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Liturgy: Should Lectors Sit in the Pews?

And More on How Brides Should Dress

ROME, JUNE 23, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: No. 195 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that the lector takes his place in the sanctuary along with the other ministers. GIRM 101 states that in the absence of instituted lectors, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings from sacred Scripture. Also, the GIRM asks that Eucharistic ministers approach the altar after the priest has received Communion, as I understand it, to better emphasize both their particular role in the celebration and their membership in the assembly, i.e., that they are members of the assembly who come from the assembly to offer a special service to their brothers and sisters and then return to the assembly when they have finished. If that is the case, why would the lectors not do the same, i.e., sit in the assembly and come to the ambo to proclaim the Word and then return to the assembly? Does GIRM 195 presume instituted lectors (who would then have a special place in the sanctuary as an institute minister)? -- R.L., Lowell, Massachusetts

A: I think that we need to clarify some aspects.

As you say, the GIRM (in No. 162) states that extraordinary ministers of Communion only approach the altar after the priest has received Communion. But we must distinguish between approaching the altar and being present in the sanctuary.

Even an instituted acolyte, who is, by definition, an extraordinary minister of Communion and whose proper place during the celebration is within the sanctuary, may not approach the altar until after the priest's Communion in order to receive from his hands the sacred vessels.

Thus the rule about not approaching the altar is not so much a symbol of those who come from the assembly to undertake a service but rather expresses the need that the Holy Sacrifice be completed by the priest's Communion before distribution begins.

Indirectly it also emphasizes the fact that this is a supplementary ministry for, as underlined by the recent instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," the extraordinary minister of Communion supplements the lack of clergy and exercises this ministry only when strictly necessary. Hence, the faculties granted to lay people on these occasions may not be understood as an authentic form of the advancement of the laity.

When someone substitutes an instituted lector, he or she substitutes another layperson and does so in all cases that an instituted minister is lacking.

However this does not necessarily mean that the lector may be substituted in all of his functions.

GIRM 99 states: "In the Eucharistic Celebration, the lector has his own proper office (cf. below, nos. 194-198), which he must exercise personally."

Among these offices are substituting the deacon in carrying of the Book of the Gospel in the entrance procession while wearing suitable liturgical attire and placing it on the altar, taking up his place in the sanctuary and proclaiming the readings.

GIRM 101 states: "In the absence of an instituted lector, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture."

Note that here the substitutive function refers only to proclaiming the readings and not to the other functions.

This would be similar to the case of an instituted acolyte who may be substituted in most of his duties except those functions where he substitutes the deacon such as purifying the sacred vessels.

In this way I believe that the rule of GIRM 195 applies above all to instituted lectors who should have a place in the sanctuary from which they carry out their assigned ministry.

However, as mentioned in an earlier question regarding crowded sanctuaries (May 4), this rule is not absolute as it does not entail so much a theological principle as one of practical organization, decorum and facilitating the carrying out of the ministry in question.

Thus, designated or commissioned readers may have a place in the sanctuary but may also enter from the pews.

All the same, we should perhaps refrain from giving too much symbolic weight to aspects that are basically practical in nature.

* * *

Follow-up: How Brides Should Dress

Some readers asked for further comments on the subject of bridal couture and weddings in general (see June 8).

A reader from Westminster, in England, points out that white is the usual color in the Western world because it usually signified the bride's virginity. For this reason, in most Western cultures, a widow entering a second marriage would almost invariably eschew the formal bridal gown for simpler attire.

Our reader points out that in today's world: "many brides come to the altar after a long period of cohabitation, often after bearing children." The reader thus recommends that priests should encourage brides who arrive at marriage in this state to choose a less formal dress "out of modesty and honesty for herself, and through charity to those brides who approach their marriages in a pure state, that their traditional symbolic dress may not be debased or usurped."

I certainly agree in principle and indeed numerous dioceses and parishes have regulations regarding couples who ask for marriage in irregular situations. Dioceses and parishes often recommend that the couples prefer a less solemn wedding celebration both out of respect for Church teaching and as a gesture of penance for their failings.

The world being what it is, some exceptions may be justified in particular circumstances. These must be carefully weighed by the pastor who prepares the couple for marriage.

In this context it is important to remember that couples approaching marriage are frequently open to higher spiritual values. Quite often they begin to take the practice of their faith more seriously in the light of the commitment they are about to make. These opportunities for evangelization should be used to the full.

In general, therefore, it is necessary to assure that couples approach a Catholic wedding fully aware of the total commitment involved and of the specifically religious nature of the celebration.

A priest should never accede to hold a solemn celebration if he realizes that the couple have superficial motives or if they are only interested in having a nice ceremony.

Some correspondents also inquired about the proper time for weddings, especially during penitential seasons.

Although there is no absolute prohibition on holding marriages during Lent and Advent (see Introduction to Rite of Marriage 13) many dioceses discourage them, especially during Lent. The Diocese of Rome, for example, asks pastors not to schedule weddings during Lent, although exceptions may be made for a just cause.

If a wedding is allowed to be held during Lent or Advent the couple are asked to respect the nature of the season which means that external aspects such as floral decorations should usually be far more frugal or even absent from the celebration.

Also, while a wedding as such may take place on Sunday of Lent or Advent, only the Mass of the day may be celebrated. Few couples would want to marry before a priest wearing penitential purple.

Another correspondent asks: "Is it still appropriate for the bride and groom to kiss after the marriage vows in church? Is clapping allowed after this?"

This ancient rite of the couple exchanging a kiss as a confirmation of their verbal consent survived during the whole Middle Ages. But it disappeared from the Catholic rite in application of the dispositions of the Council of Trent because it often gave rise to irreverence.

In some countries a vestige of this rite exists in that the wife lifts the veil, which until this point covered her face.

The rite may have survived in the Anglican usage and many people may believe that it formed part of Catholic ritual through the depiction of weddings in movies and television -- mediums not noted for their attention to the finer points of liturgical history.

Although a spontaneous applause may be hard to avoid at this point of the rite, it should not be encouraged or provoked.

It is far more in keeping with the religious nature of the celebration for the assembly to sing an approved acclamation following the rite of Consent and again after the exchange of rings.

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