passion according to St. John with the Stations of the Cross during the Good Friday liturgy of the Lord's Passion. This was introduced because of the popularity of the Stations of the Cross in Ireland on Good Friday. Even after 50 years of the revised Good Friday liturgy, the 3 p.m. liturgy is often known as "The Stations." The fear in some parishes is that people won't come to the 3 p.m. liturgy if there are stations at another time of the day. With fewer priests in rural parishes it is becoming more and more difficult to have both events in each church. Another practice I've come across is the insertion of individual veneration of the cross at the 3 p.m. Good Friday liturgy into the Communion procession. In fact, after the invitation to Communion, the people were invited to come forward in procession to venerate the cross and were then told that they could receive Communion if they wished. The reasoning was that there wasn't enough time for two processions, and that venerating the cross was more important. Apparently, the Communion rite on Good Friday was retained by the Latin Church only at the request of Benedictines! One final observation. I've only seen on one occasion the correct practice for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament from Holy Thursday night until holy Communion on Good Friday; that is, the Blessed Sacrament remains in the tabernacle of the place of repose for this period. Is the correct practice followed anywhere in the world? Exposition of the larger host in a monstrance is not unknown in Ireland after the evening Mass on Holy Thursday. Then the Blessed Sacrament is removed to the sacristy until Communion time on Good Friday. — F.R., France

A: These questions reflect the existence of a diffused pragmatic mentality which tends to reduce the most solemn liturgical celebrations to problems of logistics.

First of all, I think it is necessary to recall that, for Catholics, there is no canonical obligation to assist at the celebrations of the Easter Triduum. In other words, the people who attend are there because they want to be there. They are expecting to participate in the fullness and beauty of the Church's liturgy and indeed have a right to receive this liturgy from their priests.

Attending to the questions at hand, we had dealt in earlier columns regarding combining the Stations of the Cross with exposition on March 1 and 15, 2005, and the integration of the Way of the Cross with Mass on April 4 and 25, 2006. The documents and arguments presented on those occasions are also applicable to the present case. For the moment we would recall the the Holy See's "Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy":

"142. The Church celebrates the redemptive death of Christ on Good Friday. The Church meditates on the Lord's Passion in the afternoon liturgical action, in which she prays for the salvation of the word [sic], adores the Cross and commemorates her very origin in the sacred wound in Christ's side (cf. John 19:34).

"In addition to the various forms of popular piety on Good Friday such as the 'Via Crucis,' the passion processions are undoubtedly the most important. These correspond, after the fashion of popular piety, to the small procession of friends and disciples who, having taken the body of Jesus down from the Cross, carried it to the place where there 'was a tomb hewn in the rock in which no one had yet been buried' (Luke 23:53). …

"143. It is necessary, however, to ensure that such manifestations of popular piety, either by time or the manner in which the faithful are convoked, do not become a surrogate for the liturgical celebrations of Good Friday.

"In the pastoral planning of Good Friday primary attention and maximum importance must be given to the solemn liturgical action and the faithful must be brought to realize that no other exercise can objectively substitute for this liturgical celebration.

"Finally, the integration of the 'dead Christ' procession with the solemn liturgical action of Good Friday should be avoided for such would constitute a distorted celebrative hybrid."

The Catholic faithful are more than capable of understanding the difference between the liturgical service and the acts of popular piety even if there is an apparent confusion in the nomenclature.

With respect to the second question, again we are before a pragmatic mentality which undermines the parts of the liturgy. In the first place, those who attend the celebration of the Passion know that it is a long celebration and there is no call to rush it. Second, it is also a false problem. Why? Because although a single cross must be used, the rubrics foresee the possibility of a common adoration if the number of people is very great. Likewise, the Communion procession need not be as long as the adoration of the cross as several ministers may be used to distribute the sacrament.
The reception of Communion on Good Friday became possible only after the reforms initiated by Pope Pius XII. Before that, only the dying could receive Communion on this day.

Finally, I think the correct practice is followed in many places and might even be the most common. Exposition in a monstrance is totally forbidden on Holy Thursday and this is an abuse. Solemn adoration at the altar of repose ceases at midnight. Ideally the Blessed Sacrament should remain there until the time of Communion on Good Friday so as to permit private visits and adoration.

After midnight the Blessed Sacrament should only be withdrawn to the sacristy or some other safe place for objective safety concerns such as the danger of theft or profanation.

By the way, I wish a blessed and holy Easter to all our readers!

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Follow-up: Combining Stations and the Passion Liturgy [5-10-2011]

A reader from Kazakhstan asked about the following point in our April 19 article on Holy Thursday: "You have said that Eucharistic adoration in a monstrance is totally forbidden. Where is it documented that it is forbidden? Nobody believes when I say it is not allowed, but all over Europe I have seen Eucharistic adoration in the monstrance up until midnight, and then the monstrance is veiled at midnight, and adoration continues until the morning. And then I don't know exactly what to make of an article by a priest when he speaks about the Holy Father saying that Eucharistic adoration is a part of Holy Thursday. How does all of this work together?"

Apart from the rubrics, this norm is contained in several documents. For example, the 1988 "Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts" issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship says in No. 55: "The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a closed tabernacle or pyx. Under no circumstances may it be exposed in a monstrance."

Second, the aforementioned article correctly quoted the Pope's recent homily in saying that Holy Thursday "ends with Eucharistic adoration, in memory of the Lord's agony in the garden of Gethsemane."

There is absolutely no contradiction here because Eucharistic adoration is not synonymous with exposition in the monstrance. Christ is equally adored in the tabernacle and the pyx as in the monstrance. Adoration in the monstrance helps the adorers concentrate on the Eucharistic mystery but does not make the adoration essentially different from worship offered to Our Lord in the tabernacle.

Also, adoration in the monstrance usually unfolds into the joyous experience of Eucharistic Benediction whereas in the concrete case of Holy Thursday the essential theme is accompanying him during his agony and there is no Benediction.

The rule forbidding solemn adoration after midnight means that there should be no further public prayers at the altar of repose once Good Friday begins. This does not prohibit private prayer and private adoration at the altar of repose; these may continue until the beginning of the celebration of the Passion on Good Friday.

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