When Youngsters Request Confirmation
And More on Starting Mass Without a Priest
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ROME, AUG. 29, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Several girls around 10 years of age, on their own initiative, have asked parents to take them to receive the sacrament of confirmation. They know their catechism and when asked why they wished to be confirmed, responded that they wanted the graces of Confirmation and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit so that they might use them to be holier. The parents made two unsuccessful attempts, through different avenues, to get their daughters into a confirmation ceremony of the local ordinary. A pastor denied confirmation through a parish ceremony, saying that the girls are too young (despite the parents' informing the pastor of the canons which grant the right to the sacrament at the age of reason). And a school official denied confirmation through a school ceremony, saying that the girls are not enrolled nor the relative of an enrolled student. What should the parents do? -- V.F., New England
A: This difficulty of well-catechized children spontaneously asking for confirmation even though diocesan policy requires a higher age is increasing in many places.
I suggest that you request an appointment with the local bishop, or another diocesan official with the necessary authority, who can assess the children's free desire and adequate formation and thus arrange for the confirmation to take place.
If met with resistance, the parents, or a canonist who assists them, could point out a December 1999 protocol letter from the Congregation of Divine Worship to an English-speaking (and probably American) bishop on this theme. The letter (protocol No. 2607/98/L) was published in the congregation's official organ, Notitiae, in 1999, pages 537-540.
The case is almost exactly parallel, in that the bishop denied an 11-year-old girl confirmation because diocesan policy held confirmation in sophomore year.
We shall now quote a major portion of this letter:
"In light of Your Excellency's considered response, this Dicastery considers it necessary to respond in some detail to the considerations you raise, and so the case was submitted to a renewed and attentive examination. The Congregation was anxious to communicate the results of this study as soon as possible asking you to note the authoritative nature of the conclusions contained therein …."
After clarifying that the Vatican congregation does have authority to examine the bishop's decision not to allow the confirmation, the letter proceeds:
"In reply to this Congregation's decision that appropriate steps be taken to provide for the girl's confirmation in the near future, Your Excellency had proposed essentially two arguments:
"1. Though willingly admitting that the girl is well instructed and that her parents are very good Catholics, you point out that 'instruction is not the sole criterion for recognizing the opportune time for confirmation … this evaluation is a pastoral one which involves much more than being instructed.'
"2. Your Excellency indicates that the Diocesan Policy establishing that conferral of the Sacrament is to be no earlier than the sophomore year of high school is within the right inherent in the law in light of the legislation complementary to can. 891 for the Conference of Bishops to which you belong.
"With respect to Your Excellency's first point, it is no doubt true that there is a pastoral judgment to be made in such cases, provided that by 'pastoral judgment' one is speaking of the obligation of the Sacred Pastors to determine whether those elements required by the revised Code of Canon Law are indeed present, namely, that the person be baptized, have the use of reason, be suitably instructed and be properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises (cf. cann 843,1; 889,2) … it is clear this young girl has satisfied each of the canonical requisites for reception of the sacrament."
In regard to the second point, while the selection of an older age for confirmation is within the bishop's right, the congregation goes on to say:
"[I]t is also clear that any such complementary legislation must always be interpreted in accord with the general norm of law. As has been stated before, the Code of Canon Law legislates that Sacred Ministers may not deny the Sacraments to those who are not prohibited by law from receiving them (cf. can 843,1). Since it has been demonstrated that the girl possesses these requisite qualities, any other considerations, even those contained in the Diocesan Policy, need to be understood in subordination to the general norms governing the reception of the Sacraments."
After pointing out that it is the role of parents as the primary educators, and then of the sacred pastors to see that children are properly instructed, the letter adds:
"Consequently, when a member of the faithful wishes to receive this Sacrament, even though not satisfying one or more elements of the local legislation (for example, being younger than the designated age …), these elements must give way to the fundamental right of the faithful to receive the Sacraments. Indeed, the longer the conferral of the Sacrament is delayed after the age of reason, the greater the number of candidates who are prepared for its reception but are deprived of its grace for a considerable period of time."
The letter concludes with the Vatican congregation insisting to the bishop that the girl be given the opportunity for confirmation as soon as possible.
Since the mind of the Holy See has been made manifestly clear, most bishops or diocesan officials would be happy to arrange for the confirmation provided the necessary conditions are met.
