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Liturgy: Exposition of the Eucharist by a Layperson?

ROME, JAN. 6, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Q: Is a layperson allowed to remove Jesus from the tabernacle, place him in the monstrance and process him into the main church for adoration? (The tabernacle is in a remote chapel.) I think only our priest has the privilege to do this. Am I wrong? -- P.M., Londonderry, New Hampshire

A: While solemn exposition (with the use of servers and incense) can only be carried out by a priest or deacon, a simple exposition, either by opening the tabernacle or placing the Host in a monstrance, can be done by an instituted acolyte or by an authorized extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.

(The monstrance is a sacred vessel designed to expose the Blessed Sacrament or for carrying it in procession. It usually has the form of a cross with a circular window in the center, often surrounded by a silver or gold frame with rays like the sun.)

Only an ordained minister may impart Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. However, should no priest or deacon be available, an authorized extraordinary minister may perform a simple reposition of the Eucharist once the turns of adoration have been completed (see the 1973 document "Eucharistiae Sacramentum" of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Nos. 91-92).

Of course, should a priest or deacon be available, he may not delegate the exposition to someone else.

In selecting a suitable person for extraordinary ministries of this kind when the priest is unable to do so, the order is: instituted acolyte, instituted lector, major seminarian, religious brother, nun, layperson of either sex (see the 1973 instruction "Immensae Caritatis").

In your description of the rite of simple exposition as performed in your parish I do note a technical liturgical error: The layperson may bring the pyx (a small round metal case used to carry the Host) to the altar and place the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance on the altar itself, but should not bring the monstrance with the Eucharist in procession.

The function of the extraordinary minister of exposition is limited to the simple exposition or reposition of the Blessed Sacrament with a minimum of ceremonial, though the exposition may be accompanied by a eucharistic song.

Although things may not be technically perfect in your parish, it is a wonderful gift, and a boon to the spiritual life of the whole community, that eucharistic adoration is cultivated and promoted.

* * *

Follow-up: Recent Papal Documents

A reader from Windsor Locks, Connecticut, asked about my column on the Pope's recent documents on the liturgy (Dec. 16).

I'll quote extensively from the question: "You present the highlights of the Holy Father's apostolic letter on sacred liturgy, and its relationship to Pope St. Pius X's 'motu proprio' letter entitled 'Tra le Sollecitudini.' I am curious about the linkage between the two documents. It seems that both were written in Italian. ... Neither was written in Latin, the language of the Church.

"For this reason, I read them in a different light. Pope St. Pius was first and foremost concerned about potential scandal to visitors coming to Rome and witnessing a liturgy that was not entirely adhering to norms, in particular musical norms. The tone of Pope St. Pius' letter was without question one of demanded adherence, albeit he mentions religious obedience. The papal letter to Cardinal Respighi is certainly strong indeed. ...

"Pope John Paul II has a quite different style. Yet I can't help but wonder if his choice to release his document in Italian only was not an accident. Was the Holy Father doing two things here: first, writing to his diocese first, and second, sending a message of obedience within the Vatican using the connection to Pius X?"

I am not privy to the inner workings of the Holy Father's intentions. But I believe it would be out of character for him to publish a letter with a hidden agenda beyond its stated aims, which in this case, was to commemorate the centenary of St. Pius X's famous letter "motu proprio" (on his own initiative) by making some brief reflections on the current state of liturgical music in the light of tradition.

For the information of our readers, our correspondent refers to two documents. The motu proprio "Tra le Sollecitudini" on sacred music (Nov. 22, 1903) was directed to the entire Church. A letter to Cardinal Pietro Respighi, titled "Il desiderio" and published the following Dec. 8, applied the previous document to the Diocese of Rome.

If John Paul II desires to send a particular message to the Diocese of Rome, he can do so as St. Pius X did to Cardinal Respighi: by sending a letter or directives to the cardinal's successor, the current vicar of Rome, or even to the people themselves.

If he desires a change in the Vatican, musically or otherwise, he does not send messages, he simply gives orders. Therefore the most likely reason for his publication of the document in Italian is because "Tra le Sollecitudini" was written in Italian. It is not unknown for documents of this type to be written in a language other than Latin.

St. Pius X probably wrote in Italian because he wanted to get the document out as quickly as possible. It was published barely three months into his pontificate and, in a way, had been written even before he became Pope.

As priest and bishop, Giuseppe Sarto (the future Pope) had been very active in the Italian movement for the restoration of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony and the elimination of the individualistic operatic style that had infiltrated much of 19th-century liturgical music.

Since this particular style was prevalent in much of Italy, and from Italy influenced other areas, writing in Italian and Spanish got the message across where it was most needed.

The difficulty was probably less acute in German-speaking areas where congregational singing was and is the norm, whereas English-speaking Catholics, the vast majority either Irish or of Irish descent, were at that time usually less than enthusiastic about any form of singing in Church.

Given Giuseppe Sarto's lifelong interest in matters liturgical, it was therefore quite logical that one of his first actions as Pope would be to act authoritatively to remedy the situation and usher in a new era in liturgical reform which, apart from music, also embraced the reform of the liturgical calendar, the Divine Office and lowering the age for first Communion.

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