"Way of the Cross" Within Mass

And More on Good Friday

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ROME, APRIL 4, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



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Q: My parish usually has a Way of the Cross followed by the Mass during Fridays of Lent. I saw a priest integrate the Way of the Cross with the Mass. The Liturgy of the Word was replaced with the Way of the Cross. He immediately proceeded with the Offertory. Is it right? Also, can the Way of the Cross take the place of the penitential rite of the Mass? A second question: If there are still many communicants waiting to receive Communion and the priest runs out of consecrated hosts, can he use an unconsecrated host as a vessel for the reception of the Lord in holy Communion (by dipping it into the Blood of Christ)? -- M.V., Surrey, British Columbia

A: While the Way of the Cross is a venerable and laudable practice it is certainly not permissible to unite it to the Mass in the manner described.

First of all, there is the general principle of respecting the integrity of the rites. No priest has the authority to add or remove anything prescribed in the liturgical books by his own decision.

Second, this theme is dealt with in a general way in Part 4 of the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," "On the Joining of Various Rites with the Celebration of Mass."

Although it makes no specific reference to the Way of the Cross, it outlines the principles in play. Nos. 75 and 79 state:

"[75.] On account of the theological significance inherent in a particular rite and the Eucharistic Celebration, the liturgical books sometimes prescribe or permit the celebration of Holy Mass to be joined with another rite, especially one of those pertaining to the Sacraments. The Church does not permit such a conjoining in other cases, however, especially when it is a question of trivial matters.

"[79.] Finally, it is strictly to be considered an abuse to introduce into the celebration of Holy Mass elements that are contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books and taken from the rites of other religions."

The Holy See's "Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy" also gives indications about the combination of different rites that commemorate the Passion and the liturgical celebrations of Good Friday (not the Mass, as it is not celebrated on this day):

"142. The Church celebrates the redemptive death of Christ on Good Friday. The Church meditates on the Lord's Passion in the afternoon liturgical action, in which she prays for the salvation of the word, adores the Cross and commemorates her very origin in the sacred wound in Christ's side (cf. John 19:34).

"In addition to the various forms of popular piety on Good Friday such as the 'Via Crucis,' the passion processions are undoubtedly the most important. These correspond, after the fashion of popular piety, to the small procession of friends and disciples who, having taken the body of Jesus down from the Cross, carried it to the place where there "was a tomb hewn in the rock in which no one had yet been buried" (Luke 23:53).

"The procession of the 'dead Christ' is usually conducted in austere silence, prayer, and the participation of many of the faithful, who intuit much of the significance of the Lord's burial.

"143. It is necessary, however, to ensure that such manifestations of popular piety, either by time or the manner in which the faithful are convoked, do not become a surrogate for the liturgical celebrations of Good Friday.

"In the pastoral planning of Good Friday primary attention and maximum importance must be given to the solemn liturgical action and the faithful must be brought to realize that no other exercise can objectively substitute for this liturgical celebration.

"Finally, the integration of the 'dead Christ' procession with the solemn liturgical action of Good Friday should be avoided for such would constitute a distorted celebrative hybrid."

The 1987 circular letter "Paschales Solemnitatis" on the celebration of the Easter triduum also mentions these devotions on Good Friday:

"72. Devotions such as the Way of the Cross, processions of the passion, and commemorations of the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary are not, for pastoral reasons, to be neglected. The texts and songs used, however, should be adapted to the spirit of the Liturgy of this day. Such devotions should be assigned to a time of day that makes it quite clear that the Liturgical celebration by its very nature far surpasses them in importance."

None of these documents specifically forbid joining the Way of the Cross to the Mass during Lent, probably because it never entered anybody's head that any priest would ever dream of doing it.

The principles enunciated in these documents sufficiently show that such a hybrid rite is unsound from both the liturgical and pastoral standpoints.

Regarding question No. 2, and the use of unconsecrated bread to distribute Communion by intinction: This practice has been explicitly rejected in No. 104 of "Redemptionis Sacramentum":

"The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. As for the host to be used for the intinction, it should be made of valid matter, also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated bread or other matter."

We have also treated the subject of a shortage of hosts in our column of May 17, 2005, with follow-ups on May 31 and June 14.

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Follow-up: Prostration and Vestments

Interesting feedback arrived on our March 21 column on prostration and the use of the chasuble on Good Friday.

The original questioner mentioned that there may be another contradiction in the rubrics and the circular letter on the Easter celebrations: "The sacramentary refers to the action of the priest and deacon, while the circular letter refers to the action of the priest and ministers (plural). As you point out, though, the instructions in the letter take precedence."

There is a difficulty, however. While the circular letter stated that it had precedence over earlier documents, the new Latin Missal is more precise and more authoritative. Here the rubrics specify that only the priest and deacon prostrate themselves while all other kneel.

Several readers asked about the proper vesture for deacons and other clergy at this celebration.

Only the priest who presides at the celebration, and all officiating deacons, wear red chasuble or dalmatic as the case may be.

In cathedrals, seminaries and other situations were they are available, the deacons who sing or read the Passion may be distinct from the ones assisting the celebrant.

These deacons may wear dalmatics. Priests who assist in proclaiming the Passion wear either alb or surplice along with a red stole. Lay readers may wear an alb.

All other priests and deacons present wear either alb and red stole or choir dress and red stole.

Finally, a question came from an Indiana reader about a particular expression.

She writes: "I have a concern about the wording or action that takes place on Good Friday, that is, the 'Adoration of the Cross.' I was taught that we may only adore or worship the Trinity, not any other saint or angel, and certainly not an inanimate object. Is this, then, the proper term to be used for such a rite? I have also heard it referred to as 'Veneration of the Cross,' yet the song we sing states, 'Come let us adore.' Could you please clarify for me?"

The official title for this rite is "Veneration of the Cross” and the reply to the invocation "This is the wood of the cross on which hung the Savior of the World” is "Come let us worship" ("venite adoremus").

The word "worship" in modern English is usually, albeit not exclusively, reserved to the divine.

It is true that the Church does not offer an act of adoration to a figure of wood but to Christ. All the same, the veneration of the crucifix on Good Friday is vested with a special intensity that is different from the respect shown toward the crucifix during the rest of the year.

For example, from the celebration of the Passion and on Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil, one genuflects before the crucifix used in the celebration.

Historically, the reason for the use of this special gesture of veneration is probably because the rite of veneration of the cross originated in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century and in Rome in the seventh and were directed toward the principal relics of the True Cross kept in these cities.

Only later, when the rite became common, was the sign of veneration usually reserved to the True Cross extended to the crucifix used in the celebration.

While the object of adoration or worship is always Christ, the special veneration of the cross on these days seems to say that although the tabernacle is empty, all other images covered, and the Church silently awaits the resurrection, his divine presence is symbolized by the image of the cross through which he saved us from our sins.

By concentrating on the image of the cross the Church, as Louis Bouyer says, "causes us to realize what could not be discovered by the 'powers' who crucified the Lord of Glory, that in his cross is our glorification."

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