Elevating the Host and Chalice

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Elevating the Host and Chalice

ROME, APRIL 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: How long should the elevations last? Our priest holds up the host and the chalice for almost two minutes each during the consecration. There are two times after that when he elevates the sacred species. At all times the elevations are with arms raised full length, the host and chalice up as far as he can take them. — H.B., Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

A: Our reader should first of all be grateful for having a fervent priest, although admittedly two minutes is a fairly long time to hold the host and chalice aloft. I harbor some doubts that it is quite so long, although it might feel that way to our correspondent.

The rubrics foresee three presentations of the consecrated species, although many liturgists would say that only one is technically an elevation.

The first of these immediately follows the consecration of each species. The rubric says that the priest "shows the consecrated host to the people, places it again on the paten, and genuflects in adoration." Similarly for the chalice, "He shows the chalice to the people, places it again on the corporal, and genuflects in adoration."

No indication is offered as to the duration of either the showing or the genuflection. Here one must be guided by the general principles of the Roman rite, which eschews exaggerated or dramatic gestures. Since the showing is done so that the people can see host and chalice, and the genuflection is an act of adoration, these gestures should not be done hurriedly but with a degree of pause and decorum that underlines their liturgical function.

It is probably best that the elevation be made slightly above the priest's head level so that he too can gaze at the host in a natural way.

Elevating the host and chalice as high as possible is best reserved for those occasions when Mass is celebrated ad orientem, or toward the altar. If this is done while facing the people, it can be ungainly and a cause of distraction rather than of edification.

The elevations should allow the host and chalice to be contemplated but not be unduly prolonged as this is not the most important elevation from the liturgical standpoint.

The most important liturgical elevation is in fact the second one during the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. This rite is performed either by the priest alone or accompanied by a deacon or concelebrant. The rubrics indicate that the priest takes the chalice and the paten with the host and, raising both, he says: "Through him, etc." A deacon or concelebrant, if present, raises the chalice.

Regarding this elevation, the following should be noted:

— Only the paten is elevated; the host is not shown to the people at this time.

— Only one chalice and paten are elevated. If there are several sacred vessels besides the principal ones, they are always left upon the altar.

— Both chalice and paten are held aloft until the people have concluded the final "Amen" of the Eucharistic Prayer, even in those cases where this Amen is sung or repeated.

The nature of this gesture, usually accompanied by the priest's singing the doxology, generally means that the vessels are elevated a bit lower than at the consecration. A rule of thumb could be at the priest's eye level or slightly above.

The third and final showing occurs just before the priest's communion. The rubric indicates that after the Lamb of God during which the celebrant has prepared quietly for communion and placed a piece of the host into the chalice, "The priest genuflects, takes the host and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says aloud:" Behold the lamb of God ….

The choice of showing the broken host above the paten or the chalice falls to the priest, although this latter gesture seems aesthetically preferable.

The priest should hold the host aloft until he and the people have finished reciting the "Lord I am not worthy …."

Once more, it is better not to make this elevation as high as physically possible but similar to that of the second elevation.

It is a liturgical error to show the host without the paten or chalice by simply raising it above the corporal. Since at this time the host has already been broken, the possibility of fragments falling is enhanced and so it is better that they fall directly onto the paten or into the chalice.

* * *

Follow-up: Elevating the Host and Chalice [5-15-2012]

In the wake of our comments on elevating the host (see April 30) a Washington, D.C., priest commented:

"I would like to offer some comments regarding your column on the showing/raising of the sacred species.

"1. I don't see how raising the host or chalice 'above the priest's head level' facilitates his own gazing more naturally. Having them at eye level would seem to do this. More apropos, however, would be that the size of the church might sometimes determine how high the elements must be raised in order for all in the church to see them.

"2. It would seem that since the second elevation is specifically designated as an elevation, or raising (and not a showing), that this should certainly be raised the highest of the three.

