Complications of 2 Forms in 1 Rite

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Complications of 2 Forms in 1 Rite

ROME, 9 SEPT. 2008 (ZENIT)

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

Q: I am the parish priest for a dual-form parish and some of the complications are currently unavoidable. I have returned the tabernacle to the center and shifted the presider's chair to the side. The free-standing altar is used for both forms, with the placement of altar cards and candles in the traditional form and the resetting of the altar for the celebration of the ordinary form. I've returned the altar rail in two spots and cushions for kneeling at the reception of Communion. Part of the "experiment" of Pope Benedict XVI lies in the "working" of both forms where the fervor and piety authentic to the Roman rite can be regained, nurtured and renewed. It is a pastoral chore to prepare a decent homily with different working ordos. It gets very interesting when the feasts don't match (Baptism of the Lord vs. Holy Family) and when the seasons clash (Septuagesima vs. Ordinary Time); there's more work for the parish priest. The rather stilted English of the Douay-Rheims also presents some challenges, yet it is often preferable to the Revised New American Bible. In the midst of the mayhem, there seems to be no guidance as to how a solemn high Mass would be celebrated when the order of subdeacon no longer exists. One might punt and use an instituted acolyte but that presumes training. The use of the deacon (transitional or permanent) requires even more training. The suggestion to use priests in the functions as was often done presumes a liturgical fluency that simply doesn't exist at present. In addition, the celebration of the Easter triduum in the extraordinary form is so ornamented that the presence of a master of ceremonies (archpriest) seems required. Adding to that conundrum, the present discipline of the Church in celebrating a true vigil presents a clear conflict where two communities celebrate two forms under one parish priest in one parish church. Is there any Roman guidance for local adaptation? — W.S., Pennsylvania

A: When Benedict XVI took the initiative of allowing the universal celebration of John XXIII’s missal he foresaw that some practical problems would arise. For this reason he increased the authority of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" precisely to address these issues. Consultations can be made to the commission at the Vatican.

This commission, along with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, is working on an instruction which will help clear up some of the difficulties that arise from having two forms of the Roman rite at the same time. Such questions constantly arrive at the desk of Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, the commission president.

Indeed, in a recent interview the cardinal said that he has more work now than when he was prefect of the Congregation for Clergy.

Closer to home, a priest desiring to celebrate the extraordinary form may also consult with those institutes dedicated to its celebration. They already have long experience in this field. They are also able to provide useful resources for training priests and ministers.

Regarding some of the questions at hand, it is an open question if an instituted acolyte may perform the duties formally reserved to the subdeacon. On the one hand the extraordinary form considers subdeacon as a member of the clergy, whereas the instituted acolyte is certainly a lay ministry. On the other hand many of the liturgical duties of the subdeacon were transferred to the ministry of acolyte. The editor of the new edition of the classic Trimelloni liturgical manual opines that it is possible to use the instituted acolyte for this purpose.

The order of subdeacon still exists in those institutes specifically dedicated to the extraordinary form. It is not impossible to suppose that it could eventually be restored for all seminarians desiring to celebrate both forms of the rite. Also, I see no particular difficulty in deacons or a priest performing these functions as this possibility is foreseen in the rubrics of the extraordinary form.

Regarding the readings, the Holy Father gave permission for the readings to be in the vernacular, provided that an approved translation was used. I would interpret this as a translation specifically approved for liturgical use and not just with an imprimatur.

It is probably permissible to use the translations approved for use before the reform when it was a fairly common practice to proclaim the Gospel first in Latin and then read a vernacular version. It should also be possible to use the vernacular renditions found in the bilingual missals used by the faithful.

This has the added advantage of corresponding exactly to the official text found in the Latin missal as some texts might not be found in the new vernacular lectionary exactly as they were in the Latin.

While the full Easter triduum may be celebrated in a parish dedicated exclusively to the extraordinary form, I'd say that in a dual-form parish it is probably better to opt for the ordinary form unless the majority of parishioners prefer the extraordinary form. This is because insofar as possible the celebration of the triduum should gather the whole community together.

Finally, the question of the calendar is perhaps the hardest to resolve and will probably require much study and patience. The calendar has been historically the most flexible part of the missal, and several popes have reformed it over the centuries.

The Holy See might end up publishing a completely new edition of the missal of the extraordinary form, the “Benedict XVI Missal,” perhaps. Such a missal would leave John XXIII’s text fundamentally intact, but would add the celebrations of the new saints classified according to the traditional mode. The rubrics would probably need to be adjusted so as to take into account major feasts that have been transferred so that everybody, for example, celebrates Corpus Christi on the same day.

Also, as the Holy Father suggested in his letter issued "motu propio"  (on his own initiative), a few prefaces and Mass formulas (especially those coming from ancient Roman sources) could be added. These changes would help smooth out some of the difficulties in the calendar mentioned by our reader while remaining faithful to the organic development of the traditional rite as carried out by Popes such as St. Pius X, Pius XI, Pius XII and John XXIII.

