Communion Hosts at Papal Masses

Author: ZENIT



ROME, 9 DEC. 2003 (ZENIT).

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

Q: At large papal Masses, it seems that the consecrated hosts don't come from the main altar. First of all, it doesn't look like all the hosts could fit on the altar. And second, the priests who distribute the Eucharist seem to arrive at their stations within seconds instead of minutes. Where do the hosts come from? — J.E., Cleveland, Ohio.

A: Papal Masses are always solemn, reverent and beautiful, yet in many ways they are also unique. In some cases certain ancient liturgical traditions are maintained that are exclusive to the papal liturgy.

Another factor derives from the special characteristics of the celebrant, thus, the Holy Father, as universal shepherd of the Church, may incorporate certain traditional rites that are otherwise limited to certain parts of the world, especially in those Masses on an international character such as canonizations and synods.

Other unique elements of papal Masses stem from the location and the number of participants. These particular elements at times require special solutions not foreseen in the universal liturgical norms, which must always be observed even though one may have seen things done differently on television.

As to your question regarding the hosts consecrated at pontifical Masses: On some occasions ciboria and chalices are placed on the altar, especially for concelebrating bishops and priests, but this is not the most common practice as the number of communicants usually exceeds the available space.

Most frequently there is a group of deacons and (normally) non-concelebrating priests who volunteer their services for distributing the Eucharist. During the preparation of gifts they each receive a filled ciborium and take their places to the side and behind the papal altar. This procedure is quite visible to the Pope and to those present but would not necessarily come out on television. The Holy Father consecrates these hosts during the Mass.

During the singing of the "Lamb of God," when Mass is celebrated within St. Peter's Basilica, or during the Our Father when celebrated in St. Peter's Square, the priests begin to move, and assistant masters of ceremony lead them to designated sections of the basilica or the square for the distribution of Communion which begins, as usual, after the "Lord I am not worthy" and the Pope's Communion.

When they have finished distributing Communion the priests and deacons bring the ciboria to the Blessed Sacrament chapel for reservation and the purification of the sacred vessels.… ZE03120922

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