Postures at Adoration and After Communion

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Postures at Adoration and After Communion

ROME, 4 NOV. 2008 (ZENIT)

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

Q1: When a priest is presiding at a penitential service with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, should he leave his presidential seat to go and hear confessions for penitents even when the Blessed Sacrament is still exposed? — A.A., Enugu, Nigeria

Q2: At the end of Mass, when all are kneeling while the sacred vessels are purified, etc., when is it appropriate to sit down? I thought it was when the principal celebrant sits, but I find myself sitting down alone, when all others are waiting for a deacon or someone to finish at the altar. — P.G., Baltimore, Maryland

A: As both questions relate to posture and can be answered fairly briefly, I will address them both here.

Regarding the first question, there is no reason why a priest may not enter the confessional after exposing the Blessed Sacrament during a penitential service or any other period of adoration.

After all, almost all prayers and readings used while adoration lasts may be conducted by a deacon or a lay minister. Only the priest, however, is able to hear confessions and impart absolution.

If a deacon is present, he would usually expose the Blessed Sacrament and, if the priest is busy hearing confessions, the deacon may also impart Benediction.

The situation described by our reader suggests that the priest exposes the Blessed Sacrament, introduces the celebration in a general way, goes to hear confessions, and probably returns later for Benediction. I believe that this procedure is correct.

The priest should remain if he is to preside at an office of the Liturgy of the Hours during the period of adoration. But he may also withdraw before the recitation of the office begins and allow another minister to lead the community, in accordance with the norms for the Divine Office.

With respect to the second question, No. 43 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says: "The faithful should … stand from the invitation, Orate, fraters (Pray, brethren), before the prayer over the offerings until the end of Mass, except at the places indicated below. … [A]s circumstances allow, they may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed …

"With a view to a uniformity in gestures and postures during one and the same celebration, the faithful should follow the directions which the deacon, lay minister, or priest gives according to whatever is indicated in the Missal."

These indications would appear to allow some degree of flexibility in the posture during the sacred silence after Communion, and the choice as to kneel or sit at this moment seems to fall upon the individual.

The norms do indicate that singing of the Communion chant should continue while the sacrament is distributed (GIRM, No. 86). This would suggest that those who have already received would do better to remain either standing or sitting so as to accompany the assembly in song. If, however, there is no song or the song is executed by the choir alone (GIRM, No. 87), then the faithful could also sit or kneel on returning to their pew.

The period of sacred silence (or a song after Communion) begins after Communion has been distributed to all. There is no need to wait until the purification of the vessels is completed. If, however, the ablutions by the priest take very little time, then it is customary in many places for the Communion chant to continue until the priest returns to the chair. Initiating the silence on the priest's returning to the chair would be the common practice when a deacon or instituted acolyte purifies the vessels.

Although either posture may be freely adopted at this moment of the celebration, GIRM No. 43's recommendation of uniformity is worth taking into account. Long-established parishes often develop certain habits, such as that described by our reader, which interpret a norm in a particular way. If these habits don't violate liturgical law, then it is often better not to make a point of it even though our own spiritual sensibility inclines us to something else.

One might also charitably point out any inexact practices to the pastor so that he may choose the most opportune remedy if one is needed.

* * *

Follow-up: Postures at Adoration and After Communion [11-18-2008]

A reader offered a further query on our Nov. 4 comments on postures after Communion. He wrote: "The Ceremonial of Bishops gives a specific direction for everyone to sit, in its description of Stational Mass of the Diocesan Bishop, No. 166: 'When the bishop returns to the chair after the communion, he puts on the skullcap and, if need be, washes his hands. All are seated and a period of prayerful silence may follow, or a song of praise or a psalm may be sung' (Ceremonial of Bishops, Liturgical Press, 1989, p. 60).

"Everyone adopting the same posture is consistent with 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 42: 'A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the Sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants.' I cannot recall ever seeing a priest kneeling after Communion.

"How should we interpret No. 43: '[T]hey may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed'? Does it contradict what is said about a common posture? Or does it mean the common posture can be sitting or kneeling, as the priest decides? I don't think the contradiction interpretation is justified."

I would say that there is no contradiction but adjustment to different situations.

No. 42 refers above all to those moments when a common posture is part of the rite itself and specifically prescribed in the liturgical books. Thus, under normal circumstances, it means everybody sitting during the readings, kneeling for the consecration or Eucharistic prayer, standing for the Our Father, etc.

By giving an option, No. 43 basically says that the rite does not require a common posture at this most personal and meditative of moments, and thus each member of the congregation may freely choose to either sit or kneel. This is probably a case of the legislator taking actual practice into account and is therefore more descriptive than prescriptive.

Also, GIRM No. 164 allows the priest to remain at the altar during the silence after Communion rather than going to the chair. In this case the people would be under no obligation to remain standing if he were to do so. This would be very rare at a bishop's solemn stational Mass as the prelate almost invariably goes directly to the chair after distributing Communion while another minister takes the ciboria to the altar.

Since the GIRM is the more recent document, and the legislator took the Ceremonial of Bishops into account in preparing it, I believe that the wider option offered by the GIRM is applicable in all cases.

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