Veneration of Altar at End of Mass
And More on Concelebrants From Different Rites
ROME, JULY 10, 2007 ( Zenit.org ).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: What is the procedure for the veneration of the altar by concelebrants at the end of Mass? Do all concelebrants venerate the altar, or is this only reserved for the main celebrant? When concelebrating, I merely bow to the altar, but have noticed that many others kiss the altar. -- M.C., Durban, South Africa
A: This topic is dealt with succinctly in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 251: "Before leaving the altar, the concelebrants make a profound bow to the altar. For his part the principal celebrant, along with the deacon, venerates the altar with a kiss in the usual way."
Thus the principal celebrant kisses the altar, and simultaneously all concelebrants bow deeply. This norm presupposes that the concelebrants remain standing at their seats.
After making this bow, the concelebrants may leave the sanctuary in several ways, depending on the numbers involved and the logistics of the movements.
If there are many concelebrants, and the tabernacle is not present in the sanctuary, the bow they made as the principal celebrant kissed the altar may be considered as sufficient, and they begin at once to leave their places in an orderly way, following the acolytes.
If the tabernacle is present in the sanctuary, then, after kissing the altar, the main celebrant goes to the front of the altar and all the concelebrants, remaining at their places, may genuflect along with him before beginning the exit procession. If this is likely to cause logistical difficulties, or if there is no space in which to genuflect, then it is sufficient for the principal concelebrant to make the genuflection.
If there are few concelebrants, then they line up with the principal celebrant and servers in front of the altar and all bow or genuflect together as the case may be.
Monsignor Peter J. Elliott describes some other particular cases in his ceremonies guide, in Nos. 449-450. He states:
"If a long recessional hymn is being sung, the concelebrants may come before the altar in twos and bow or genuflect in pairs. In this case, the servers leading them to the sacristy should move slowly, so as to avoid breaking up the procession. If there are many concelebrants, and they are arranged in positions away from the sanctuary area, they may remain in their places until the principal celebrant and other concelebrants and servers have left the sanctuary and follow in a separate procession. However this is not ideal as it diminishes their role.
"On arriving in the sacristy, if there is room for them, the concelebrants should line up facing the crucifix or image or the processional cross, held by the cross bearer, and so as to allow the principal celebrant to come to the center of the room. All make the customary reverence together and then proceed quietly to the designated place or vesting room where each concelebrant un-vests, in a spirit of recollection and peace."
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Follow-up: Concelebrants From Different Rites
Along with the recent question on priests of different rites concelebrating (June 26 ), other queries have asked about the concelebration itself.
One priest asked for a clarification as to the concept "principal celebrant." He wrote: "To me it seems that one is either a celebrant or not. This is particularly annoying in vesture. To distinguish between the celebrants seems to confuse the idea of a hierarchical liturgy. I understand the practicality of the distinction, but it seems that with the frequency of concelebration, concelebrants seem like 'secondary' ministers not equal in dignity to the celebrant -- the bishop being a different matter altogether is understood."
Of course, except in the case of a bishop, all priest concelebrants have the same dignity and all equally celebrate. This is emphasized by such details as the priest who reads the Gospel not asking for a blessing from another priest as he would from a bishop.
However, when the Church restored the practice of concelebration it decided that the model for all concelebrations would be the Mass presided over by the bishop.
This principle, as well as the need to preserve the unity and dignity of the celebration, resulted in the decision not to divide the principal rites and prayers among several priests. Rather, only one of them would carry them out, except for some parts of the Eucharistic Prayer.
This priest, who is called the principal celebrant, also establishes the basic rhythm of the celebration to which the other priests adjust.
Since it is he who presides over the assembly, it is congruous, but not strictly necessary, that he wear a different chasuble if all celebrants are fully vested. If the other concelebrants are wearing just an alb and stole, then he must wear a chasuble over the alb and stole.
This brings us to another related question from the Philippines: "Does the rule of wearing a proper vestment (alb, chasuble and stole) during concelebration apply to a Mass celebrated at a private chapel of the residence of priests? Will it be proper for a priest just to participate in the Mass without concelebrating?"
The Mass, even if celebrated in a private chapel, is always a public action of the Church and therefore the same rules apply everywhere.
The Church highly recommends daily Mass to all priests even if no congregation can be present, but it does not oblige the priest to celebrate. In this way a priest may simply attend a Mass.
Nevertheless, unless the priest has another Eucharistic celebration the same day, it is much better that he concelebrate rather than merely assist. In this way he can obtain more graces for souls in need, and thus more fully exercise his pastoral charity.