It is important to point out that the congregation made no evaluation as to the wisdom of this, or any other, bishop's decision to designate an older age for confirmation. Such a decision may be pastorally advisable taking into account the general situation of religious formation and catechesis within the dioceses.
Such a designation, however, should not be a straitjacket, that would deprive a sufficiently well-formed young member of the faithful, who freely requests it, the right to receive the sacrament.
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Follow-up: Starting Mass Without a Priest
I wish to clear up a misunderstanding in the July 25 column. When I mentioned that a priest should never attempt to concelebrate from among the people in the pews, I was referring to those cases of a priest who is attending Mass in the manner of the faithful, and yet tries to join in the consecration from his pew.
I was not referring to the case of large concelebrations where the officiating priests necessarily overflow into the front pews.
That said, several readers asked for clarifications regarding the tasks that may be carried out by lay people who direct Sunday Communion services in communities that are, to use a term that is often preferred, "awaiting" a priest.
The Holy See's 1988 directory for "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest" gives basic guidelines. Based on this document, some episcopal conferences, or individual bishops, have prepared more specific norms to handle such situations.
Chapter 3 of this document (Nos. 35-50) deals with the order of celebration:
"35. The order to be followed in a Sunday celebration that does not include Mass consists of two parts, the celebration of the word of God and the giving of holy communion. Nothing that is proper to Mass, and particularly the presentation of the gifts and the eucharistic prayer, is to be inserted into the celebration. The order of celebration is to be arranged in such a way that it is truly conducive to prayer and conveys the image not of a simple meeting but of a genuine liturgical assembly.
"36. As a rule the texts for the prayers and readings for each Sunday or solemnity are to be taken from The Roman Missal (Sacramentary) and the Lectionary for Mass. In this way the faithful will follow the cycle of the liturgical year and will pray and listen to the word of God in communion with the other communities of the Church.
"37. In preparing the celebration the pastor together with the appointed laypersons may make adaptations suited to the number of those who will take part in the celebration, the ability of the leaders (animators), and the kind of instruments available for the music and the singing.
"38. When a deacon presides at the celebration, he acts in accord with his ministry in regard to the greetings, the prayers, the gospel reading and homily, the giving of communion, and the dismissal and blessing. He wears the vestments proper to his ministry, that is, the alb with stole, and, as circumstances suggest, the dalmatic. He uses the presidential chair.
"39. A layperson who leads the assembly acts as one among equals, in the way followed in the liturgy of the hours when not presided over by an ordained minister, and in the case of blessings when the minister is a layperson ("May the Lord bless us ..."; "Let us praise the Lord ..."). The layperson is not to use words that are proper to a priest or deacon and is to omit rites that are too readily associated with the Mass, for example, greetings -- especially "The Lord be with you" -- and dismissals, since these might give the impression that the layperson is a sacred minister.
"40. The lay leader wears vesture that is suitable for his or her function or the vesture prescribed by the bishop. He or she does not use the presidential chair, but another chair prepared outside the sanctuary. Since the altar is the table of sacrifice and of the paschal banquet, its only use in this celebration is for the rite of communion, when the consecrated bread is placed on it before communion is given.
"Preparation of the celebration should include careful attention to a suitable distribution of offices, for example, for the readings, the singing, etc., and also to the arrangement and decoration of the place of celebration.
"41. The following is an outline of the elements of the celebration.
"-- 1. Introductory rites. The purpose of these is to form the gathered faithful into a community and for them to dispose themselves for the celebration.
"-- 2. Liturgy of the word. Here God speaks to his people, to disclose to them the mystery of redemption and salvation; the people respond through the profession of faith and the general intercessions.
"-- 3. Thanksgiving. Here God is blessed for his great glory (see no. 45).
"-- 4. Communion rites. These are an expression and accomplishment of communion with Christ and with his members, especially with those who on this same day take part in the eucharistic sacrifice.
"-- 5. Concluding rites. These point to the connection existing between the liturgy and the Christian life.
"The conference of bishops, or the individual bishop himself, may, in view of the conditions of the place and the people involved, determine more precisely the details of the celebration, using resources prepared by the national or diocesan liturgical committee, but the general structure of the celebration should not be changed unnecessarily.
"42. In the introduction at the beginning of the celebration, or at some other point, the leader should make mention of the community of the faithful with whom the pastor is celebrating the eucharist on that Sunday and urge the assembly to unite itself in spirit with that community.
