ROME, 10 MARCH 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q1: What is the rule/thought of prelude music during Lent? I thought
I read in liturgy documents that silence should be observed during Lent.
V.K., Fremont, Nebraska
Q2: I have noticed that it is becoming common for priests to remove
the Blessed Sacrament from the altar of repose at midnight on Holy
Thursday and place it in the sacristy safe. By my reading of the
rubrics, the Blessed Sacrament should remain at the altar of repose
until it is brought to the main altar in the liturgical action of Good
Friday. But some priests insist that what they are doing is the correct
liturgical interpretation of the rubric that says "Solemn adoration ends
at midnight." To my mind, it's not just a fine point. This removal of
the Blessed Sacrament disturbs the nexus between Holy Thursday and Good
Friday. What do you advise?
M.W., Melbourne, Australia
A: The first question is basically covered in the General Instruction
of the Roman Missal, No. 313:
"The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments are to be
placed in an appropriate place so that they can sustain the singing of
both the choir and the congregation and be heard with ease by all if
they are played alone. It is appropriate that, before being put into
liturgical use, the organ be blessed according to the rite described in
the Roman Ritual.
"In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should be used
with a moderation that is consistent with the season's character and
does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.
"In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed
only to support the singing. Exceptions are Laetare Sunday (Fourth
Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts."
Regarding the second question, the missal for Holy Thursday states:
"The faithful should be encouraged to continue adoration before the
Blessed Sacrament for a suitable period of time during the night
according to local circumstances, but there should be no solemn
adoration after midnight."
The above norm implies that adoration may continue during the night
but not "solemn adoration." This interpretation is confirmed by other
documents such as the Directory of Popular Piety and a circular letter
on the celebration of the Easter solemnities published by the Holy See
in 1988. No. 56 of this letter states: "Where appropriate, this
prolonged Eucharistic adoration may be accompanied by the reading of
some part of the gospel of Saint John (ch. 13-17). From midnight onward,
however, the adoration should be made without external solemnity, for
the day of the Lord's passion has begun."
The crux of the matter, therefore, lies in the interpretation of
"solemn adoration" and here the authors take different views.
Some authors say that at midnight, almost all the lights and candles
of the altar of repose should be extinguished but that people may still
take turns "watching" with the Lord during the night.
Others believe that the prohibition of solemn adoration simply means
that there should be no community vocal prayer, nor any reflections or
exhortations before the altar of repose once Good Friday has begun.
There is sufficient leeway in the norm to allow for different
expressions in accordance with local traditions and culture.
Therefore the practice of withdrawing the Blessed Sacrament to the
sacristy safe is not a correct interpretation of the norms of the Roman
Even if local circumstances don't allow for the church to remain open
after midnight, the Blessed Sacrament should remain in the altar of
repose until the moment of holy Communion during the Good Friday rites.
Placing the Blessed Sacrament in the safe would be a viable option
only if theft of the tabernacle or closed pyx of the altar of repose was
a positive danger. In this case it should be restored to the altar
either before the church is reopened or at least before the Good Friday
Finally, all the documents recall that it is totally forbidden to
expose the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance at any moment of Holy
* * *
Follow-up: Eucharist in Sacristy
In the wake of our March 10 comments on the importance of the altar of
repose, a priest from Arizona wrote: "Thank you for clarifying what is
meant by the rubrics for Holy Thursday. The only challenge is that since
no hosts are consecrated on Good Friday we need to reserve a very large
amount to accommodate the faithful who participate in the Liturgy of the
Lord's Passion. Most repositories, and even tabernacles, are too small
to reserve the Blessed Sacrament. Also, most repositories are portable
and not secured as the tabernacle is required to be. Hence, the sacristy
closet. What say you?"
Another reader asked: "At the end of the Holy Thursday service there is
a procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Up until a few years ago the
procession ended at the tabernacle in our church. Our worship committee
and liturgical director decided to build a resting place or shrine (for
lack of a better description) for the Blessed Sacrament. This is located
in the middle of the gym floor in our grade school next door. So now our
procession goes through the church and then outside and over to the gym.
My question: Is this liturgically correct? We have a perfectly good
church and a tabernacle. I have a problem (as do others) with Jesus
being left at center court. Not to mention the complaints I've received
from people who have no way to kneel because of the hard gym floor."
Taking both questions together, I would suggest that most of these
difficulties can be resolved over time and with careful planning. Since
these difficulties will return every year, a parish could invest in a
suitably sized portable tabernacle and large sacred vessels. In some
cases, such as the Good Friday celebration, it is also an opportunity to
reuse the large ciboria that were common before the present (and
commendable) preference for administrating hosts consecrated at the same
Mass. These large ciboria may still be held in storage somewhere.
It might also be an opportunity to purchase and restore to sacred use
the liturgical appointments such as tabernacles and large candlesticks
that come from closed-down churches.
Since the Holy Thursday procession represents the movement from the
Lord's Supper to Gethsemane, the place for reservation should not be in
the habitual tabernacle unless the church has a separate Blessed
Sacrament chapel. It may be a side altar or some other place within the
church or another suitable location nearby. It should be as beautiful as
possible and decorated with flowers, lamps and candles. Many places also
include portable olive trees and wheat sheaves to create a suitable
ambience for prayer and reflection. It is also common to avoid excessive
electric lighting and to drape the space around the tabernacle with
carpet and fine cloth.
Therefore, it is not against liturgical law to set up the altar in the
school gymnasium, provided that the place is decorated in a manner
worthy of the Blessed Sacrament. It is important that at least some pews
or kneelers be provided so as to allow for adoration. If the altar of
repose is in the same church, then only the ministers and a
representative of the faithful need take part in the procession while
the others remain in their pews.
Because of its temporary status, and the fact that the Eucharist is
usually accompanied almost all the time, the altar of repose need not be
secured like other tabernacles. As mentioned last time, if there is a
real danger of theft, then the Eucharist may be temporarily withdrawn
What if so many people attend the Good Friday services that far more
hosts are required than can be reserved in the altar of repose? In that
case, it is possible to reserve just one large ciborium in the
altar-of-repose tabernacle and reserve the others in a suitable place
that should remain locked until the moment of communion. In this way,
all adoration would center around the altar of repose. If the other
place is the sacristy, then strict silence should be observed out of
After communion on Good Friday the remaining hosts may only be used for
the sick or, on Holy Saturday, as viaticum. These are not returned to
the altar of repose but are placed in some other suitable and worthy
place that remains locked. For example, if the church has a Blessed
Sacrament chapel, then the hosts could be placed there but the chapel
should be curtained and inaccessible until after the Easter Vigil Mass.
It could also be some other space in the sacristy that can be suitably
After the Good Friday service a temporary altar of repose is usually
dismantled and stored away. The flowers which customarily adorn it may
be used for the Easter Vigil.
From the point of view of the sign, it is best not to use the hosts
consecrated on Holy Thursday until Easter Monday so that as far as
possible the faithful may receive hosts consecrated at the Easter