|ROME, 28 APRIL 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
* * *
G.C. from Dhaka, Bangladesh, asked several questions on diverse
liturgical topics. I will try to briefly answer each question one by
Q1: Almost every year we have a good number of priestly ordinations. In
some dioceses I noticed that after the priestly ordination some masters
of ceremonies asked the newly ordained priest to bless first the bishops
present, then the priests, and then other lay participants. When the
bishops come, they kneel in front of the altar, then the newly ordained
priest blesses the bishops; then the priests come and also kneel before
the altar, and the newly ordained priest blesses them. When I asked them
where they found this custom, they answered that they saw it somewhere
in Europe. Is it the right rites or is there any instruction regarding
A: There are certainly some bishops who of their own initiative request
the first blessing of priests they have just ordained. This is a
question of personal devotion and an expression of his spiritual
paternity. It does not form part of the rites, and I am not aware of its
being an established custom in any European country.
At an ordination Mass it is the presiding bishop who imparts the final
blessing. The newly ordained begin to impart blessings after Mass is
over. Many new priests prefer to reserve their first blessings for their
parents, so I think this practice of formalized first blessings should
not be encouraged.
Q2: On major occasions such as diaconate or priestly ordination,
blessing of a new church, or reception of a bishop or a papal nuncio,
there are three or four concelebrant bishops at the Eucharistic
celebration. Of course there are a lot of priests also. At the
celebration, when all the bishops are around the altar, then we do not
have space for deacons next to bishop. Also, when the bishop who is the
main celebrant sits, there is also no room for deacons to sit next to
the bishop, because all the concelebrant bishops sit next to the bishop.
Would you please give me your remarks? Second, in big occasions when
more bishops are present, at the end of the Mass the main celebrant
bishop asks all other bishops to join him in the final blessing and then
all the bishops bless together. Is this liturgical?
A: Having the principal concelebrant accompanied by deacons is a means
of emphasizing his presiding role, although their seats are near the
bishop but not necessarily flanking him. Other concelebrating bishops
should not ordinarily sit next to the presiding bishop, although they
should have a prominent place with respect to other concelebrants.
During the Eucharistic Prayer the deacons stand slightly behind the
concelebrants. However, these concelebrants, even if they are bishops,
should not obstruct the deacon when he has to approach the altar to
perform his duties. If space is tight, then it is enough for one deacon
to serve at the altar.
At his Wednesday audiences the Holy Father usually invites all bishops
present to join him in the blessing, but this is never done at Mass. The
practice of inviting all bishops to share the blessing at Mass is not a
proper liturgical practice as this falls on the presiding celebrant.
Q3: At the Liturgy of the Hours: when someone reads the short reading,
in some places they say at the beginning, "Scripture reading," and at
the end, "This is the Word of the Lord." Of course, in the introduction
it clearly says that the Word of God should be proclaimed. In many
places, someone goes to the lectern, reads, and comes back, saying
nothing. Which one is the right way according to the instruction? Since
nothing is very clearly mentioned, it sometimes creates a little
A: No greeting is indicated for the short reading because it is
customary in this office to simply proclaim or chant the reading. The
short responsory constitutes the response to the short reading so the
reader also says nothing at the end.
Q4: In the Mass: In the Italian lectionary after the Gospel reading it
says, "Parola del Cristo." Some of our priests studied in Italy. After
coming back to our country, Bangladesh, they are also introducing the
same. Even Italian priests here say the same. At the end of the Gospel
reading they also say, "Word of Christ." Would you please clarify which
one is correct: "Word of God" or "Word of Christ"? Our laypeople are
A: Actually, the Italian lectionary says, "Parola del Signore," or "The
Word of the Lord," after the Gospel and the equivalent of "the Word of
God" for the other readings. At no time is "Word of Christ" used. This
diversified translation brings out the double meaning of the Latin
"Verbum Domini" that is testified by the people's different responses at
the end of the readings. It should be clarified, however, that nobody
should change approved liturgical translations on his own initiative, no
matter where he has studied.
Q5: Incensing: In the General Instruction of the Roman Mass [GIRM] it is
clearly said where to give incense at the reading. In our country we do
not have the Book of the Gospels. We have the Bible and Bengali
lectionary. So when we make the Bible procession before the reading, we
take incense with us and incense at the beginning of the first reading.
