ROME, 10 JULY 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
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
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
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
"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
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
— 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