Baptism of the Lord and Ordinary Time
And More on Priests' Communion
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ROME, DEC. 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord part of the Christmas season? It seems that it is, according to Sections 32 to 38 of the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar. Also, when does Ordinary Time start? Section 44 seems to say that it starts on the Monday after Baptism of the Lord. -- J.T., Singapore
A: Here are the relevant texts from the introduction to the lectionary:
"33. The Christmas season runs from evening prayer I of Christmas until the Sunday after Epiphany or after 6 January, inclusive.
"38. The Sunday falling after 6 January is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
"43. Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character, thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on the Sundays, they are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. This period is known as Ordinary Time.
"44. Ordinary Time begins on Monday after the Sunday following 6 January and continues until Tuesday before Ash Wednesday inclusive. It begins again on Monday after Pentecost and ends before evening prayer I of the First Sunday of Advent."
From this, I think it is clear that the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is part of Christmastide and brings it to a close.
The Monday which follows it initiates the first week of Ordinary Time and, like the week following Pentecost, is a "week" of six days, Monday through Saturday.
The following Sunday is the second Sunday of Ordinary Time, or perhaps more precisely, Sunday of the second week of Ordinary Time. This latter formulation allows us to see more clearly why there is no first Sunday of Ordinary Time in the missal, a fact which might have induced some, including a widely diffused missal for the faithful, to state that the Baptism of the Lord was in fact the first Sunday.
That this is not the case is also shown from the fact that the feast is sometimes celebrated on a Monday that is Jan. 9. This happens only in those countries that transfer the Epiphany to the Sunday between Jan. 2 and 8. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, Epiphany falls on Jan. 8, and so the Christmas season ends the following day.
It is further confirmed by the rubrics of the Liturgy of the Hours. After the concluding prayer of this feast's vespers, a rubric laconically proclaims: "The end of Christmastide."
We outlined a brief history of this feast on Jan. 29, 2008.
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Follow-up: When the Priest Should Receive Communion
A question on file is related to our Dec. 3 response regarding a priest's receiving Communion after the faithful. Our correspondent wrote:
"Should the priest(s) at Mass as a matter of principle receive a portion of the consecrated species larger than the rest of the faithful receive? Many places use hosts for the assembly that are around 2-3 cm (a little over an inch) in diameter, while the main host that is fractioned is around 7 cm (just under 3 inches). I sometimes see presiding priests fraction the large host in half, break a sliver into the chalice, then consume both halves himself instead of distributing some of the large host to the faithful. This seems to me to counter liturgical texts (RS 49) and hints of clericalism.
"Similarly, with the prohibition of pouring consecrated Precious Blood from a larger vessel into smaller chalices, the symbolism of 'one chalice' is weakened. Consequently, when several chalices are used, RS 105 indicates one should be larger than the others 'for sign value,' which I interpret to mean a way of emphasizing the one chalice. But some priests use a larger special chalice and reserve it for priests' communion -- often a more elaborate one, perhaps of personal value to the priest. They fill it with a lesser amount of wine (enough for ministers' Communion) and use smaller, more pedestrian chalices for the faithful. This too seems overly clerical, and I prefer that the faithful receive from the same chalice as the priests. While I understand that some chalices are special to priests and may be unsuitable for handling by many people, I think it better to reserve those chalices for celebrations of the Eucharist at which the faithful would not be receiving under both species.
"In short, I see no liturgical or practical reason why priests should as a matter of principle (occasional exceptions always being made) receive more of the consecrated host, or drink more of the Precious Blood, from a special chalice off-limits to the faithful."
With all due respect to our reader, I believe he is reading too much into this common practice whose origins are practical or for greater dignity of the celebration. It would appear that clericalism is in the eye of the beholder.
I think there is a much simpler explanation to this practice that eschews any ideological interpretation whatsoever. Historically speaking, the practice of the use of the large host is united to the custom, originating in the Middle Ages, of elevating the host so that people could see it. We are dealing with an epoch in which people rarely received Communion, so that the priest was often the only communicant.
On major feasts when there were more communicants, the faithful would receive from the tabernacle after Mass. Thus the use of small round hosts became common as a means of reserving the sacrament.
It is true that the present liturgy does recommend that at least some of the faithful receive from the priest's host. But for practical purposes this usually requires an even larger host that can be broken up into some 12 pieces. In recent years these have become increasingly common.
Considering the historical origin of the custom, and the fact that the whole Christ is received with any size host, I see no point in seeing meanings that were never intended.
Something similar can be said about the use of a finer chalice for the principal celebrant. Almost any priest would see it as a means of honoring Our Lord's sacrifice by offering him the best we have. Since this is the chalice that is to be elevated, it is also a means of making this reality more visible to the faithful.
I think very few priests or faithful would interpret this gesture as a means of exalting the priest.
Finally, I think we should be wary of applying political terms such as "clericalism" to liturgical practices. By its very nature the Church and the liturgy is structured hierarchically. It is not clericalism but perfectly natural and correct for the liturgy to reflect the reality of the priest's sacred ministerial role in the Church through his vesture, his position in the assembly, and other similar elements.
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Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.