* * *

Follow-up: Complications of 2 Forms in 1 Rite [9-23-2008]

Pursuant to our reply on the difficulties of combining both ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite (see Sept. 9), we received some very interesting comments and clarifications.

First of all, several readers, using different sources, confirmed that it is legitimate for an instituted acolyte to fulfill the duties of the subdeacon. The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei officially confirmed this disposition in Protocol 24/92 published on June 7, 1993.

Several sources pointed out that even before the reform the subdeacon could be substituted with a seminarian who had received first tonsure (admission as candidate or religious profession in the present system), if there were insufficient ministers present for a solemn high Mass.

This substitute subdeacon does not wear the biretta or maniple. Nor is he allowed to perform those functions that involve touching or purifying the chalice.

A Belgian reader questioned the practice of using priests to serve as other ministers. He writes: "In your discussion in your column dated Sept. 9 you refer to a practice in the Roman rite which has persisted for several centuries — and even in some places till today. That is, having men ordained as priests (or even bishops) dressing and acting in a liturgical celebration as if they were in a 'lower order.' This seems to be, despite the constant usage in some places and circumstances, a serious abuse of the sacrament of orders.

"To use an example, to ask a priest to act and dress as a deacon and/or a subdeacon is like asking a butterfly to act as a caterpillar or even as a chrysalis. It is obvious that there is a certain continuity in the individual butterfly from one stage to another 'more-developed' stage — but to 'go backward' is impossible. I am well aware of the arguments which are used in the Roman rite to justify the usage, but it still seems to be 'stretching the theology' of the sacrament, practically, beyond recognition of the true separation of the orders. It should be added that this practice is unknown in our sister Churches in the Eastern half of Christianity.

"My question beyond stating the 'facts on the ground' is: Why is this (seemingly abusive) practice still permitted, and even encouraged in some quarters, within the Roman rite?"

This is a very interesting question. I would be very hesitant to use the term "abuse" for a custom that was and is still practiced in the extraordinary form.

Its use in the ordinary form is for all practical purposes limited to the occasional use of two cardinal deacons serving the pope in some solemn ceremonies.

Otherwise, a priest, even if he sometimes substitutes a deacon, never wears a dalmatic. A bishop sometimes wears a dalmatic under the chasuble as a sign of the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders.

I would suggest that the use of priests to undertake the other clerical roles in a solemn Mass arose historically as a practical solution to a real difficulty.

Unlike the Eastern Churches, the diaconate and subdiaconate disappeared as permanent ministries in the Latin Church after a few centuries and were imparted only to candidates for the priesthood who exercised the office for only brief periods of time.

Nevertheless, the liturgical functions performed by these orders were considered as necessary to the solemn celebration of Mass.

If we keep in mind that concelebrations had also become practically extinct in the Latin rite, then the combination of a lack of available deacons and subdeacons, together with a surplus of non-celebrating priests, led quite naturally to the priest's taking up the role of these ministers.

At the beginning having priests fulfill these roles was probably not seen as adding solemnity to the rite, but as the practice grew it quite likely came to be seen in this light. In some cases, such as papal and episcopal Masses, serving as deacon and subdeacon even became something of a privilege reserved to high-ranking prelates.

Among arguments that could justify the custom would be the principle that he who can do more can also do the less. The butterfly analogy is not entirely adequate for although there is continuity between the different stages, the break is not quite as radical as when the butterfly leaves the chrysalis behind.

Thus even though the deacon has his proper place in the hierarchy and represents, among other elements, the gift of service in the Church, this aspect is not extinguished if the deacon later becomes a priest; rather, it is assumed in his new role.

That said, however, our reader has a genuine ecclesiological point. In the liturgy it is best that each order fulfill its proper liturgical role whenever possible as this best reflects the Church as an assembly in hierarchical communion. This is probably one reason why the fact that the ministries of deacon and subdeacon were habitually carried out by priests is almost never formally acknowledged in the Roman Missal. At best we can find an occasional, indirect recognition of the situation on the ground in some norms and decrees from the Congregation of Rites. For example, there is the norm that says if one of the ministers is a priest and the other a deacon, then the deacon fulfills the office of deacon and the priest that of subdeacon (1886 Ceremonial of Bishops 1, XXVI; Decree 668 of the recompilation "Decreta Authentica" of the Sacred Congregation of Rites). This norm also serves to show the importance of each minister carrying out his proper role.

The practical difficulty of the unavailability of specific ministers persists in the extraordinary form and it is probably necessary to continue using priests as ministers if solemn Mass in the extraordinary form is ever to be celebrated outside of monasteries and seminaries. A permanent solution to this difficulty would probably require some fairly major changes such as instituting the permanent diaconate for this form also.

Any such proposal would be premature at present but might not be excluded in the long term. It is to be hoped that the habitual presence of both forms will eventually bring out the best in both of them.

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