A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Substituting [for] the "Lamb of God"
ROME, 13 JULY 2004 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: It is common in my diocese for priests, after the Lamb of God, when the Missal reads "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world ..." to substitute a different (but still true) title or description of Christ — usually related to the Gospel of the day. For example, "This is Jesus, who today calls us to take up our cross and follow him ..." Is this permitted? — C.S., Hamilton, New Zealand
A: The short answer to this, and to other similar questions regarding priests altering prescribed texts or composing new ones, is no.
But — and there is a but — in some countries and religious congregations, small additions have been made to these prayers with proper authorization from the Holy See.
The general principles involved are those announced in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 24-26.
No. 24 reminds priests that while some adaptations of the liturgy are possible these "consist for the most part in the choice of certain rites or texts, that is, of the chants, readings, prayers, explanations, and gestures that may respond better to the needs, preparation, and culture of the participants and that are entrusted to the priest celebrant. Nevertheless, the priest must remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass."
Nos. 25 and 26 refer to other adaptations reserved to the diocesan bishop or to the episcopal conference which often require the definitive ratification of the Holy See.
The recent instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" has also weighed in on the topic of unauthorized alterations in No. 31:
"In keeping with the solemn promises that they have made in the rite of Sacred Ordination and renewed each year in the Mass of the Chrism, let Priests celebrate 'devoutly and faithfully the mysteries of Christ for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people, according to the tradition of the Church, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.' They ought not to detract from the profound meaning of their own ministry by corrupting the liturgical celebration either through alteration or omission, or through arbitrary additions. For as St. Ambrose said, 'It is not in herself ... but in us that the Church is injured. Let us take care so that our own failure may not cause injury to the Church.' Let the Church of God not be injured, then, by Priests who have so solemnly dedicated themselves to the ministry. Indeed, under the Bishop's authority let them faithfully seek to prevent others as well from committing this type of distortion."
The document returns to this theme in Nos. 58 and 59: grounding the priest's obligation to respect the liturgical text on the rights of the faithful to a truly Catholic liturgy and on the authentic meaning of liturgy itself.
No. 58 says: "All of Christ's faithful likewise have the right to a celebration of the Eucharist that has been so carefully prepared in all its parts that the word of God is properly and efficaciously proclaimed and explained in it; that the faculty for selecting the liturgical texts and rites is carried out with care according to the norms; and that their faith is duly safeguarded and nourished by the words that are sung in the celebration of the Liturgy."
No. 59 continues: "The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy."
What is important to consider in the case presented is not so much whether the additions involved are theologically correct — they might well be — but the fact that an individual priest takes upon himself the role of changing what the Church has established.
By praying in words of his own choosing, and not those chosen by the Church, he, in a sense, betrays the "we" of the presidential prayers which make him the Church's representative before God and obscures the faithful's right to join through his ministry in the prayer of the universal Church.
Such acts are probably often done with the best of intentions and even spring from pastoral motives. But they are objectively acts of theological egotism that transform the common patrimony into an individual's private domain.
As mentioned above, this does not mean that the liturgy is totally untouchable; however, any changes must be made according to the proper procedures.
To take the present examples, some episcopal conferences, above all in Latin America, have, with the Holy See's approval, added the words "Jesus Christ" to the Agnus Dei so as to strengthen the people's faith in the real presence. The priest thus says: "This is the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who takes away the sins ..."
Other episcopal conferences, such as the Italian, have composed alternative opening prayers reflecting the readings of the day for the three Sunday Cycles.
Such concessions are particular and may only be used within the confines of the countries for which they have been approved.
All the same, they give an idea of the real possibilities for liturgical adaptation when done according to the mind of the Church. ZE04071322
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Follow-up: Substituting [for] "Lamb of God" [from 07-27-2004]
Changing the words of the "Lamb of God" (see July 13) is just the tip of the iceberg of the wider problem of unauthorized ad-libbing during Mass. And this problem includes liturgical gestures.
A Wisconsin reader mentions one case of changes to gestures in a Mass. He writes: "After the consecration, all 13 or 14 members of the congregation gathered around the altar and the priest gives them the host. We hold Jesus in our hands, we don't consume it, and the priest announces, while elevating his host, 'This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world ...' After all the proper prayers have been said, we then consume the host. No one raises his own host during the prayer. Is this allowable?"
Our correspondent was justifiably perturbed by this "change" which lacks any theological justification and infringes so many norms it's hard to know where to begin.
Not least among the norms violated is that the faithful receive Communion before the priest has completed the sacrifice by consuming the Precious Blood before distributing Communion. This places the faithful in a position that belongs only to priest concelebrants.
Perhaps the priest desired to bring this small group into closer participation of the Eucharist by this ritual innovation. But the fundamental problem remains the same as when one elaborates one's own texts: The meaning the Church expresses through her rites is vacated by the action of an individual and the celebration loses something of its inherent Catholicity.
It can also foment erroneous doctrine by blurring the distinction between ministerial and common priesthood. Moreover, it can weaken the experience of wonder before the Eucharistic mystery and it perhaps overemphasizes the meal aspect of the Eucharist at the expense of the fundamental concept of sacrifice.
All the same, some readers sincerely desire to know what means there are to adapt the liturgy to special circumstances.
First it is crucial to grasp the essence of liturgy as participation in the Church's universal worship. What gives importance to our particular circumstances is the chance to offer them together with Christ's eternal sacrifice in the liturgy. The liturgy gives our circumstances meaning — not vice versa.
This is essential in understanding and joyfully embracing the necessary limits imposed by liturgical participation.
Once this is grasped, then the true possibilities of adaptation opened up by the liturgy may be fully capitalized on. This requires gaining a thorough knowledge of the liturgical norms and of the possibility of incorporating other liturgical rites which are often underused.
Thus, for example, although the rites and prayers are faithfully respected, adaptation to particular circumstances can be made by choosing an appropriate Mass formula from the Masses for particular circumstances offered in the missal.
This could include the Mass for the growth of charity, for reconciliation, or for peace and justice. This can also involve the choice of a particular Eucharistic Prayer from among those approved for special needs.
On some occasions the liturgy allows the readings to be changed so that appropriate scriptural texts may be chosen. It is also possible for the priest, or a commentator, to make some brief comments alluding to the special circumstances. Special prayers of the faithful may also be prepared.
On some occasions, selections from the Book of Blessings may be incorporated into the Mass to enhance a particular moment, such as the blessing of pilgrims on their departure or return, or the blessing of students and teachers at the beginning of the school year.
Thus the liturgy itself offers many possibilities to adapt to particular circumstances while remaining in full harmony with the mind and heart of the Church. ZE04072722
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