ROME, 25 SEPT. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Can you advise as to the correct procedure when arranging ciboria and
chalices on the altar following the receiving of the gifts? Given that
during a large celebration there will be a number of chalices and
ciboria, is it appropriate to arrange them symmetrically giving pride of
place to the celebrant's chalice and ciborium? There are those
self-proclaimed liturgists who would insist that as there "is only ONE
bread and ONE body," only the celebrant's chalice and paten/ciborium
should be placed centrally on the corporal and the additional vessels
should be placed "to one side." This seems to me to fly in the face of
consecration of the elements.
I.M., Island of Jersey, United Kingdom
A: Among the most explicit norms touching on this theme are the norms
published by the U.S. bishops' conference on Communion under both kinds.
Although these norms have no legal force outside of the States, they are
indicative and have been approved by the Holy See.
Among other practical suggestions they say:
"32. Before Mass begins, wine and hosts should be provided in vessels of
appropriate size and number. The presence on the altar of a single
chalice and one large paten can signify the one bread and one chalice by
which we are gathered 'into the one Body of Christ, a living sacrifice
of praise.' When this is not possible, care should be taken that the
number of vessels should not exceed the need.
"At the Preparation of the Gifts
"36. The altar is prepared with corporal, purificator, Missal, and
chalice (unless the chalice is prepared at a side table) by the deacon
and the servers. The gifts of bread and wine are brought forward by the
faithful and received by the priest or deacon or at a convenient place.
(Cf. GIRM, no. 333). If one chalice is not sufficient for Holy Communion
to be distributed under both kinds to the Priest concelebrants or
Christ's faithful, several chalices are placed on a corporal on the
altar in an appropriate place, filled with wine. It is praiseworthy that
the main chalice be larger than the other chalices prepared for
On the one hand, these norms present the preferred situation of a single
chalice and one large paten. On the other, they bow to the reality of
many different situations and wisely abstain from offering rigid
proposals for all circumstances.
This same flexibility may be used in responding to the question at hand.
While certainly pride of place must always be given to the celebrant's
chalice and paten, placing them directly in front of him, other chalices
and ciboria may be arranged either beside the principal vessels on a
single large corporal or on other corporals placed upon the altar.
In some very large concelebrations with many vessels, a special corporal
covering almost the entire altar table and placed before Mass is
sometimes used, as the vessels take up most of the available space.
Among the factors to be taken into account is the number of vessels. If
we are speaking of but one or two extra vessels, then having everything
on a single corporal is probably preferable. If there are many vessels,
then extra corporals would be preferred, located in such a way so as not
to block the view of the main vessels and also respecting common-sense
symmetry and aesthetics.
Other elements to be considered include the size of the altar, the
logistics of the various movements, the number of concelebrants and
faithful, and the method chosen for distributing holy Communion. Since
all of these might vary from one celebration to the next, there is no
universal rule that can be applied to all cases.