ROME, 8 MAY 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor
of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I have two questions: 1) The Benedictine Ordo for the American
Cassinese Congregation has the following note concerning "Rescripts from
the Holy See": "His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, has decreed that a newly
ordained priest may, on the occasion of his first Mass, celebrated with
some solemnity outside of Rome, grant once the Papal Blessing, using the
formula given in the Roman Ritual. The plenary indulgence attached to
this blessing may be gained by the faithful who devoutly assist at the
first Mass, provided they have received the sacraments of penance and
holy Communion, and have prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father.
Given at Rome by the Sacred Penitentiary on November 5, 1964." Do you
have any idea what the present status of this rescript is? Since the
Roman Ritual has been edited since 1964, which text would be used? What
is the status of the plenary indulgence? 2) A deacon asked that I serve
as the assistant priest, vested in a cope, for his first Mass. From what
I understand, the assistant priest at the first Mass was more a matter
of custom than law. Is this allowed in the current liturgy?
M.M., Latrobe, Pennsylvania
A: I would say that the rescript is no longer in force as its effects
have been absorbed by the general norms of the Enchiridion of
The document mentions the papal blessing to which a plenary indulgence
is attached. The present Enchiridion in concession No. 43 attaches a
plenary indulgence to the priest and faithful who assist at a newly
ordained priest's first solemn Mass, but this indulgence is now
dissociated from imparting the apostolic blessing.
The Enchiridion grants the right to impart the apostolic blessing only
to the diocesan bishop, who may impart it three times a year at the end
of particularly solemn Masses (norm No. 10.2).
Therefore, as the papal blessing is no longer granted, the question as
to what ritual should be used in imparting it is moot. The priest may
use any of the blessings proposed in the missal according to the
liturgical time and season.
With respect to the second question, effectively, the use of an
assistant priest at a first Mass is custom and not prescriptive. This
priest is usually an experienced priest whose principal task is to guide
an understandably nervous new priest through the intricacies of the
The role of such a priest is similar to that of a master of ceremonies,
although, unlike this figure, he usually simply vests the stole over an
alb or surplice. The cope would not ordinarily be worn on this occasion,
although its use may be a legitimate local custom in some places or
within some orders.
The assistant priest does not usually perform the functions pertaining
to the deacon, although it is not unknown for him to read the Gospel and
preach the homily at a first Mass. ZE07050829
* * *
Follow-up: Blessings at First Masses [5-22-2007]
Regarding our piece on blessings by a newly ordained priest (May 8), a
Durban, South Africa, reader asked: "There are parishes where the priest
blesses ministers of the Word and Eucharistic ministers prior to their
performing their respective duties at Mass. Are these blessings
appropriate and liturgically correct?"
The short answer is no. The only such blessings foreseen in the present
liturgical books are those of the priest who blesses the deacon, or the
bishop who blesses the deacon or priest who is about to read the Gospel.
Some Oriental rites do have a blessing of the reader, who is almost
always a cleric. The Latin rite, before the present reform, foresaw that
the subdeacon received a blessing after chanting the epistle at solemn
In the present Roman rite the reason for this blessing is to both
prepare the minister to carry out his task and to emphasize the special
role of the Gospel with respect to the other readings. This is why the
Gospel is the only text reserved to an ordained minister, carried in
procession, laid upon the altar, and incensed before being proclaimed.
Thus, while the idea of blessing the other readers is not totally
foreign to liturgical tradition, its introduction into the present rite
is an unauthorized novelty and tends to detract from the special role
that the liturgy assigns to the Gospel. ZE07052229