Theologically, this would seem to be the case because it is the moment of consummate offering of the sacrifice back to the Father, a raising, so to speak, of all the offerings of those gathered, now united with the supreme offering of Christ, to the Father for his acceptance. I have never experienced difficulty in singing the doxology because I raised the elements above my head.

"3. My understanding of the reason for the option of raising either the paten alone or the paten and chalice together at the 'Behold the Lamb of God' is not a matter of 'aesthetical' concern, but rather dependent on whether holy Communion will be offered under one species or under both. The text itself, after all, is the invitation to Communion."

Regarding points 1 and 2 I have little to add. Since there are no precise norms, neither what I said in my original article nor the view expressed by our correspondent is necessarily right or wrong. There is also some degree of flexibility, depending on the priest's physical makeup, since what is ungainly for one could well be elegant for another.

In referring to raising the chalice just above head level, I tried to convey the idea that the people would be able to clearly see the host and chalice while the priest could look at them with just a slight elevation of the head instead of having to crick his neck backward.

I agree with my correspondent that there is usually no difficulty in raising the elements above the head for the doxology elevation; indeed, this is my own usual practice. The original question, however, addressed the case of a priest raising them as far as possible, which is not so common a gesture.

Regarding the third point I would beg to differ from our reader. Nothing in the rubrics suggests that the possibility of elevating the host above the chalice is connected to offering Communion under both kinds.

I would say rather that it is far more likely that this possibility was introduced into the missal as a means of restoring to the ordinary form a beautiful symbolic gesture that is present in the extraordinary form, precisely as the conclusion of the doxology in which the priest raises host and chalice together.

This gesture of the host held above the chalice, so often found in paintings and devotional images, had completely disappeared from the Mass. I believe that this, and not a distinction between reception under one or both kinds, was behind the possibility offered in the third edition of the missal.

Another reader, from Southampton, United Kingdom, suggested I had made a mistake in my previous follow-up regarding the possibilities for using Eucharistic Prayer IV:

"You say that because EP IV has its own preface — as it does — it can only be used in ordinary time. I think this is incorrect. EP IV cannot be used on a day which has its own proper preface. So, for example, it can't be used on the Assumption or Immaculate Conception. However, it can be used on days which only have a seasonal preface (Advent, Christmas, Lent except for the Sundays with proper prefaces, Easter). In that case the preface of EP IV replaces the seasonal preface, because EP IV can only be used in its entirety. I admit it would be a highly peculiar pastoral decision to use EP IV on, say, Christmas Day or Easter Sunday, but theoretically there is nothing wrong in that, as those days don't actually have proper prefaces."

Our reader is correct in saying that a seasonal preface can be replaced with Eucharistic Prayer IV. This is why I mentioned its use on Sundays of ordinary time as there are some writers who deny that this prayer can be used at all on a Sunday.

I would question, however, if the use of seasonal prefaces on the Sundays of the principal liturgical seasons is in quite the same category. These Sundays have a higher place on the liturgical calendar even than solemnities and their texts cannot be replaced by any others. For example, if a wedding or a priestly ordination takes place on one of these Sundays, then the Mass texts of the Sunday take precedence over those of an ordination or wedding.

If such a celebration takes place on a Sunday of ordinary time or Christmastide, then the Sunday liturgy can be replaced in its entirety unless it coincides with a scheduled Mass for the people.

Given this general rule of precedence, I would say that on such days the indication of the use of the seasonal preface in the rubrics binds more strongly than on the Sundays of ordinary time.

Likewise the rubrics are also sometimes very specific. For example, on Easter Sunday and during the Easter octave the rubric specifically indicates Easter Preface I and not just any Easter preface. Therefore in this case Easter Preface I is the preface of the day and not just a seasonal preface. Christmas Day offers a choice of three Christmas prefaces, but one of these must be chosen.

The Sundays of Eastertide and other strong seasons specify that a seasonal preface must be chosen, whereas for the Sundays of ordinary time the rubrics make no suggestion as to preface whatsoever. I believe that this fact shows a clear distinction between the two periods with respect to the choice of preface and, as a consequence, the possibility of using Eucharistic Prayer IV.

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