When the Holy See Is Vacant

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


When the Holy See Is Vacant

By Father Edward McNamara, LC

ROME, 19 February 2013 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: After Feb. 28, and before the election of a new pope, do we continue to name Benedict in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass? My opinion is that we do what we do when the pope dies: Say no name but continue on to the bishop. — E.R., Keimoes, South Africa

A: Our reader's opinion is correct. Even though Pope Benedict XVI will be thankfully still alive, the Holy See will be vacant as of 8 p.m. Rome time (2 p.m. New York time; 4 a.m. March 1, Sydney time).

With respect to naming the pope most of the recent liturgical manuals don't go into such detail, but manuals from before the Second Vatican Council can still be found that touch on the more arcane aspects of liturgy.

In this case the pope's name, and the entire phrase referring to the pope, is omitted from the Eucharistic Prayer during the period of the sede vacante. Mention is made only of the local bishop and the clergy according to the literary form of each prayer.

For example, in Eucharistic Prayer II it would be: "Together with … N. our bishop, and all the clergy."

In the Diocese of Rome: "Together with …. all the clergy." Even though the cardinal vicar of Rome and the auxiliary bishops remain in their functions, their collective mention is optional.

An analogous procedure is followed in each diocese following the death or retirement of the local ordinary. During a time of vacancy of the episcopal see, the clause "N., our Bishop" is also simply omitted. The name of an apostolic administrator is mentioned but not that of a temporary diocesan administrator.

In the case where both diocese and the Holy See are currently vacant, the priests would follow the same practice as in Rome, omitting both names.

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Follow-up: When the Holy See Is Vacant [2-26-2013]

In the wake of our Feb. 19 comments on omitting the Pope's name during the "sede vacante," several readers asked for clarifications.

One reader asked: "In the commentary on the mention of the name of the Pope after retirement, you said something about the mention of the name of a retired bishop. In the diocese where I served, after the retirement of the bishop we continued to mention his name as "bishop emeritus" after the name of the present bishop. Even the present bishop does the same. Is there any rule on this? Are we wrong to mention "... and N... our bishop emeritus" in the Eucharistic Prayer?"

In fact, this is incorrect. In a column on Nov. 24, 2009, we mentioned an article on precisely this theme. The article was published in Italian in Notitiae, the official organ of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments: "Regarding the Mention of the Bishop in the Eucharistic Prayer" (Notitiae 45 (2009) 308-320). Although it is a study and not an official decree, the work gathers all the relevant official documentation on the subject.

This article clarifies that only the current diocesan bishop is named. There is the option of naming the auxiliary bishop if there is only one. Otherwise, they may be referred to collectively and not by name.

The reason for this distinction is that naming the bishop is not a question of courtesy or respect but one of ecclesial communion. In the Roman Canon we do not just pray "for" but "together with" the Pope and bishop. In other words, praying in communion with the Pope and the local bishop unites the assembly to the universal Church and manifests the Church in that particular celebration.

An Irish reader asked if we should use titles, prefixes, or surnames in mentioning Pope and bishop. He points to a study article, in French, from Notitiae 1970 that argued in favor of being able to translate the Latin as "with our Bishop Smith."

Our reader admits that the article was a study with no official standing. It must also be observed that, in practice, this suggestion was never actually taken up by any official translation.

I believe the translation principles it advocated are now superseded by those found in the Vatican instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, which requires a more literal translation. The new English translation also requires this practice. In Ireland it would be theoretically possible to say "Dr. McCoy our Bishop," but this would be very difficult in the United States or other English-speaking countries that do not use such titles.

Therefore, common practice is that in mentioning the Pope and bishop, only the name is proffered. The numeral corresponding to the reigning pontiff is also omitted. Thus: John Paul or Benedict our Pope, not John Paul II or Benedict XVI.

Finally, a Maltese reader inquired: "After certain prayers, like the rosary, the Way of the Cross, etc, we usually pray for the Pope's intentions to gain a plenary indulgence, according to the document on indulgences of the Vatican. So now while the Holy See is vacant, for whose intentions can we pray to gain the plenary indulgence?"

There is certainly no suspension of plenary indulgences during the vacancy of the Holy See. Since prayer for the Pope's intentions is a requirement for gaining an indulgence, one can presume that such prayers can still be said although the person praying knows that he or she is basically entrusting the prayer to God's providence to apply it as he wishes.

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Follow-up: When the Holy See Is Vacant [3-5-2013]

Pursuant to our comments on praying for the pope's intentions (see Feb. 26), a reader asked regarding the Holy Father's published intentions for the Apostolate of Prayer. These intentions have already been published through 2014.

Such intentions will remain in force unless the next pope explicitly changes them. The publication of these intentions always takes into account the inevitable uncertainty of any future event, including the possible vacancy of the Holy See. They will always be the pope's intentions even if the pontiff who formulated them no longer sits upon St. Peter's Chair.

If the new Holy Father takes no action, then it can be presumed that he tacitly approves and adopts the intentions already approved by his predecessor. He is not obliged to do so, just as he is not strictly obliged to carry out a previously approved agenda of activities.

These intentions, however, are often incorporated into religious calendars and other resources that require long-term planning and advance printing; thus it is highly unlikely that the new pope will change the intentions. He will probably begin to indicate his personal intentions from 2015 onward.

Therefore, unless there are express indications to the contrary, those engaged in the wonderful Apostolate of Prayer may continue to intercede uninterruptedly for those intentions already assigned.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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