Face-to-Face Confessions, and Other Queries


Face-to-Face Confessions, and Other Queries

ROME, 8 JAN. 2008 (ZENIT)

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

Q: With regards to several of the changes implemented with and after the promulgation of the Novus Ordo of Paul VI, are the following "optional" for the celebrant? These are all practiced at my very traditional parish, but I'm wondering if they are OK. — J.D., Detroit, Michigan

A: As our reader gives a list, we shall attempt to answer one by one. By necessity the replies will be somewhat telegraphic without indicating all the sources and leaving aside some pastoral considerations that would nuance the responses.

— "No face-to-face confession."

This falls within the rights of the priest, who may insist on the use of the confessional even when the penitent requests face-to-face confession. Most priests exercise flexibility on this point, but some have strong reasons for not participating in face-to-face confessions. The penitent should also exercise flexibility in respecting the priest's conscience.

— "Communion is distributed by intinction only (therefore, no communion in the hand); kneeling at communion rail to receive Communion (can stand at communion rail to receive if need be)."

Normally it is the individual Catholic who decides the manner of receiving holy Communion in those countries where Communion in the hand is permitted. If, however, the priest opts to administer both species by intinction, then the option of receiving in the hand automatically falls by the wayside. If, for a good reason, a particular member of the faithful did not wish receive under the species of wine, then he or she must be allowed to choose to receive the host either in the hand or on the tongue.

The bishops of the United States have determined that the normal means of receiving Communion is standing and approaching the altar in procession. Rather than a law cast in stone, this norm describes what is in fact the most common practice in the country. It is still possible to kneel if this is the custom of the place and the use of the communion rail is not prohibited.

— "No 'kiss of peace' even on Sundays ('Offer each other a sign of peace' is passed over)."

Surprising as it may seem for many, this is actually an optional gesture even on a Sunday.

— "No female altar servers. ... No extraordinary ministers of holy Communion."

As indicated by various documents of the Holy See, the bishop may permit, but not oblige, a pastor to use female altar servers. If the pastor does not wish to take this option, then he is within his rights. Likewise, if the pastor considers that the parish has no need of "extraordinary ministers" because there are sufficient priests, then he need not have any.

— "No female lectors."

If all the readers are lectors formally instituted by the bishop (a ministry reserved to males), then women would be excluded by default. This would be a very unlikely situation in a parish and so the readers are probably all laymen. If this is the case, then it is not correct to exclude women from reading as liturgical law makes no distinction regarding who may exercise the non-instituted ministry of reader.

— "Recitation of the prayer to St. Michael before the final blessing."

This prayer no longer forms part of the liturgy of the Mass and would now be classed as a devotional exercise. As such, it could be recited as a long-standing custom but preferably after Mass has concluded and not incorporated into the liturgy itself.

— "Exposition and Benediction immediately following Sunday Mass. (This is done in place of the final blessing by the priest and is very short: Jesus is exposed, Divine Praises recited, blessing given with monstrance, Jesus is returned to the tabernacle)."

This is most certainly an error. Liturgical norms expressly forbid exposition just in order to give Benediction. It is always necessary to have a congruous, albeit brief, period of adoration before Benediction. While I do not know of any required legal minimum time of exposition, I would suggest around 20 to 30 minutes as being sufficient.

— "Mass said with priest facing east at original high altar (free-standing Novus Ordo altar remains in middle of sanctuary but not used)."

While the rubrics of Paul VI's missal foresee the possibility of celebrating Mass facing east, they do ask that there be only one main altar and that insofar as possible the altar should be free-standing so that it can be incensed all around.

The priest could still celebrate facing east, but it would be more correct to celebrate the present Roman rite using the new altar and not the old high altar.

* * *

Follow-up: Lectors and Altars [1-22-2008]

After our reply to a series of questions made by a Detroit reader (Jan. 8), I wish to clarify some misunderstandings, in part due to the brevity of the replies but perhaps also because I did not make myself sufficiently clear.

One reader suggested that when addressing the fact that there were no female lectors in the parish, my comments could give "the confusing impression that instituted readers are not laymen."

Our reader is of course correct in saying that all instituted ministers are laymen and not clergy, and my expression could have been clearer.

