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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 14 Jul 2001

Would this be allowed? QUESTION from Christopher October 1, 2000 I attend a secular university with a large Catholic Campus Ministry. In the middle of every week, a special Mass is held; it is touted as lively and upbeat. Besides the fast-paced songs that would violate the norms on music, and the fact that after the homily, people are called to the lectern to give their personal testimonies, the most disturbing thing is that at the Liturgy of the Eucharist, everyone is REQUIRED to stand around the altar. I emphasize that fact because I've heard that those who choose to remain outside the sanctuary and/or kneel are publicly ridiculed.
Now I know that this is forbidden by just about every Constitution, Instruction, and Regulation that has ever been written by the Magesterium. Fortunately, several people have inquired as to the legitimacy of this practice.
The response is that the priest wrote the bishop and allegedly received a dispensation which would permit the congregation's standing around the altar for this Liturgy. The logic being since the bishop okayed it, this is permissible.
My question is whether the bishop has the authority to authorize such a departure from the norms? I know that Sacrosanctum Concilium mandates that nobody can change anything on the liturgy on his own accord, but I also know that bishops and conferences are given the authority to regulate certain things according to custom.
I have not actually seen this letter from the bishop so I don't know whether it actually exists, but if it does, I'd like to know what tools I have for rebuttal beforehand (e.g. which documents to refer to.)
I appreciate your help!
ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on October 1, 2000 Dear Christopher,
You've hit all the nails right on the head and you've already mentioned some of the tools that you have at your disposal.
The reason you haven't seen a letter from the bishop permitting these practices is because it more than likely doesn't exist. An individual bishop does not have the authority to change anything in the Mass. Bishops Conferences can make adaptations WITH THE APPROVAL OF THE VATICAN. An example of this in action is the practice in the United States of the people kneeling from the sanctus… until the great amen. The universal norm is to kneel from the epiclesis until the great amen. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops was granted permission from Rome for the current practice. An individual bishop cannot decide that for his diocese the practice will be something different, although that seems to be what is happening in some places. The Pope was prophetic when he wrote;
None of these things (liturgical innovations) can bring good results. The consequences are—and cannot fail to be—the impairing of the unity of faith and worship in the Church, doctrinal uncertainty, scandal, and bewilderment among the People of God, and the near inevitability of violent reactions… The faithful have a right to a true liturgy, WHICH MEANS THE LITURGY DESIRED AND LAID DOWN BY THE CHURCH. Undue experimentation, changes and creativity bewilder the faithful. The Second Vatican Council's admonition in this regard must be remembered: 'No person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority'. [Pope John Paul II, April 17, 1980] The Church allows for some experimentation in the liturgy and has set clear guidelines for its authorization; When liturgical experimentation is seen to be necessary or useful, permission will be granted IN WRITING BY THIS SACRED CONGREGATION ALONE, with clearly defined norms and under the responsibility of the competent local authority. [Liturgicae Instaurationes, 5 September 1970] The Sacred Congregation for Liturgy publishes a journal entitled Clarifications and Interpretations of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Notitiae). This journal tries to clear up any misunderstandings about the liturgy and to answer questions about various practices. Notitiae carries the force of law. Some years ago the question was posed to the Sacred Congregation asking if the practice of inviting the faithful to gather around the alter was allowable. The following is the entire treatment of the subject as printed in Notitiae; 101. Query: At the presentation of gifts at a Mass with congregation, persons (lay or religious) bring to the altar the bread and wine which are to be consecrated. These gifts are received by the priest celebrant. All those participating in the Mass accompany this group procession in which the gifts are brought forward. They then stand around the altar until communion time. Is this procedure in conformity with the spirit of the law and of the Roman Missal? Reply: Assuredly, the Eucharistic celebration is the act of the entire community, carried out by all the members of the liturgical assembly. Nevertheless, everyone must have and also must observe his or her own place and proper role: In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy. (SC art. 29).
During the liturgy of the eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the presbyterium, which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers: Not 17 (1981) 61.
This regulation has not sense been abrogated! Another problem with gathering around the altar is that everyone remains standing during the Eucharistic Prayer and consecration. Liturgical law tells us the postures we are to assume during the Mass.
. . . They [the people] should kneel at the consecration unless prevented by the lack of space, the number of people present, or some other good reason. [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #21] Again, the Sacred Congregation for Liturgy was asked by the Bishops' Conference to clarify those situations when no seats are available. They responded; There is nothing to prevent the faithful from kneeling on the floor to show their adoration, no matter how uncomfortable this may be. In cases where kneeling is not possible (see GIRM no. 21), a deep bow and a respectful bearing are signs of the reverence and adoration to be shown at the time of the consecration and communion: [Notitiae 14 (1978) 302-303, no. 4.] And finally, there's a recent statement (1999) from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops / United States Catholic Conference. This statement can be found in it's entirety on-line at; It says; The assembly is to kneel after the Sanctus [Holy, holy, holy...] and stand after the [great] Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer… I avoid such Masses whenever possible and when I find myself at one I do not go up around the altar. I take the ridicule and offer it up to Christ. Besides being disobedient I've observed another problem with inviting people to the altar. The problem is that not everyone CAN go to the altar. I've seen where people with visible handicaps were UNABLE to join their peers on the altar. This excludes them and creates two entirely different congregations at the same Mass. One congregation is healthy and able to join the priest on the altar, the other congregation is disabled and unable to be part of the in crowd. Other people choose to remain in the pews, perhaps out of a sense of obedience, or because they're minding small children, or maybe because they're just too shy to go up on the altar. This practice splits families at Mass and is extremely insensitive to the spiritual needs of the handicapped, shy and conscientious. What kind of message is this sending to a young handicapped or painfully shy teenager?
I once heard a youth group leader explain that gathering around the altar allows us to worship more fully and to be more intimate with Christ. Does this mean that the poor kids left in the pews are somehow worshiping less fully and are less intimate with Christ? It's amazing isn't it? These are usually the very same people who claim to be open minded and tolerant but they are completely insensetive to the needs of others.
I hope this helps you. Be assured that you are in my prayers.
John Miskell
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