Veneration of Altar at End of Mass

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Veneration of Altar at End of Mass

ROME, 10 JULY 2007 (ZENIT)

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

Q: What is the procedure for the veneration of the altar by concelebrants at the end of Mass? Do all concelebrants venerate the altar, or is this only reserved for the main celebrant? When concelebrating, I merely bow to the altar, but have noticed that many others kiss the altar. — M.C., Durban, South Africa

A: This topic is dealt with succinctly in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 251: "Before leaving the altar, the concelebrants make a profound bow to the altar. For his part the principal celebrant, along with the deacon, venerates the altar with a kiss in the usual way."

Thus the principal celebrant kisses the altar, and simultaneously all concelebrants bow deeply. This norm presupposes that the concelebrants remain standing at their seats.

After making this bow, the concelebrants may leave the sanctuary in several ways, depending on the numbers involved and the logistics of the movements.

If there are many concelebrants, and the tabernacle is not present in the sanctuary, the bow they made as the principal celebrant kissed the altar may be considered as sufficient, and they begin at once to leave their places in an orderly way, following the acolytes.

If the tabernacle is present in the sanctuary, then, after kissing the altar, the main celebrant goes to the front of the altar and all the concelebrants, remaining at their places, may genuflect along with him before beginning the exit procession. If this is likely to cause logistical difficulties, or if there is no space in which to genuflect, then it is sufficient for the principal concelebrant to make the genuflection.

If there are few concelebrants, then they line up with the principal celebrant and servers in front of the altar and all bow or genuflect together as the case may be.

Monsignor Peter J. Elliott describes some other particular cases in his ceremonies guide, in Nos. 449-450. He states:

"If a long recessional hymn is being sung, the concelebrants may come before the altar in twos and bow or genuflect in pairs. In this case, the servers leading them to the sacristy should move slowly, so as to avoid breaking up the procession. If there are many concelebrants, and they are arranged in positions away from the sanctuary area, they may remain in their places until the principal celebrant and other concelebrants and servers have left the sanctuary and follow in a separate procession. However this is not ideal as it diminishes their role.

"On arriving in the sacristy, if there is room for them, the concelebrants should line up facing the crucifix or image or the processional cross, held by the cross bearer, and so as to allow the principal celebrant to come to the center of the room. All make the customary reverence together and then proceed quietly to the designated place or vesting room where each concelebrant un-vests, in a spirit of recollection and peace."

* * *

Follow-up: When Concelebrants Exit [7-24-2007]

Our July 10 column on ending a concelebrated Mass brought to light a couple of related topics.

A reader in Kuwait asked: "In India, it has become a common practice that instead of kissing the altar before and after Mass, priests touch the altar by their hands (fingers) and then touch their face with the fingers. Is this permitted?"

I must confess ignorance as to whether it is explicitly permitted, but I can help to find the answer.

The general norms for adaptation allow bishops' conferences to propose changes to some rites and gestures of the Mass if a particular gesture common in Western culture is judged unsuitable or liable to misinterpretation in a different cultural context. Likewise the bishops could propose a different gesture which conveys the same meaning as the one replaced.

If two-thirds of the bishops vote in favor of the change, and it is later approved by the Holy See, it becomes particular liturgical law for the country in question.

In that case the change or adaptation must be incorporated in some way into the missal. This could be either as an addition to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), an appendix with local norms, or in the rubrics.

If there is no mention of any such change in the missal or in any published decrees of the bishops' conference, then one may presume that it is a case of private initiative on the part of priests.

The priests are always free to propose to the bishops any worthwhile adaptation. But in the meantime they should return to approved norms.

A reader from Kalisz, Poland, asked: "Paragraph No. 275 of the GIRM says that 'a bow of the head is made when the three divine Persons are named together and at the name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Saint in whose honor the Mass is being celebrated.' What about a case of a concelebrated Mass, when one of the concelebrants (or the main celebrant) recites his part and comes upon the name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary or of the saint in whose honor the Mass is being celebrated — do all the concelebrants (and the main celebrant) bow their head at that moment, even though they are not reciting that particular word? Or does this norm only apply to the priest who recites the particular word in a given moment?"

Only the priest who recites the text makes the bow at this moment. When a bow is foreseen in prayers said by all together, then all make the bow.

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