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Prostration and Vestments on Good Friday

3/22/2006 - 6:30 AM PST

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And More on the Precious Blood

ROME, MARCH 22, 2006 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I have a question concerning the liturgy of Good Friday. The sacramentary in use in the United States directs: "The priest and the deacon, wearing red vestments, go to the altar. There they make a reverence and prostrate themselves, or they may kneel" (Sacramentary, rev. 1985). 'Paschales Solemnitatis,' the Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts (Congregation for Divine Worship, 1988) directs "The priest and ministers make a reverence to the altar prostrating themselves. This act of prostration, which is proper to the rite of the day, should be strictly observed, for it signifies both the abasement of 'earthly man,' and also the grief and sorrow of the Church." These two directives seem to be contradictory to me. Do you find them contradictory? And, if so, which would take precedence? -- M.E., New York.
Why is a chasuble prescribed instead of a cope for Good Friday? -- J.C., Rochester, New York

A: The above mentioned circular letter itself clarifies the question of precedence in No. 5 of the document:

"[T]he Congregation for Divine Worship, after due consideration, thinks that it is a fitting moment to recall certain elements, doctrinal and pastoral, and various norms which have already been published concerning Holy Week. All those details which are given in the liturgical books concerning Lent, Holy Week, the Easter Triduum and paschal time retain their full force, unless otherwise stated in this document.

"It is the aim of this document that the great mystery of our redemption be celebrated in the best possible way so that the faithful may participate in it with ever greater spiritual advantage."

At first appearance there appears to be a contradiction as one document gives the option of kneeling while the other mentions only prostration.

The rubric in the new Latin Missal (2002), however, retains the option of kneeling albeit "pro opportunitate."

I would say, therefore, that rather than contradicting the Missal the circular letter wishes to stress that the two possibilities are not equal and that, from the liturgical and symbolic point of view, the preferred posture at this moment is prostration.

The option of kneeling is wisely retained as no small number of priests might find prostration to be a somewhat arduous or even hazardous task. In some cases the efforts required at getting down, and getting up again could be ungainly and distract from the overall somberness of the occasion.

With respect to the use of the chasuble: The liturgy for Good Friday prior to the reform of the Roman Missal prescribed a complex series of rites and changes of vesture.

The priest wore an alb and black stole for the entrance, prayers and Passion. He assumed a black cope for the universal prayers but left the cope aside for the Adoration of the Cross. At the time of Holy Communion he substituted the black stole for a violet one and donned a violet chasuble in order to distribute Communion.

When the rite was reformed the color red was preferred to the use of black and violet. And the rite was simplified with the use of only one kind of vestment, the chasuble, throughout the celebration. The priest removes the chasuble (and may also remove his shoes) only while kneeling to adore the Cross.

The chasuble was probably preferred to the cope as a more suitable vestment for the distribution of Communion and perhaps also for practical purposes as many poor parishes would find it difficult to purchase a red cope to be used perhaps once or twice a year.

* * *

More on Reserving the Precious Blood

Some hospital chaplains said that my suggestion -- that ideally the priest would be able to celebrate at the house or hospital -- was impractical.

Of course, my suggestion supposes optimal conditions, which rarely occur in real life. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the fact that this would be the best possible solution.

Another chaplain proposed that my conclusion, that "'it is not correct to reserve the Precious Blood,' does not fully reflect the nuance you had noted from Canon 925 and the Rites of Anointing and Viaticum." He also states: "Viaticum is, of course, the proper sacrament for the dying; but our practice has denied this, making the anointing of the sick into the sacrament for the dying."

He and some other chaplains explain that they do often reserve the Precious Blood in order to be prepared for emergency situations such as late night calls when the celebration of Mass is impossible.

The 1967 instruction "Eucaristicum Mysterium," which forms the basis for the rubrics of the rite of viaticum, ...

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1 - 2 of 2 Comments

  1. lorena
    2 years ago

    Why does the priest take off the Chasuble for the Adoration of the Cross? What is the significance?

  2. Mary
    2 years ago

    I found this interesting. When I attended Good Friday services, at St.Francis of Assisi Church in Henderson, NV, the priests reverenced the alter by lying prostrate on the floor. I have always attended St. Viator's church in Las Vegas and they never did this. Is this a custom of different parishes? Just curious.

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