By Father Edward McNamara, LC
ROME, 07 April 2015 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: When the consecrated hosts are replaced in the tabernacle after holy communion, are the people are asked to stand up? I ask myself why is this, if I have just received Communion? — T.Z., Messina, Italy
A: There have been several questions regarding this practice recently, above all from Italy, but also from other countries. In some cases our readers described elaborate rites for returning the Eucharist to the tabernacle, even accompanying it with candles as during a Eucharistic procession. In these situations the faithful are requested to remain standing.
The reason given for introducing these practices is that it forms part of an effort to restore respect and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. While this is a laudable goal, I have my doubts that this is the best moment to do so and also it appears contrary to the explicit indications from the Holy See.
First of all, with regard to the posture of the faithful No. 43 of the British translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says the following:
"43. The faithful should stand from the beginning of the Entrance chant, or while the priest approaches the altar, until the end of the Collect; for the Alleluia chant before the Gospel; while the Gospel itself is proclaimed; during the Profession of Faith and the Prayer of the Faithful; from the invitation, Orate, fratres (Pray, brethren), before the Prayer over the Offerings until the end of Mass, except at the places indicated below.
"They should, however, sit while the readings before the Gospel and the responsorial Psalm are proclaimed and for the Homily and while the Preparation of the Gifts at the Offertory is taking place; and, as circumstances allow, they may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed.
"But they should kneel at the consecration, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration.
"Nevertheless, it is up to the Conference of Bishops to adapt the gestures and postures described in the Order of Mass to the culture and reasonable traditions of the people. The Conference, however, must make sure that such adaptations correspond to the meaning and character of each part of the celebration. Where it is the practice for the people to remain after the Sanctus until the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and before Communion when the priest says Ecce Agnus Dei (This is the Lamb of God), this practice is laudably retained.
"With a view to a uniformity in gestures and postures during one and the same celebration, the faithful should follow the directions which the deacon, lay minister, or priest gives according to whatever is indicated in the Missal."
Since some interpreted this number as obliging the faithful to remain standing during the whole time of the distribution of communion, the Holy See responded with an answer to a doubt published in its official organ "Notitiae" (39  page 533):
"In many places the faithful are accustomed to remain kneeling in private prayer or to sit after they return to their seats once they have individually received the holy Eucharist at Mass. Whether the provisions of the Third typical edition of the Roman Missal prohibit this practice?
"R. In the negative and with a rationale.
"The rationale is that by the prescripts of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n. 43 is intended to give, on the one hand, within broad limits some uniformity of posture in the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of the holy Mass, and at the same time, on the other hand, not to regulate posture so rigidly that those who wish to remain kneeling or to sit would no longer be free to do so."
Therefore, it does not appear correct to oblige the faithful to adapt a particular posture after communion.
Second, the GIRM does not give such importance to returning the Blessed Sacrament to the tabernacle as to warrant an elaborate rite. To wit:
"163. When the distribution of Communion is finished, the priest himself immediately and completely consumes at the altar any consecrated Wine that happens to remain; as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.
"Upon returning to the altar, the priest collects any fragments that may remain. Then, standing at the altar or at the credence table, he purifies the paten or ciborium over the chalice, then purifies the chalice, saying quietly: Quod ore sumpsimus (Lord, may I receive), and dries the chalice with a purificator. If the vessels are purified at the altar, they are carried to the credence table by a minister. Nevertheless, it is also permitted, especially if there are several vessels to be purified, to leave them suitably covered on a corporal, either at the altar or at the credence table, and to purify them immediately after Mass following the dismissal of the people."
As can be seen, there is nothing here that suggests a specific rite. This is a practical question that is done within the context of the purification. While all due reverence should be observed, there is no need to unduly emphasize this moment.
The missal is, however, clear that it should be the priest or deacon, and not an extraordinary minister of holy communion, who should perform this duty in the context of Mass. The priest or deacon should make a genuflection on closing the tabernacle.
I believe that there are several reasons why this is not an apt moment for underlying the Eucharistic presence. First of all, as reflected in the rubrics cited above, this has never been a particularly solemn moment of the celebration. Second, and more importantly, we are still within the context of the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass and the emphasis at this moment is on thanksgiving for having partaken of this sacrifice through holy communion.
