Purification of Sacred Vessels in U.S.

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Purification of Sacred Vessels in U.S.

ROME, 12 FEB. 2008 (ZENIT)

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

Q: I am an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. I am not an instituted acolyte. In December we had training in the new procedures for purifying and cleaning chalices, ciboria and other vessels used in Communion. We have been told that there have been more changes and we are to receive new training. Can you provide any information on recent changes? — F.C., Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey

A: The changes probably referred to a letter from the Holy See which indicated that the expired temporary indult (or special permission) which allowed extraordinary ministers in the United States (unlike elsewhere) to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels would no longer be renewed.

Thus the purification must be carried out by the deacon or, in his absence, by an instituted acolyte or eventually by the priest himself.

This indult was first granted by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments on March 22, 2002, for a period of three years. The official letter granting the indult said, in part: "[F]or grave pastoral reasons, the faculty may be given by the diocesan bishop to the priest celebrant to use the assistance, when necessary, even of extraordinary ministers in the cleansing of sacred vessels after the distribution of Communion has been completed in the celebration of Mass. This faculty is conceded for a period of three years as a dispensation from the norm of the Institutio Generalis, edition typica tertia of the Roman Missal."

When the indult expired in March 2005, the U.S. bishops' conference requested an extension, but no immediate action was taken due to the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI. Finally, in 2006 the prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship informed the president of the U.S. episcopal conference that the Holy Father had deemed it opportune to deny request for renewal.

The text of the letter is as follows:

Prot. n. 468/05/L Rome, 12 October 2006

Your Excellency,

I refer to your letters of 9 March 2005 and 7 March 2006, in which, in the name of the Conference of Bishops of which you are President, you requested a renewal of the indult for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to purify the sacred vessels after Mass, where there are not enough priests or deacons to purify a large number of chalices that might be used at Mass.

I have put the whole matter before the Holy Father in an audience which he granted me on 9 June 2006, and received instructions to reply as follows:

1. There is no doubt that "the sign of Communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly" (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 281; Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 390).

2. Sometimes, however, the high number of communicants may render it inadvisable for everyone to drink from the chalice (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, no. 102). Intinction with reception on the tongue always and everywhere remains a legitimate option, by virtue of the general liturgical law of the Roman Rite.

3. Catechesis of the people is important regarding the teaching of the Council of Trent that Christ is fully present under each of the species. Communion under the species of the bread alone, as a consequence, makes it possible to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace (cf. Denzinger-Schönmetzer, no. 1729; General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 11, 282). "For pastoral reasons", therefore, "this manner of receiving Communion has been legitimately established as the most common form in the Latin rite" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1390).

4. Paragraph 279 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs that the sacred vessels are to be purified by the priest, the deacon or an instituted acolyte. The status of this text as legislation has recently been clarified by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. It does not seem feasible, therefore, for the Congregation to grant the requested indult from this directive in the general law of the Latin Church.

5. This letter is therefore a request to the members of the Bishops' Conference of the United Status of America to prepare the necessary explanations and catechetical materials for your clergy and people so that henceforth the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 279, as found in the editio typicatia of the Roman Missal, will be observed throughout its territories.

With the expression of my esteem and fraternal greetings, I remain, Your Excellency,
Devotedly yours in Christ,

+ Francis Cardinal Arinze

Monsignor Mario Marini

* * *

Follow-up: Purification of Sacred Vessels in U.S. [2-26-2008]

Our Feb. 12 column touched on the Holy Father's decision not to renew the indult permitting extraordinary ministers of holy Communion to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels. Subsequently, several readers asked if I could give further explanations as to the reasons behind the decision.

Not being privy to the discussions between the Pope and the U.S. bishops, I think it is necessary to take at face value the reasons cited in Cardinal Francis Arinze's letter. That letter emphasized that the possible manners of distributing Communion rendered the need for many vessels moot, and it did not seem opportune to derogate from a general law that applied to the whole Church.

It is necessary to understand that the norm reserving purification of the vessels to an ordained minister or instituted acolyte applies to the celebration of Mass, or a Communion service presided over by an ordained minister, in which the Church acts as a hierarchically arrayed community. In such a community each minister fulfills his or her precise ministry.

During Mass, the role of extraordinary minister of Communion is to assist the priest and deacon in distributing the Eucharist when this assistance is requisite. No other roles are foreseen for extraordinary ministers during Mass.

Outside of Mass, duly authorized extraordinary ministers may perform other duties such as taking Communion to the sick, conducting Communion services when no ordained minister is available, and exposing the Blessed Sacrament for adoration. In performing these deeds extraordinary ministers offer an invaluable service to the Church and to the good of souls.

In such specific cases, as is logical, authorized extraordinary ministers may perform duties that are normally reserved to the priest or deacon at Mass, such as taking the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle, reserving it after Communion or adoration, and, consequently, also purifying any sacred vessels that need purifying.

Another reader asked why the instituted ministries of lector and acolyte are reserved to males, while readers, servers and extraordinary ministers may be of either sex.

In 1972 Pope Paul VI published an apostolic letter, "Ministeria Quaedam," in which he announced his decision to abolish the erstwhile "minor orders" of porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte and the "major order" of subdeacon, hitherto received in steps by all candidates to the priesthood. Paul VI replaced these orders with the two ministries of lector and acolyte. The new ministries were no longer reserved to seminarians. But because of the historic connection of the ministries with the sacrament of orders, the Holy Father decided that they would be open only to laymen.

In the same document, Paul VI also abolished the historic rite of first tonsure, which canonically ascribed a seminarian to the clerical state. Henceforth, one would be a cleric only upon receiving ordination to the diaconate.

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