Symbols & gestures reverence GodBy: Fr. David J. Dohogne
It is first and foremost God who acts in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI noted in his 2010 Chrism Mass homily, “Sacrament means that it is not primarily we who act, but God comes first to meet us through his action, he looks upon us and he leads us to himself. … God touches us through material things … that he takes up into his service, making them instruments of the encounter between us and himself.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes the significance of the liturgical signs which comprise the sacraments: “The liturgical celebration involves signs and symbols relating to creation (candles, water, fire), human life (washing, anointing, breaking bread), and the history of salvation (the rites of the Passover). Integrated into the world of faith and taken up by the power of the Holy Spirit, these cosmic elements, human rituals, and gestures of remembrance of God become bearers of the saving and sanctifying action of Christ” (CCC, 1189).
Unlike other signs, the liturgical words and actions make present and accomplish what they signify. They allow us to enter into the mystery of God’s life and power: “By means of the words, actions, and symbols that form the structure of a celebration, the Spirit puts both the faithful and the ministers into a living relationship with Christ, the Word and Image of the Father, so that they can live out the meaning of what they hear, contemplate and do in the celebration” (CCC, 1101).
As we approach Advent and the Christmas Season, I would like to share with you a few thoughts, reminders, recommendations, regarding the guidelines for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in our parishes.
• When proclaiming the Scripture readings at Mass (or for any liturgical service), please do so with reverence and meaning.
• The readings should not be done in a “hurried” manner. Rather, Lectors should read deliberately and with emphasis.
• A short pause should be made after the introduction to the reading as well as at the conclusion of the reading before proclaiming “The Word of the Lord.”
• There should also be a brief period of silent prayer between the readings and the responsorial psalm.
• Proclaiming the Word of God is not the same as reading a bedtime story or a newspaper article. Basically, give the Scripture readings the proper reverence they deserve.
Extraordinary Ministers Of Holy Communion:
It is a great privilege to offer the Body and Blood of the Lord to others in the gift of Holy Communion. The “ordinary” ministers of Holy Communion are priests and deacons. When the need arises, lay faithful may be chosen as “extraordinary” ministers.
• Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should approach the altar after the priest/deacon receives Holy Communion.
• A bow should be made before entering the sanctuary.
• The Extraordinary Ministers are to receive the sacred vessels from the priest/deacon. They are not to take the vessels from the altar themselves.
• Any Precious Blood which remains must be consumed and not poured out, even down the sacrarium.
• After the distribution of Holy Communion, it is the responsibility of the priest/deacon to properly purify the sacred vessels used for the distribution of Holy Communion. This includes the chalices, paten, and ciborium.
• If an Extraordinary Minister takes Holy Communion to those who are sick or homebound, he/she should obtain the Holy Eucharist after Mass.
• Those who take Holy Communion to the sick should have a “pyx” which is made of or at least plated with precious metal (including the inside of the pyx).
• Consecrated Hosts are not to be placed in the pyx while in the Communion Procession.
• The pyx containing the Blessed Sacrament should always be kept on your “person.” It should never be placed in a purse, the glove compartment in your car, etc.
• If an Extraordinary Minister is taking Holy Communion to the sick/homebound, this is the first thing he/she should do. Other stops at the store or other errands should not be made before visiting the sick, especially if you have the Holy Eucharist with you.
To serve as a sacristan is also a great privilege. All items used for the Mass and other liturgical celebrations should be treated with great care and reverence and be properly cleaned and maintained.
• Sacristans should see to it that altar cloths, vestments, albs, and other sacred linens used for Mass are regularly and properly washed and cleaned.
• Purificators and, if need be, corporals should be rinsed immediately after Mass with the water being poured down the sacrarium. After they are dry, they can be washed/laundered in the usual manner. As mentioned above, the sacred vessels (chalices, paten, ciborium) are to be purified by a priest/deacon before being washed/cleaned.
• It is best to wash the sacred vessels with warm soapy water, rinse them thoroughly, and dry them with a soft cloth.
