A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

EXPOSITION OF THE EUCHARIST BY A LAYPERSON?


ROME, 6 JAN. 2004 (ZENIT).

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Q: Is a layperson allowed to remove Jesus from the tabernacle, place him in the monstrance and process him into the main church for adoration? (The tabernacle is in a remote chapel.) I think only our priest has the privilege to do this. Am I wrong?
— P.M., Londonderry, New Hampshire

A: While solemn exposition (with the use of servers and incense) can only be carried out by a priest or deacon, a simple exposition, either by opening the tabernacle or placing the Host in a monstrance, can be done by an instituted acolyte or by an authorized extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.

(The monstrance is a sacred vessel designed to expose the Blessed Sacrament or for carrying it in procession. It usually has the form of a cross with a circular window in the center, often surrounded by a silver or gold frame with rays like the sun.)

Only an ordained minister may impart Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. However, should no priest or deacon be available, an authorized extraordinary minister may perform a simple reposition of the Eucharist once the turns of adoration have been completed (see the 1973 document "Eucharistiae Sacramentum" of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Nos. 91-92).

Of course, should a priest or deacon be available, he may not delegate the exposition to someone else.

In selecting a suitable person for extraordinary ministries of this kind when the priest is unable to do so, the order is: instituted acolyte, instituted lector, major seminarian, religious brother, nun, layperson of either sex (see the 1973 instruction "Immensae Caritatis").

In your description of the rite of simple exposition as performed in your parish I do note a technical liturgical error: The layperson may bring the pyx (a small round metal case used to carry the Host) to the altar and place the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance on the altar itself, but should not bring the monstrance with the Eucharist in procession.

The function of the extraordinary minister of exposition is limited to the simple exposition or reposition of the Blessed Sacrament with a minimum of ceremonial, though the exposition may be accompanied by a eucharistic song.

Although things may not be technically perfect in your parish, it is a wonderful gift, and a boon to the spiritual life of the whole community, that eucharistic adoration is cultivated and promoted.

*  *  *

Follow-up: Exposition by a Layperson [1-20-04]

Some readers asked for clarifications to my response regarding exposition by a lay person (Jan. 6). A reader from Memphis, Tennessee, asked if a deacon should have led my list of those suitable for the role of extraordinary ministers.

It would not have been correct for me to have included the deacon because he is an ordinary, not an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and, except for the celebration of Mass, in the absence of a priest he can perform most of the liturgical rites involving the Eucharist, such as solemn Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.

Even when a priest is present it is liturgically preferable for the deacon to expose the Blessed Sacrament at the beginning of adoration and repose it after the priest has imparted Benediction.

The same correspondent also asked what is an "instituted acolyte," and how he differs from altar servers who are also sometimes called acolytes.

The ministry of acolyte, alongside that of instituted lector, is an instituted ministry of the Church. These ministries replaced the former minor orders (porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte) and the order of subdeacon. These minor orders were reserved to seminarians but rarely — or in the case of exorcist, never — exercised. Rather, they served as different stages leading up to the reception of major orders.

Pope Paul VI abolished the minor orders and the order of subdeacon in 1973 and replaced them with the two ministries of lector and acolyte.

All seminarians and candidates for the permanent diaconate receive these ministries before ordination to the diaconate, usually during the period of theological studies.

These ministries, however, are no longer reserved to seminarians, but in virtue of their connection to priestly formation, may only be received by laymen.

The rite of instituting a lector or acolyte is usually reserved to the bishop or to a major superior in the case of members of religious congregations.

Their functions are superficially similar to those of an altar server during Mass but with the important difference that when he exercises his ministry the acolyte is acting as a minister of the Church.

His functions are also broader; he must be chosen first whenever an extraordinary minister is required to either give out communion or expose the Blessed Sacrament.

In the absence of a deacon an instituted acolyte may also purify the sacred vessels, an action which is usually not permitted to extraordinary ministers.

Because a period of specific liturgical training is required before institution the acolyte is often responsible for training and organizing other altar servers.

This ministry, although open to many adult laymen, has been used in relatively few dioceses as a stable institution.

Another ZENIT reader, an authorized eucharistic minister from Maryland, presented a particular case of a pastor who, in order to promote frequent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, instructed the laity to expose anytime they came by the chapel for prayers — with little solemnity, only genuflecting and lighting candles.

He comments and then asks: "This to me seems to breed an unhealthy familiarity with Most Blessed Sacrament among the laity. I like to have at least a little more solemn exposition and reposition with the prayers from the rite and incense at the beginning and end. A seminary liturgy professor said he thought a layperson exposing could wear a cope for exposition/reposition. Altar servers are frequently called upon to use incense in the Latin rite to incense the people during Mass or to incense the Most Blessed Sacrament during the benediction. Would it be allowable for me to use incense for exposition and reposition? Also do you have any other suggestions to promote solemnity while avoiding over familiarity?"

While the desire to promote eucharistic devotion is laudable, it must be done with full respect for liturgical norms.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament should always be something special and never a casual affair — indeed, the Lord is no less present because the tabernacle doors are closed.

It is at least as important to foster frequent visits to our Lord in the tabernacle as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, for this option is far more widely available. In this sense, familiarity with the Eucharist is most desirable but you are quite correct in lamenting any practice that might diminish the sense of wonder before the mystery.

In an emergency a priest may authorize a layperson to act as an extraordinary minister of Communion. But only an acolyte or another person duly authorized by the bishop may act as an extraordinary minister of exposition. Therefore, while well intentioned, the actions of the priest you mention contravene liturgical norms.

By the way, the liturgy distinguishes between brief and prolonged expositions.

Brief expositions are normally held when there is a group of people who gather for a reasonably extended period — say a minimum of about 30 minutes — during which they may sing, read Scripture, pray together and above all dedicate some time in silent prayerful conversation with Christ.

In prolonged expositions, people usually take turns in adoration although this does not exclude periods of community prayer.

In both cases exposition should ordinarily be carried out by an ordained minister and conclude with Benediction.

If a prolonged exposition is to be temporarily interrupted — for example, during the night or to allow some other celebration — the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and later exposed anew with no special ceremonial whatsoever except the usual reverence attributed to the Eucharist.

If an ordained minister is impeded, then for a just cause the bishop may authorize an extraordinary minister to expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament. This faculty has allowed many parishes to foment prolonged exposition even on a daily basis.

However, the exposition and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament carried out by a layperson is always simple with reduced ceremonial.

The extraordinary minister may wear an alb and a eucharistic hymn may be sung during the exposition or reposition. But in this case incense is never used. I fear I must disagree with your seminary professor as to the propriety of a lay minister using the cope as it is a liturgical vestment reserved to the ordained minister.

Although incense may not be used it is possible to emphasize the exposition and reposition in other ways. There is no reason why you may not use some of the prayers provided in the ritual, unless they are explicitly reserved to an ordained minister.

You may lead one of the offices of the Liturgy of the Hours immediately after exposition or before reposition. Or you can lead those present in the Divine Praises or use some other booklet prepared for eucharistic adoration.

I hope I have not dashed your enthusiasm for using incense, which may still be used in many other contexts and adds solemnity to the sacred rites.
 

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