Genuflections and Ciboria

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Genuflections and Ciboria

ROME, 25 SEPT. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: At my parish we still go to the tabernacle during the "Lamb of God" for hosts to supplement those already consecrated. Sometimes three or four full ciboria are brought to the altar so that the newly consecrated hosts can be added to those from the tabernacle. After the deacon places these ciboria on the altar, he genuflects, but not the priest. The priest waits until after the "Lamb of God ..." is chanted. Aside from the intention of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal to not use hosts from the tabernacle, is the deacon correct in genuflecting at this time? (He also genuflects, of course, when opening or closing the tabernacle doors.) — R.V., Chicago

A: First of all, our reader is correct in saying that insofar as possible the faithful should receive from hosts consecrated in the same Mass. The GIRM, No. 85, says:

"It is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord's Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and that, in the instances when it is permitted, they partake of the chalice (cf. below, no. 283), so that even by means of the signs Communion will stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated."

Of course, it is necessary to renew the hosts in the tabernacle and so on at least some occasions these must be used in the distribution of Communion.

There are also numerous situations when it is difficult to calculate the number of hosts required, and having a sufficient reserve is a pastoral necessity.

However, it would not be a correct response to this desire of the Church for the majority of hosts to be habitually taken from the tabernacle.

With respect to the precise question at hand I would say the following: The usual custom is to genuflect before taking and after leaving the Blessed Sacrament in a specific place. This practice, however, would naturally be omitted in this case, since Christ is already really present upon the altar and under both species.

The priest's genuflection after the "Lamb of God" is a ritual action of the Mass and is related to his taking Communion. It has nothing to do with the presence or absence of ciboria taken from the tabernacle.

I would also say that if the tabernacle is directly behind and close to the altar, then the deacon should not genuflect before taking the ciboria for communion as Christ is already present behind him. If the tabernacle is off to one side or in a separate chapel, then he should genuflect at this time.

He should always genuflect upon replacing the ciborium in the tabernacle after communion. He does this before closing the tabernacle door.

* * *

Follow-up: Genuflections and Ciboria [10-9-2012]

In the wake of our Sept. 25 [2012] column on genuflections during Mass a reader commented: "A thought on your note about not genuflecting if the tabernacle is close by the altar: I have regarded the altar table as distinct from the tabernacle. They are two different places, a place of sacrifice and a place of reservation, with two different purposes. I genuflect before leaving the place of sacrifice and walk to a different place, albeit a few steps, and genuflect entering the place of reservation."

I would not quite agree with this practice. It is true that altar and tabernacle are two distinct places. It is also true, however, that going to the tabernacle to obtain extra hosts during the fraction rite at Mass is not a distinct ritual moment but a practical need within the Eucharistic celebration itself.

In this case I believe that the liturgy would not encourage adding more ritual gestures than are strictly necessary. At this moment the norms concentrate ritual attention upon the recently consecrated hosts upon the altar. The deacon or priest who goes to the tabernacle always remains within the one celebration and within his ministerial functions.

It is important to remember that while ritual gestures are based on doctrine they are not in themselves formal doctrinal statements and also obey practical considerations. For example, the general rule that those carrying objects in a procession do not genuflect (Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 70) cannot be interpreted as saying that holding a candle outweighs adoration of the divine presence. It is a practical norm that ensures a smooth flow of the ritual gestures.

Let's return to the case at hand. I say that if the tabernacle is within the sanctuary, then the deacon or priest should not make a genuflection before leaving the altar nor on opening the tabernacle, nor on placing the ciboria upon the corporal alongside the other hosts. If the tabernacle is outside the sanctuary, he should only genuflect on opening the tabernacle door. Likewise, if the need for more hosts were to arise during the distribution of Communion itself, he should genuflect on opening the door.

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