New Priests Blessing Bishops

Author: Father Edward McNamara


New Priests Blessing Bishops


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

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G.C. from Dhaka, Bangladesh, asked several questions on diverse liturgical topics. I will try to briefly answer each question one by one.

Q1: Almost every year we have a good number of priestly ordinations. In some dioceses I noticed that after the priestly ordination some masters of ceremonies asked the newly ordained priest to bless first the bishops present, then the priests, and then other lay participants. When the bishops come, they kneel in front of the altar, then the newly ordained priest blesses the bishops; then the priests come and also kneel before the altar, and the newly ordained priest blesses them. When I asked them where they found this custom, they answered that they saw it somewhere in Europe. Is it the right rites or is there any instruction regarding this?

A: There are certainly some bishops who of their own initiative request the first blessing of priests they have just ordained. This is a question of personal devotion and an expression of his spiritual paternity. It does not form part of the rites, and I am not aware of its being an established custom in any European country.

At an ordination Mass it is the presiding bishop who imparts the final blessing. The newly ordained begin to impart blessings after Mass is over. Many new priests prefer to reserve their first blessings for their parents, so I think this practice of formalized first blessings should not be encouraged.

Q2: On major occasions such as diaconate or priestly ordination, blessing of a new church, or reception of a bishop or a papal nuncio, there are three or four concelebrant bishops at the Eucharistic celebration. Of course there are a lot of priests also. At the celebration, when all the bishops are around the altar, then we do not have space for deacons next to bishop. Also, when the bishop who is the main celebrant sits, there is also no room for deacons to sit next to the bishop, because all the concelebrant bishops sit next to the bishop. Would you please give me your remarks? Second, in big occasions when more bishops are present, at the end of the Mass the main celebrant bishop asks all other bishops to join him in the final blessing and then all the bishops bless together. Is this liturgical?

A: Having the principal concelebrant accompanied by deacons is a means of emphasizing his presiding role, although their seats are near the bishop but not necessarily flanking him. Other concelebrating bishops should not ordinarily sit next to the presiding bishop, although they should have a prominent place with respect to other concelebrants.

During the Eucharistic Prayer the deacons stand slightly behind the concelebrants. However, these concelebrants, even if they are bishops, should not obstruct the deacon when he has to approach the altar to perform his duties. If space is tight, then it is enough for one deacon to serve at the altar.

At his Wednesday audiences the Holy Father usually invites all bishops present to join him in the blessing, but this is never done at Mass. The practice of inviting all bishops to share the blessing at Mass is not a proper liturgical practice as this falls on the presiding celebrant.

Q3: At the Liturgy of the Hours: when someone reads the short reading, in some places they say at the beginning, "Scripture reading," and at the end, "This is the Word of the Lord." Of course, in the introduction it clearly says that the Word of God should be proclaimed. In many places, someone goes to the lectern, reads, and comes back, saying nothing. Which one is the right way according to the instruction? Since nothing is very clearly mentioned, it sometimes creates a little confusion.

A: No greeting is indicated for the short reading because it is customary in this office to simply proclaim or chant the reading. The short responsory constitutes the response to the short reading so the reader also says nothing at the end.

Q4: In the Mass: In the Italian lectionary after the Gospel reading it says, "Parola del Cristo." Some of our priests studied in Italy. After coming back to our country, Bangladesh, they are also introducing the same. Even Italian priests here say the same. At the end of the Gospel reading they also say, "Word of Christ." Would you please clarify which one is correct: "Word of God" or "Word of Christ"? Our laypeople are sometimes confused.

A: Actually, the Italian lectionary says, "Parola del Signore," or "The Word of the Lord," after the Gospel and the equivalent of "the Word of God" for the other readings. At no time is "Word of Christ" used. This diversified translation brings out the double meaning of the Latin "Verbum Domini" that is testified by the people's different responses at the end of the readings. It should be clarified, however, that nobody should change approved liturgical translations on his own initiative, no matter where he has studied.

Q5: Incensing: In the General Instruction of the Roman Mass [GIRM] it is clearly said where to give incense at the reading. In our country we do not have the Book of the Gospels. We have the Bible and Bengali lectionary. So when we make the Bible procession before the reading, we take incense with us and incense at the beginning of the first reading. In fact, we incense the whole Bible or lectionary and not always before the Gospel reading. Once we do it at the beginning of the reading, we do not incense at the Gospel reading. If we do not incense at the beginning, then we do it at the Gospel reading according to the GIRM. What is your opinion?