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Follow-up: When Returning Hosts to the Tabernacle [4-21-2015]
A reader said that he found some difficulties in a part of our April 7 article. His carefully argued comments are the following:
"The missal is, however, clear that it should be the priest or deacon, and not an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, who should perform this duty in the context of Mass. The priest or deacon should make a genuflection on closing the tabernacle.
"You discuss purifications in the previous two paragraphs. Clearly an instituted acolyte can do the purifications, clearly he is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion (1972 motu propiro Ministeria Quaedam, No. 6). For example, Roman Missal, Order of Mass, No. 137: 'When the distribution of Communion is over, the Priest or a Deacon or an acolyte purifies the paten over the chalice and also the chalice itself.'
"The 'Good Friday' ceremony is not a Mass, but it has the rubric '29. When the distribution of Communion has been completed, the ciborium is taken by the Deacon or another suitable minister to a place prepared outside the church or, if circumstances so require, it is placed in the tabernacle.'
"Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 165, has 'Another deacon or one of the concelebrants takes any remaining consecrated particles to the tabernacle, then at a side table cleanses the paten or ciborium over the cup before the cup is cleansed.' In this Mass it is an ordained minister, but it is not the celebrant, the bishop.
"If there is a Mass with a priest and instituted acolyte (but no deacon), who can do the purification? Either, clearly. If the instituted acolyte does the purification, can he also put the ciborium to the tabernacle? It seems more appropriate that it be done by the person doing the purification, the instituted acolyte. The Ceremonial of Bishops indicates that it not be done by the celebrant.
"An argument could be made based on General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 317, having footnote 131, mentioning the 1938 instruction Nullo Unquma Tempore. This says things such as '6. (c) The key of the tabernacle must be most diligently kept by a priest.' But given that it was written before there were extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, it does not shed light on this question. The footnote also refers to Code of Canon Law, canons 934-944. The last part of Canon 938 has, 'The person in charge of a church or oratory is to see to it that the key of the tabernacle is which the blessed Eucharist is reserved, is in maximum safe keeping.' No mention is made of the key being held by a priest, as it was in the 1938 instruction.
"General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 163, is quoted in your article. It is for 'Mass Without a Deacon' and includes about the Priest: 'as for any consecrated hosts that are left, he either consumes them at the altar or carries them to the place designated for the reservation of the Eucharist.' But it also describes the priest doing the purification. It is clear from other parts of the Roman Missal that an instituted acolyte can do the purification. So this seems to have been written both for 'Mass Without a Deacon' and 'Mass Without an Instituted Acolyte.'
"On the whole I do not think the Roman Missal is particularly clear on the role of the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, particularly this point about whether they can return the ciborium to the tabernacle on days other than Good Friday.
"Regarding the sentence 'The priest or deacon should make a genuflection on closing the tabernacle': This contradicts the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 274: 'If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is situated in the sanctuary, the Priest, the Deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of the Mass itself.'"
Although our reader has made a careful argument regarding the purification of the sacred vessels by instituted ministers, I respectfully believe that one key point has been overlooked.
An instituted acolyte is an "ex officio" extraordinary minister of holy Communion, but he does not purify the sacred vessels in the absence of a deacon as an extraordinary minister but as part of his ordinary ministry of acolyte.
Thus, for example, if an instituted acolyte served a concelebration with no deacon in which the number of priests made the use of extraordinary ministers unnecessary, the purification of the sacred vessels would still fall upon the instituted acolytes and not upon the priests.
Furthermore, going to the tabernacle, although it is done during the time of the purification, is a distinct act from the purification and is not mentioned as a task for the instituted acolyte. I hold that it is the proper task of an ordinary minister who is necessarily always present at Mass.
The case of Good Friday is an exception out of necessity, as the priest is otherwise engaged during the time when the Eucharist is brought from the altar of repose. I think that the quotes from the Ceremonial of Bishops, at least in this case, are somewhat specific to the episcopal celebration and do not apply to the case at hand.
Finally, although our reader correctly quotes the GIRM, No. 274, regarding not genuflecting during Mass, this norm refers to the normal movements during Mass itself when one passes in front of the tabernacle during the celebration. I believe that when the minister opens the tabernacle itself to reserve the Eucharist, then, in this case, the usual principle that one genuflects before closing the tabernacle would apply. Usually no genuflection would be made on opening the tabernacle, as the Lord is already present upon the altar.
I thank our correspondent for his attention and interest in observing faithfully the liturgical norms.