Elevating the Host and Chalice

And More on Eucharistic Prayers

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ROME, APRIL 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: How long should the elevations last? Our priest holds up the host and the chalice for almost two minutes each during the consecration. There are two times after that when he elevates the sacred species. At all times the elevations are with arms raised full length, the host and chalice up as far as he can take them. -- H.B., Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

A: Our reader should first of all be grateful for having a fervent priest, although admittedly two minutes is a fairly long time to hold the host and chalice aloft. I harbor some doubts that it is quite so long, although it might feel that way to our correspondent.

The rubrics foresee three presentations of the consecrated species, although many liturgists would say that only one is technically an elevation.

The first of these immediately follows the consecration of each species. The rubric says that the priest "shows the consecrated host to the people, places it again on the paten, and genuflects in adoration." Similarly for the chalice, "He shows the chalice to the people, places it again on the corporal, and genuflects in adoration."

No indication is offered as to the duration of either the showing or the genuflection. Here one must be guided by the general principles of the Roman rite, which eschews exaggerated or dramatic gestures. Since the showing is done so that the people can see host and chalice, and the genuflection is an act of adoration, these gestures should not be done hurriedly but with a degree of pause and decorum that underlines their liturgical function.

It is probably best that the elevation be made slightly above the priest's head level so that he too can gaze at the host in a natural way.

Elevating the host and chalice as high as possible is best reserved for those occasions when Mass is celebrated ad orientem, or toward the altar. If this is done while facing the people, it can be ungainly and a cause of distraction rather than of edification.

The elevations should allow the host and chalice to be contemplated but not be unduly prolonged as this is not the most important elevation from the liturgical standpoint.

The most important liturgical elevation is in fact the second one during the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. This rite is performed either by the priest alone or accompanied by a deacon or concelebrant. The rubrics indicate that the priest takes the chalice and the paten with the host and, raising both, he says: "Through him, etc." A deacon or concelebrant, if present, raises the chalice.

Regarding this elevation, the following should be noted:

-- Only the paten is elevated; the host is not shown to the people at this time.

-- Only one chalice and paten are elevated. If there are several sacred vessels besides the principal ones, they are always left upon the altar.

-- Both chalice and paten are held aloft until the people have concluded the final "Amen" of the Eucharistic Prayer, even in those cases where this Amen is sung or repeated.

The nature of this gesture, usually accompanied by the priest's singing the doxology, generally means that the vessels are elevated a bit lower than at the consecration. A rule of thumb could be at the priest's eye level or slightly above.

The third and final showing occurs just before the priest's communion. The rubric indicates that after the Lamb of God during which the celebrant has prepared quietly for communion and placed a piece of the host into the chalice, "The priest genuflects, takes the host and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says aloud:" Behold the lamb of God ….

The choice of showing the broken host above the paten or the chalice falls to the priest, although this latter gesture seems aesthetically preferable.

The priest should hold the host aloft until he and the people have finished reciting the "Lord I am not worthy …."

Once more, it is better not to make this elevation as high as physically possible but similar to that of the second elevation.

It is a liturgical error to show the host without the paten or chalice by simply raising it above the corporal. Since at this time the host has already been broken, the possibility of fragments falling is enhanced and so it is better that they fall directly onto the paten or into the chalice.

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Follow-up: Epiclesis in Eucharistic Prayer I

The April 17 column on the epiclesis in the Roman Canon brought to mind this question from Palo Alto, California: "Is not the first Eucharistic Prayer, also known as the Roman Canon, the normative Eucharistic Prayer for Sunday Mass?"

While it would be going too far to say that that Roman Canon is the "normative" Eucharistic Prayer for Sunday Mass, I think it fair to say that it, along with Eucharistic Prayer III, are the preferred Sunday texts.

Eucharistic Prayer II, while not forbidden on a Sunday, is especially recommended for weekday celebrations. Its brevity can create a certain disproportion between Sunday's longer Liturgy of the Word with three readings, creed and obligatory Prayer of the Faithful and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Eucharistic Prayer IV cannot be separated from its preface and so, if used on a Sunday, may only be used during ordinary time. It is good to use it on occasion especially when the message of the readings can be tied into an overview of salvation history. This Eucharistic Prayer was originally envisioned as being especially apt for groups with a good biblical background. Catholics in general have become far more biblically literate in the decades following the liturgical reform, and experience has shown that this prayer can be used to good pastoral effect when used wisely.

The Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation would at most be able to be used on a Sunday of Lent but with the proper Lenten preface.

Since the Eucharistic Prayers for use in "Masses for Various Needs" and "For Masses with Children" are restricted to specific Mass formularies or to particular groups such as young schoolchildren, they would practically never be used for a parish Sunday Mass.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.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.