Our correspondent then continued: "The position that 'it is not correct to exclude women from reading,' but it is permitted to exclude them from being altar servers, is difficult to understand. The 2002 GIRM has: '107. The liturgical duties that are not proper to the priest or the deacon and are listed above (cf. nos. 100-106) may also be entrusted by a liturgical blessing or a temporary deputation to suitable lay persons chosen by the pastor or rector of the church. [Footnote 89: Cf. Pontifical Commission for interpreting legal texts, response to dubium regarding can. 230 § 2: AAS 86 (1994), p. 541.] All should observe the norms established by the Bishop for his diocese regarding the office of those who serve the priest at the altar.'

"If the pastor chooses 20 men to do the readings, I do not see any violation of a liturgical law. Those men have the possibility of receiving the ministry of instituted reader. But if a bishop establishes a norm, for example, to have female altar servers at Saturday night Mass (in the absence of instituted acolytes), the General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs the pastor to follow that norm."

Here I must beg to differ from our reader regarding the interpretation of liturgical law. He is correct in saying that if a parish were to elect only men as readers it would not, strictly speaking, be violating liturgical law as there is no obligation to choose women.

The point I attempted to make, however, is that the parish's exclusion of women as non-instituted readers is not grounded in law or in pastoral practice.

While it might be harder to understand the possibility of excluding women at the altar, the law does permit this for several pastoral reasons, although most North American parishes now have both male and female servers.

The example given by our reader of the bishop establishing a norm that women serve at a particular Mass does not hold up because establishing such a norm would exceed the bishop's authority regarding this issue.

The aforementioned interpretation of Canon 230.2 established in principle the possibility of women serving at the altar, but the proper organism for determining the practical application of this possibility is the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. A 2001 letter issued by this Congregation (Notitiae - Vol 37, pp. 397-399) clearly determined that the bishop may permit the use of female altar servers but may not oblige pastors to use them.

Finally our reader argued: "The Ceremonial of Bishops has in n. 31 '... Whenever necessary, the reader should see to the preparation of any members of the faithful who may be appointed to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture in liturgical celebrations. But in celebrations presided over by the bishop it is fitting that readers formally instituted proclaim the readings and, if several readers are present, they should divide the readings accordingly.' The footnote to this is the Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam, 1981 Lectionary for Mass, nn. 51-55 and General Introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 259. Surely this means it is not fitting to use non-instituted readers at Mass with a bishop presiding. It therefore follows that it is not fitting to have women readers at a Mass with a bishop presiding. Perhaps more can be done to encourage bishops to do what a liturgical book describes as fitting, having instituted readers proclaim the readings at their Mass."

Although I broadly agree with our reader's aim in making this point, I believe that I must differ in the details. When the liturgical books say that something is "fitting," it usually has the sense of optimal, or most conforming to the genuine liturgical spirit.

It does not automatically mean, however, that a different action is necessarily unfitting. There are cases when it is pastorally advisable to act differently, for example, in some cases it may be better to have a relative of the deceased read when a bishop celebrates a funeral Mass.

Another reader dealt with a different point: "Regarding the celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass facing east, you stated: '... Mass said with priest facing east at original high altar (free-standing Novus Ordo altar remains in middle of sanctuary but not used).

"'While the rubrics of Paul VI's missal foresee the possibility of celebrating Mass facing east, (for example GIRM Nos. 132, 133), they do ask that there be only one main altar and that insofar as possible the altar should be free-standing so that it can be incensed all around. The priest could still celebrate facing east, but it would be more correct to celebrate the present Roman rite using the new altar and not the old high altar....'

"You don't deny the possibility of celebrating Mass facing east, but you say it's more correct to celebrate on a free-standing altar facing the congregation. Why is it "more correct"?

I obviously failed to make myself clear. I did not say that it was better to celebrate facing the people (an entirely different issue), but that, if the church has both a new, permanent free-standing altar and an old high altar, then, even if the priest celebrates the Paul VI Mass facing east, (that is, turned toward the apse) it is more appropriate to celebrate Mass using the new free-standing altar than the old altar.

The reasoning behind this is that present liturgical norms call for only one altar in a church and that this altar should preferably be free-standing and not attached to the wall. Such an altar usually permits Mass to be celebrated in both directions.

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