2 Paschal Candles; Lights On at Vigil

And More on Washing of the Feet

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ROME, APRIL 11, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



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Q: Our pastor found himself in a dilemma last Easter. He was appointed in charge of two parishes, but only able to celebrate one Vigil Mass for the parishes at the larger of the churches. The problem encountered was how to bless two paschal candles! In the absence of any advice from the diocesan authorities, and with no trace of any liturgical norm to hand, he decided to bless and engrave them both, but only lighted one (which the deacon duly carried). He himself carried the other candle in his arms and left it on the altar to be taken to the other parish church afterward. At the other parish church, he lighted that second paschal candle immediately before the first Mass of Easter and carried it in procession into the church singing the Lumen Christi three times before continuing with the Eucharistic celebration as normal. I thought this was done very movingly but, as always, some disagreed! -- B.C., Birmingham, England. Q: I would like to know the exact moment in which, during the Easter Vigil, all the lights of the church should be lit: Is it immediately before the chanting of the Exsultet starts, or at the intoning of the Gloria during Mass? Up to some time ago, if I am not mistaken, it was before the Exsultet starts. I do not know if it has been changed recently. -- L.B., Malta

A: Regarding the two paschal candles: There do not seem to be any recent guidelines as to how to handle this particular situation. It is quite possible that some bishops' conferences have already proposed solutions that I am unaware of.

Although the pastor's action was an honest attempt to come to terms with a liturgical conundrum, I think it was imperfect in some ways.

First of all, the liturgical books and guidelines insist very much that only one paschal candle be prepared for the celebration. For example, the 1988 Circular Letter on the preparation for Easter published by the Congregation for Divine Worship states:

"The paschal candle should be prepared, which for effective symbolism must be made of wax, never be artificial, be renewed each year, be only one in number, and be of sufficiently large size, so that it may evoke the truth that Christ is the light of the world. It is blessed with the signs and words prescribed in the Missal or by the Conference of Bishops."

This insistence has to do with the symbolism involved of the one light of Christ from which all the other candles are lit. This the pastor well understood by not lighting the second paschal candle.

Where I believe he made a mistake, at least with respect to present norms, was in blessing and carrying the other candle and in repeating the rite of entrance on Easter morning. The nocturnal nature of this rite does not readily lend itself to repetition.

What then is a pastor to do? Although eventually a better solution might be officially established as the question reflects a genuine pastoral difficulty, we could momentarily take inspiration from the norms in force before the Second Vatican Council.

At that time, if Mass or the Divine Office was celebrated at a side altar during Eastertide, it was permitted to use a second paschal candle provided it had been blessed and had the five grains of incense.

Therefore, in the case described above, the pastor could privately bless and prepare the other candle at a convenient moment after the Easter Vigil and simply set it up in the other parish before the first Mass with no particular ceremonies.

After all, even if the Vigil had been celebrated the night before, people attending Mass on Easter Sunday usually find the Easter candle already set up and no special ceremony is carried out. It is appropriate, however, to incense the candle along with the altar at the beginning of Mass.

Regarding the appropriate moment for turning on the lights: The rubrics for the Vigil clearly indicate that they are lit after the third Lumen Christi and before the Exultet.

There seems to be a custom in some places to await the end of the Exultet or even the Gloria. And some eminent liturgists even recommend that, whenever possible, the amount of light should be gradually increased until the church is fully illuminated at the Gloria.

While I can appreciate the ideas behind this gradual approach I personally think that the rubrics should be followed as that is what the Church asks of us. I also believe that turning on the lights after the third Lumen Christi better captures the dramatic and transforming suddenness of the Resurrection.

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Follow-up: Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday

In the wake of our article on foot washing (March 28), one reader "begged to differ" that the rubric in the missal stipulated that only men's feet be washed.

He wrote: "Clearly, as we have been told a million times, in churchspeak 'men' means both males and females, as in 'who for us men and our salvation.' As we also know, since 'Liturgicam Authenticam' the Church has forbidden the use of modern English that would avoid the possible confusion, and so those who produced these statements are obligated to use the term 'men' instead of simply saying 'those who.' Either we have a univocal use of the term 'men' or we have nothing."

Our reader apparently did not have access to the original Latin text of the rubric in question. That rubric does not use the generic "Homo" which in some contexts includes both sexes, but rather the specific "Vir" which refers only to males.

I also fear he has caricatured the translation norms of "Liturgicam Authenticam." Rather than mandating the generic "man" as a univocal translation for "Homo," the document inculcates prudence in translating this term whenever it is subject to several shades of theological meaning.

For example, the expression "son of man" in the Old Testament can mean simply "human being" but in some cases Church tradition has interpreted it prophetically as referring to Christ.

I am likewise not convinced that the generic use of man to include all human beings no longer forms part of "modern English."

Certainly the language needs to adapt to acknowledge the fact that women participate in many endeavors which were formally male preserves. But I see no reason to engage in linguistic contortions so as to avoid the generic use of "man" when this is the best literary option.

Finally, a reader from Belgium wrote a thought-provoking -- albeit somewhat tongue in cheek -- note on those who proposed hand washing instead of foot washing on Holy Thursday: "It is worthwhile pointing out … that the only hand washing mentioned in the Scriptures around Holy Week is that done by Pontius Pilate -- hardly a positive example to be followed."

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