Responses to Questions

Author: CDW


Cardinal Jorge A. Medina Estévez

1. Kneeling after Agnus Dei and Holy Communion

2. Genuflection or Bow before Receiving Holy Communion

3. Blessed Sacrament Chapel

Orientation of the Priest at the Altar

On November 7, 2000, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, sent a response to the questions of an American bishop about the new regulations for the celebration of Mass [Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani]. The questions [dubia] concerned the posture and gestures of the people at Mass, and placement of the tabernacle. A facsimile of the response, written in English, appears below.


Prot. n. 2372/00/L

Responses to Dubia

1. Is it the case that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by No. 43 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, intends to prohibit the faithful from kneeling during any part of the Mass except during the Consecration, that is, to prohibit the faithful from kneeling after the Agnus Dei and following the reception of Holy Communion?

Resp.: Negative.

2. Does the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments intend by Nos. 160-162, 244, or elsewhere in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, that the people may no longer genuflect or bow as a sign of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament immediately before they receive Holy Communion?

Resp.: Negative.

3. Does the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani Nos. 314-315, or elsewhere, intend that a separate chapel for the reservation of the Most Blessed Sacrament within parish churches is to be preferred to a prominent and central location within the main body of the church, thus visible to the faithful during the celebration of the Mass?

Resp.: Negative, et ad mentem.

Mens: Within the norms specified by law, it pertains to the diocesan Bishop, in his capacity as moderator of the Sacred Liturgy in the particular Church entrusted to him, to exercise judgment regarding the most appropriate place for the reservation of the Most Blessed Sacrament, bearing foremost in mind the purpose of encouraging and enabling the faithful to visit and adore the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Vatican City, 7 November 2000

Cardinal Prefect

Francesco Pio Tamburrino
Archbishop Secretary

The Congregation responded on September 25, 2000, to a European cardinal’s question about the position of the priest during the liturgy of the Eucharist. Adoremus’s translation of the original letter, written in Italian, appears here. Responses such as these two letters are later published in Notitiae, the official publication of the congregation of Divine Worship.


Prot. No 2086/00/L

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in no. 299 of the Instituto Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which, during the Eucharistic liturgy, the position of the priest versus absidem [facing towards the apse] is to be excluded.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:

Negative, and in accordance with the following explanation.

The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account.

It is in the first place to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [towards the people]. The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position towards the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility.

However, whatever may be the position of the celebrating priest, it is clear that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered to the one and triune God, and that the principal, eternal, and high priest is Jesus Christ, who acts through the ministry of the priest who visibly presides as his instrument. The liturgical assembly participates in the celebration in virtue of the common priesthood of the faithful which requires the ministry of the ordained priest to be exercised in the Eucharistic Synaxis. The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principle orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is a legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to, be versus Deum per Jesus Christum [towards God through Jesus Christ], as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum [towards God] as its first spiritual movement.

It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [towards the East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be "oriented" so that the priest and the people were turned versus orientem during public prayer.

It may be that when there were problems of space, or of some other kind, the apse represented the East symbolically. Today the expression versus orientem often means versus apsidem, and in speaking of versus populum it is not the west but rather the community present that is meant.

In the ancient architecture of churches, the place of the Bishop or the celebrating priest was in the center of the apse where, seated and turned towards the community, the proclamation of the readings was listened to, Now this presidential place was not ascribed to the human person of the bishop or the priest, nor to his intellectual gifts and not even to his personal holiness, but to his role as an instrument of the invisible Pontiff, who is the Lord Jesus.

When it is a question of ancient churches, or of great artistic value, it is appropriate, moreover, to keep in mind civil legislation regarding changes or renovations. Adding another altar may not always be a worthy solution.

There is no need to give excessive importance to elements which have changed throughout the centuries. What always remains is the event celebrated in the liturgy: this is manifested through rites, signs, symbols and words which express various aspects of the mystery without, however, exhausting it, because it transcends them. Taking a rigid position and absolutizing it could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance.

Vatican City, 25 September 2000.

Cardinal Prefect

Francesco Pio Tamburrino
Archbishop Secretary  

Taken from:
December 2000 - January 2001, page 6

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