A: Only the Book of the Gospels is brought in procession and placed on the altar at the beginning of Mass. But this could be any decent version of the Book of the Gospels, even in another language. If necessary, a photocopy of the day's reading can be inserted into this book. At the same time, if there is no Book of the Gospels, the lectionary may be incensed at the time of the Gospel reading in the usual manner. In this case the lectionary is at the ambo from the beginning of Mass and is not carried in at the entrance procession. Since these alternatives exist, I see no reason not to follow the Catholic practice that reserves the incense to the moment of reading the Gospel.

Q6: As far as I know, the deacon can bless at Benediction. If priests and bishops are present at a holy hour, would it be correct for a deacon to give the blessing? If not, then who would be the right person to give the blessing, the bishop or the priest?

A: Except when there is some legitimate impediment, a bishop should preside before a priest, and a priest before a deacon. A deacon should not normally give any blessing when a priest is present and available.

Q7: During the Eucharistic Prayer we mention the name of local ordinary. If there is/are auxiliary bishop(s), is it then proper to add his/their name(s)?

A: As indicated in the missal itself, this is a possibility but not an obligation. If there are several auxiliaries, then a general form such as "Our Bishop N. and his assistant bishops" may be used.

Q8: Our present archbishop received his pallium from the apostolic nuncio at his installation ceremony. He uses his pallium in all the major occasions in the diocese: parish feasts, ordinations, jubilee celebrations, etc. Is there any provision when it has to be used? Or is it optional or obligatory?

A: The pallium (a circular white wool band with pendants) is used by residential archbishops when they preside at any solemn Mass within their own ecclesiastical province. It may not be worn outside of the province. Present law basically leaves it up to the archbishop himself to determine the occasions for its use.

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Follow-up: New Priests Blessing Bishops [5-12-2009]

Related to the April 28 question of priests blessing bishops, a reader from Kampala, Uganda, asked: "Can a bishop in a given case of emergency delegate a priest to ordain another priest? It is the bishop who has the fullness of the priesthood of Christ. Yet even priests are configured to the priesthood of Christ at ordination: Alter Christus! How full is the fullness of the priesthood of Christ in a bishop vis-à-vis the fullness of the priesthood of Christ in an ordained priest?"

This question would really require a highly nuanced theological treatise, and a brief answer risks being simplistic.

With this caveat in mind I would say the following. Bishops have the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders. Priests have a lesser participation and deacons a different participation which does not entail priesthood but rather service at the altar, at the table of the Word, and toward those in need.

Even though it is hard to avoid terms such as "more" and "less" when speaking of the degrees of holy orders, it should be said that each ministry lacks nothing that is necessary for carrying out its precise mission within the Church. The fact that some functions are reserved to particular ministers does not mean that the other ministers are deprived of these functions, but that they are not required for the specific mission.

In this sense the ministry of the bishop, having the fullness of the priesthood, goes beyond the power of ordination and directly entails his function as the shepherd and principle of unity of the local church through whom unity with the universal Church is established. Priests and deacons in their respective ministries collaborate with the bishop, and the ecclesial effectiveness of their ministry requires communion with him.

Regarding the question at hand, in case of necessity, Latin-rite bishops may delegate to priests the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation. This faculty may only be validly used within the confines of the diocese itself. Eastern Catholic priests habitually confirm infants immediately following baptism.

The ordination of priests, however, is not delegable (Canon 1012 of the Code of Canon Law). Only a bishop has the power to ordain deacons and priests. Priests do not have this power as it is not required for their mission.

There is some debate as to whether a pope could authorize priests to do so. The only reason this possibility was aired is due to the existence of some medieval documents in which three popes, between the years 1400 and 1489, granted privileges to certain abbots to ordain deacons and priests.

The documents in question are of dubious theological value, the actual historical circumstances are rather murky, and the aforementioned privileges were all later withdrawn. The actual ordinations, however, were not declared invalid, and so it remains a hypothetical question if a precise papal concession might allow for an exception to the general rule.

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