Use of Altars by Non-Catholics

And More on Albs

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ROME, FEB. 7, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



Q: Is it ever permissible for non-Catholic ecclesial communities to celebrate their \"liturgy\" on a dedicated (fixed) altar? An Episcopalian (Anglican) group which uses our community\'s guest facilities has been celebrating both their Office and \"eucharist\" in our basilica. -- F.J., Nodaway, Missouri

A: This question is addressed in the Ecumenical Directory although there may also be particular norms issued by the bishops\' conference or by the local bishop which apply these norms to concrete local situations.

Nos. 137-142 of the directory state:

\"137. Catholic churches are consecrated or blessed buildings which have an important theological and liturgical significance for the Catholic community. They are therefore generally reserved for Catholic worship. However, if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services. Under similar circumstances, permission may be given to them for interment or for the celebration of services at Catholic cemeteries.

\"138. Because of developments in society, the rapid growth of population and urbanization, and for financial motives, where there is a good ecumenical relationship and understanding between the communities, the shared ownership or use of church premises over an extended period of time may become a matter of practical interest.

\"139. When authorization for such ownership or use is given by the diocesan Bishop, according to any norms which may be established by the Episcopal Conference or the Holy See, judicious consideration should be given to the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, so that this question is resolved on the basis of a sound sacramental theology with the respect that is due, while also taking account of the sensitivities of those who will use the building, e.g., by constructing a separate room or chapel.

\"140. Before making plans for a shared building, the authorities of the communities concerned should first reach agreement as to how their various disciplines will be observed, particularly in regard to the sacraments. Furthermore, a written agreement should be made which will clearly and adequately take care of all questions which may arise concerning financial matters and the obligations arising from church and civil law.

\"141. In Catholic schools and institutions, every effort should be made to respect the faith and conscience of students or teachers who belong to other Churches or ecclesial Communities. In accordance with their own approved statutes, the authorities of these schools and institutions should take care that clergy of other Communities have every facility for giving spiritual and sacramental ministration to their own faithful who attend such schools or institutions. As far as circumstances allow, with the permission of the diocesan Bishop these facilities can be offered on the Catholic premises, including the church or chapel.

\"142. In hospitals, homes for the aged and similar institutions conducted by Catholics, the authorities should promptly advise priests and ministers of other Communities of the presence of their faithful and afford them every facility to visit these persons and give them spiritual and sacramental ministrations under dignified and reverent conditions, including the use of the chapel.\"

The principles outlined by the document, above all by No. 137, are fairly clear and little further comment is required.

Our correspondent should therefore assure that the Episcopalian community\'s use of the church and the altar has been duly authorized by the local bishop.

Likewise, and in accordance with the bishop\'s instructions, he should guarantee all due respect toward the Blessed Sacrament during the course of the Episcopalian services as they may not share our faith in Christ\'s real presence.

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Follow-up: An Alb Alone

Our brief comments on the use of albs and stoles (Jan. 24) generated a surprisingly heavy response.

A reader from Detroit, Michigan, took me to task for injecting personal opinion, rather than Church norms, into my commentary that wearing the stole over the chasuble was a fad.

While my opinion that this vesture is less than elegant is certainly personal, the use of the stole under the chasuble conforms to Church norms as witnessed by \"Redemptionis Sacramentum,\" No. 123:

\"\'The vestment proper to the Priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole.\' Likewise the Priest, in putting on the chasuble according to the rubrics, is not to omit the stole. All Ordinaries should be vigilant in order that all usage to the contrary be eradicated.\"

One cannot defend the argument, as some attempt to do, on the basis that the Pope has concelebrated with priests who wore the stole over the chasuble.

The Holy Father is hardly in control over every detail of a celebration and such things do not create legal precedence. Stoles are worn underneath the chasuble in Vatican concelebrations.

This reader also offered a history of the use of the stole that was inaccurate in some details.

This vestment was originally a kind of protective towel or scarf, but was not a symbol of senatorial authority as asserted by our reader. Deacons originally wore it on the left shoulder over the dalmatic as a symbol of service.

It was only after the 12th century that it began to be used in its present form, hanging as a sash from left to right. During this period it was always white in color and continued to be worn over the dalmatic until around 1500 when the stole assumed the liturgical color of the day and began to be worn under the dalmatic, as is still done today.

Unlike the deacon, the bishop and priest wore the stole under the chasuble a practice for which there is evidence from at least the fifth century.

Another reader asked about some vestments no longer in use: \"I noticed one who had offered the new rite but wore the maniple and crossed his stole as is done in the 1962 rite. The rationale was that the maniple had not been suppressed, but simply that it was no longer required.\"

In a column of Jan. 11, 2005, I offered an answer on the matter of crossing the stole.

I do not think that the rationale justifying the use of the maniple (an ornamental vestment worn over the left forearm by the celebrant in the Latin rite prior to 1968) is correct.

It is not necessary for the Holy See to issue a decree abolishing every single detail. When, as it does above in \"Redemptionis Sacramentum,\" the legislator lists the vestments to be worn, then logically any further additions no longer correspond to the norms.

A South Carolina reader asked if a priest could celebrate using only alb and stole in exceptionally hot and humid weather.

The Holy See has given a similar permission in some very exceptional cases, but the preferred solution is to use a very lightweight chasuble. An individual priest does not have authority to omit the liturgical vestments but could wear lighter garb underneath the alb.

Some deacons also sent in questions.

One asked: \"Is there ever an occasion when the deacon should/may wear cassock and surplice, and if so, how is the stole worn?\"

Another asked: \"I often serve as a master of ceremonies for liturgies at the cathedral. My understanding is that \'Choir Dress\' is the accepted vesture for an M.C., typically a cassock and surplice. Our faculties, however, strictly forbid permanent deacons from the use of the cassock and surplice. Many times I\'ve been asked to wear an alb and stole, or alb, stole and dalmatic when I am in this role. My understanding was that, when serving as an M.C., you would put on the stole when handling the Blessed Sacrament. What is the appropriate vesture? An alb alone? Alb and stole? Both with the dalmatic?\"

The Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 36, states: \"The master of ceremonies wears either an alb or a cassock and surplice. Within a celebration a master of ceremonies who is an ordained deacon may wear a dalmatic and the other diaconal vestments.\"

Thus, the wearing of the dalmatic is a legitimate option but also the cassock and surplice. In the latter case, however, a priest or deacon serving as a master of ceremonies wears a stole only when receiving Communion or during duty at the tabernacle.

The diocesan prohibition of permanent deacons wearing the cassock and surplice probably exists so as to distinguish permanent deacons from priests and seminarians. The function of master of ceremonies could probably be considered as a legitimate exception which the bishop could authorize.

Except when there is some specific prohibition on the part of the bishop, as seen above, the general rule of thumb is that the cassock and surplice may substitute the alb for any rite were the alb is not prescribed.

Thus, for example a deacon may don a cassock and surplice, along with a cope, when he participates with other clergy at solemn lauds or vespers. He may use them to expose the Blessed Sacrament, for Benediction, and to administer those sacraments open to a deacon. Cassock and surplice may be used along with a cope but never with the dalmatic. In all cases the deacon wears his stole in the usual fashion over the surplice.

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