In fact, we incense the whole Bible or lectionary and not always before
the Gospel reading. Once we do it at the beginning of the reading, we do
not incense at the Gospel reading. If we do not incense at the
beginning, then we do it at the Gospel reading according to the GIRM.
What is your opinion?
A: Only the Book of the Gospels is brought in procession and placed on
the altar at the beginning of Mass. But this could be any decent version
of the Book of the Gospels, even in another language. If necessary, a
photocopy of the day's reading can be inserted into this book. At the
same time, if there is no Book of the Gospels, the lectionary may be
incensed at the time of the Gospel reading in the usual manner. In this
case the lectionary is at the ambo from the beginning of Mass and is not
carried in at the entrance procession. Since these alternatives exist, I
see no reason not to follow the Catholic practice that reserves the
incense to the moment of reading the Gospel.
Q6: As far as I know, the deacon can bless at Benediction. If priests
and bishops are present at a holy hour, would it be correct for a deacon
to give the blessing? If not, then who would be the right person to give
the blessing, the bishop or the priest?
A: Except when there is some legitimate impediment, a bishop should
preside before a priest, and a priest before a deacon. A deacon should
not normally give any blessing when a priest is present and available.
Q7: During the Eucharistic Prayer we mention the name of local ordinary.
If there is/are auxiliary bishop(s), is it then proper to add his/their
A: As indicated in the missal itself, this is a possibility but not an
obligation. If there are several auxiliaries, then a general form such
as "Our Bishop N. and his assistant bishops" may be used.
Q8: Our present archbishop received his pallium from the apostolic
nuncio at his installation ceremony. He uses his pallium in all the
major occasions in the diocese: parish feasts, ordinations, jubilee
celebrations, etc. Is there any provision when it has to be used? Or is
it optional or obligatory?
A: The pallium (a circular white wool band with pendants) is used by
residential archbishops when they preside at any solemn Mass within
their own ecclesiastical province. It may not be worn outside of the
province. Present law basically leaves it up to the archbishop himself
to determine the occasions for its use.
* * *
Follow-up: New Priests Blessing Bishops [5-12-2009]
Related to the
April 28 question of priests blessing bishops, a reader from Kampala,
Uganda, asked: "Can a bishop in a given case of emergency delegate a
priest to ordain another priest? It is the bishop who has the fullness
of the priesthood of Christ. Yet even priests are configured to the
priesthood of Christ at ordination: Alter Christus! How full is the
fullness of the priesthood of Christ in a bishop vis-à-vis the fullness
of the priesthood of Christ in an ordained priest?"
This question would really require a highly nuanced theological
treatise, and a brief answer risks being simplistic.
With this caveat in mind I would say the following. Bishops have the
fullness of the sacrament of holy orders. Priests have a lesser
participation and deacons a different participation which does not
entail priesthood but rather service at the altar, at the table of the
Word, and toward those in need.
Even though it is hard to avoid terms such as "more" and "less" when
speaking of the degrees of holy orders, it should be said that each
ministry lacks nothing that is necessary for carrying out its precise
mission within the Church. The fact that some functions are reserved to
particular ministers does not mean that the other ministers are deprived
of these functions, but that they are not required for the specific
In this sense the ministry of the bishop, having the fullness of the
priesthood, goes beyond the power of ordination and directly entails his
function as the shepherd and principle of unity of the local church
through whom unity with the universal Church is established. Priests and
deacons in their respective ministries collaborate with the bishop, and
the ecclesial effectiveness of their ministry requires communion with
Regarding the question at hand, in case of necessity, Latin-rite
bishops may delegate to priests the celebration of the sacrament of
confirmation. This faculty may only be validly used within the confines
of the diocese itself. Eastern Catholic priests habitually confirm
infants immediately following baptism.
The ordination of priests, however, is not delegable (Canon 1012 of
the Code of Canon Law). Only a bishop has the power to ordain deacons
and priests. Priests do not have this power as it is not required for
There is some debate as to whether a pope could authorize priests to
do so. The only reason this possibility was aired is due to the
existence of some medieval documents in which three popes, between the
years 1400 and 1489, granted privileges to certain abbots to ordain
deacons and priests.
The documents in question are of dubious theological value, the
actual historical circumstances are rather murky, and the aforementioned
privileges were all later withdrawn. The actual ordinations, however,
were not declared invalid, and so it remains a hypothetical question if
a precise papal concession might allow for an exception to the general