"43. In order that the participants may retain the word of God, there should be an explanation of the readings or a period of silence for reflection on what has been heard. Since only a pastor or a deacon may give a homily, it is desirable that the pastor prepare a homily and give it to the leader of the assembly to read. But in this matter the decisions of the conference of bishops are to be followed.
"44. The general intercessions are to follow an established series of intentions. Intentions for the whole diocese that the bishop may have proposed are not to be omitted. There should also often be intentions for vocations to sacred orders, for the bishop, and for the pastor.
"45. The thanksgiving may follow either one of the ways described here.
"-- 1. After the general intercessions or after holy communion, the leader invites all to an act of thanksgiving, in which the faithful praise the glory and mercy of God. This can be done by use of psalm (for example, Psalms 100, 113, 118, 136, 147, 150), a hymn (for example, the Gloria), a canticle (for example, the Canticle of Mary), or a litanic prayer, together recite the thanksgiving.
"-- 2. Before the Lord's Prayer, the leader of the assembly goes to the tabernacle or other place where the eucharist is reserved and, after making reverence, places the ciborium with the holy eucharist on the altar. Then while kneeling before the altar he or she together with all the faithful sing or recite a hymn, psalm, or litany, which in this case is directed to Christ in the eucharist.
"But this thanksgiving is not in any way to take the form of the eucharistic prayer, the texts of the prefaces or eucharistic prayers from The Roman Missal (Sacramentary) are not to be used, and all danger of confusion is to be removed.
"46. For the communion rite the provisions given in The Roman Ritual for communion outside Mass are to be observed. The faithful are to be frequently reminded that even when they receive communion outside Mass they are united to the eucharistic sacrifice.
"47. For communion, if at all possible, bread consecrated that same Sunday in a Mass celebrated elsewhere is used; a deacon or layperson brings it in a ciborium or pyx and places it in the tabernacle before the celebration. Bread consecrated at the last Mass celebrated in the place of assembly may also be used. Before the Lord's Prayer the leader goes to the tabernacle or place where the eucharist is reserved, takes the vessel with the body of the Lord, and places it upon the altar, then introduces the Lord's Prayer -- unless the act of thanksgiving mentioned in no. 45,2 is to take place at this point.
"48. The Lord's Prayer is always recited or sung by all, even if there is to be no communion. The sign of peace may be exchanged. After communion, 'a period of silence may be observed or a psalm or song of praise may be sung.' A thanksgiving as described in no. 45,1 may also take place here.
"49. Before the conclusion of the assembly, announcements or notices related to the life of the parish or the diocese are read.
"50. 'Too much importance can never be attached to the Sunday assembly, whether as the source of the Christian life of the individual and of the community, or as a sign of God's intent to gather the whole human race together in Christ.
'All Christians must share the conviction that they cannot live their faith or participate -- in the manner proper to them -- in the universal mission of the Church unless they are nourished by the eucharistic bread. They should be equally convinced that the Sunday assembly is a sign to the world of the mystery of communion, which is the eucharist.'"
To this may be added the note of the 1997 interdicasterial document "On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest."
The text is found in the "Practical Provisions" section, Article 7, on "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest":
"§1. In some places in the absence of priests or deacons, non-ordained members of the faithful lead Sunday celebrations. In many instances, much good derives for the local community from this useful and delicate service when it is discharged in accordance with the spirit and the specific norms issued by the competent ecclesiastical authority. A special mandate of the Bishop is necessary for the non-ordained members of the faithful to lead such celebrations. This mandate should contain specific instructions with regard to the term of applicability, the place and conditions in which it is operative, as well as indicate the priest responsible for overseeing these celebrations.
"§2. It must be clearly understood that such celebrations are temporary solutions and the text used at them must be approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority. The practice of inserting into such celebrations elements proper to the Holy Mass is prohibited. So as to avoid causing error in the minds of the faithful, the use of the eucharistic prayers, even in narrative form, at such celebrations is forbidden. For the same reasons, it should be emphasized for the benefit of those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the eucharistic Sacrifice and that the obligation to attend mass on Sunday and Holy days of obligation is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass. In cases where distance or physical conditions are not an obstacle, every effort should be made to encourage and assist the faithful to fulfill this precept."
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