• At times, the vessels might need to be polished using a quality precious metal polish for gold/silver. Over a period of time, the vessels might need to be replated as the gold or silver plating wears off after extended use.
• All of these items are used for a sacred purpose and should be well maintained. If items are no longer suitable for sacred purposes, they should be properly disposed of (e.g. altar linens/purificators are worn and tattered). These items should not be thrown in the regular trash, but rather, they should be burned. We think of the care and respect we give to old and tattered flags of our country which are reverently disposed of by burning. The same holds true for altar linens and other items which have served a sacred purpose and are no longer appropriate or suitable for use in the Sacred Liturgy.
• Wax candle scraps may be taken to Catholic Supply in St. Louis and a credit will be issued toward your account (if you have an account with them).
The liturgical environment is very important in helping “set the tone” for our liturgical celebrations, especially as we commemorate the various seasons of the Church Year. We owe a great deal of gratitude to those in our parishes who give of their time and talent to help decorate the sacred space in our churches.
• Candles made of beeswax are preferred for use on or around the altar and in the sanctuary. Candle tubes filled with oil may also be used, but the preference of the Church is beeswax candles.
• “Battery operated” candles should not be used anywhere in the sanctuary, but could be used in other parts of the church.
• As we approach the Seasons of Advent and Christmas, please note that the Advent Wreath and the Christmas Manger Scene should not be placed directly in front of the altar. The altar is a symbol of Christ and should not serve as a “backdrop” or be obscured by other decorations.
• It is preferred that live flowers and plants as well as candles can be used to adorn the area around the altar. Again, these decorations should not “dominate” or obscure the altar.
• According to the liturgical norms, candles may be placed on or around the altar. Flowers, plants, and other arrangements should never be placed directly on the altar for the celebration of Mass.
• A decorative cloth in the color of the liturgical season or celebration may be used to cover the altar, but a white cloth must always be placed on the “mensa” or top of the altar.
Reception of Holy Communion:
• The Church provides two options for receiving Holy Communion: in the hand or on the tongue.
• Regardless of which option is chosen, a person receiving Holy Communion should first bow (as an act of reverence and faith) and also respond “Amen” (as an acclamation of faith).
• When receiving Holy Communion in the hand, both hands should be properly extended to form a “throne” in which to receive our Eucharistic Lord (with one hand resting in the palm of the other). Receiving Holy Communion in this fashion is described by St. Cyril of Alexandria in the fourth century. If for some reason a person is not able to properly extend both hands to “form a throne” in the way mentioned above, then Holy Communion should be received on the tongue.
• It is not proper to receive the Most Holy Eucharist with only one hand and then attempt to reverently consume the Sacred Host. It is also not appropriate or proper for a person to reach out and “take” the Host from the priest, deacon, or Extraordinary Minister.
One of the beautiful gestures we have in the Catholic Funeral Liturgy is the placing of the white pall on the casket at the beginning of the Mass. The white pall symbolizes the white garment we receive in Holy Baptism. The Order of Christian Funerals (#161) notes that the pall is placed on the coffin “by family members, friends, or the priest.” It seems to be the practice in many parishes that the pall is placed on the casket by the funeral directors and oftentimes immediately after the body is brought into the church.
• The pall should be placed on the casket after the Sprinkling with Holy Water, not before. This is the proper order for this action.
• In celebrating the funeral of a loved one, mention to your pastor that you would like to participate in the placing of the pall on the casket. It is a very beautiful way for you to acknowledge the faith of your deceased loved one.
For more information, please consult the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, a PDF file of which may be found at https://dol.ca/documents/2016/11/girm.pdf. The document may also be consulted on the Website of the US Catholic Bishops at www.usccb.org.
“A Pastoral Letter on the Sacred Liturgy,” by The Most Rev. James V. Johnston, sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, now Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, may also be found on the diocesan Website at www.DioSCG.org.
In addition to his position as diocesan Director of Worship, Fr. Dohogne serves as pastor of St. Henry Parish, Charleston, MO; and St. Francis Xavier Parish, Sikeston.