Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I’ve served Mass recently for the feast of St. Michael. The Mass was celebrated by a guest priest, and the parish priest was assisting in choir dress. Yet, at the Gospel, the parish priest bowed to the guest priest and went to the ambo to proclaim the Gospel. Is it licit? If yes, does it make any sense, liturgically? – A.G., Paris
A: The introduction to the Book of the Gospels says the following:
“14. When no deacon is present, a concelebrating priest may proclaim the Gospel. When no concelebrant is present, the priest celebrant proclaims the Gospel. Unless the celebrant is a Bishop, the concelebrant bows before the altar, praying inaudibly, Almighty God, cleanse my heart ….
“15. When the celebrant is the Bishop, the priest asks for the blessing in the same manner as the deacon. Everything else is carried out by the concelebrating priest in the same manner as a deacon.”
To this we may add the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM):
“59. The function of proclaiming the readings is by tradition not presidential but ministerial. Therefore, the readings are to be read by a reader, but the Gospel by the Deacon or, in his absence, by another Priest. If, however, a Deacon or another Priest is not present, the Priest Celebrant himself should read the Gospel, and moreover, if no other suitable reader is present, the Priest Celebrant should also proclaim the other readings as well.
“After each reading, whoever reads it pronounces the acclamation, and by means of the reply the assembled people give honor to the Word of God that they have received in faith and with gratitude.”
While the introduction to the Book of the Gospels seems to presume the presence of a priest concelebrant, the GIRM does not seem to preclude that another priest who is part of the liturgical assembly, but is not concelebrating, would be able to do so.
There might be several reasons why a priest could be present in such situations. For example, he may have other Masses to celebrate and so refrain from concelebrating, while wishing to show his appreciation of the guest priest by his presence.
The norms do not address how he would be dressed, but it is presumable that he would be wearing at least alb and stole to carry out this ministry as would be usual at Mass.
The use of choir dress while presiding is usually reserved to the occasions when the diocesan bishop participates in Mass without concelebrating. For example, if a bishop attends a Mass celebrating a priest’s jubilee anniversary, or a funeral for a priest’s parent, he will often not concelebrate because the bishop would have the obligation to preside at the Mass.
The Ceremonial of Bishops distinguishes two distinct situations. The first is when the bishop presides at the Liturgy of the Word and gives the final blessing but does not concelebrate. The proper vesture for this occasion is described in No. 176 of the CB. It is alb, pectoral cross, stole and cope of the color of the day, the miter and the pastoral staff. The CB, in Nos. 177-185, describes the ceremonial actions to be carried out on this occasion. In this situation the bishop will be seated at the cathedra (CB, 178).
The second situation, in which the bishop is present but does not preside, is described in CB No. 186. On these occasions the bishop wears what is known as choir dress.
Choir dress (Latin habitus choralis) is the dress of bishops and other prelates, monsignors of different degrees and canons. It is worn for all public liturgical celebrations or other sacred actions in which the cleric is present but is not wearing sacred vestments. Most other clergy do not have a choir dress properly so-called, but have an established dress which they wear on these same occasions. Many religious, male and female, have a choir dress which they wear in addition to their habit on the same occasions.
For the bishop, choir dress consists of the fuchsia, or purple-colored cassock, with a purple silk sash with fringes. He also dons a mozzetta and zucchetto, or skullcap, of the same color. The mozzetta is a small, hooded cape extending to the elbows and buttoned in front.
The biretta, a square, stiff brimless cap with three or four ridges on the top surface and worn over the skullcap, is no longer obligatory and is now rarely used.
The rochet is worn under the mozzetta and over the cassock. It is a white linen vestment resembling a surplice except that it has close fitting sleeves rather than the wide ones of the surplice.
Over the mozzetta he wears a pectoral cross which is usually hung on a gold and green cord, although some bishops use a silver- or gold-colored chain for all occasions.
He also wears a ring.
In this case the bishop is not seated at the cathedra but at some other suitable place within the presbytery.
On some occasions there may be a combination of both modes of vesture, for example, if the bishop is in choir dress but is to make the final commendation at a funeral. In this case, after communion he removes the mozzetta and replaces it with the cope, stole and miter in order to direct the prayers. The underlying reason for this change is that the choir habit is worn primarily for formal assistance at the Divine Office, while the stole is principally a liturgical vestment worn for conferring sacraments and bestowing blessings.
A purple cassock is also used by auditors of the Roman Rota, the promoter general of justice and the defender of the bond in the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, protonotaries apostolic de numero, and the clerics of the Apostolic Camera. Other monsignors use a black cassock with purple sash.
There are many more subtle points that I have left out for the sake of brevity. A detailed explanation of the rules for clerical dress can be found at: http://www.shetlersites.com/clericaldress/.
As we mentioned, priests and seminarians do not have formal choir dress although the use of cassock and surplice is sometimes referred to as choir dress.
Pope Francis has adopted a simpler style and therefore the occasions for wearing full choral dress are less frequent, at least at the Vatican.
Those who celebrate according to the rules of the extraordinary form must follow the proper liturgical rules for vestments of that rite. However, with respect to choir dress for assisting at the Divine Office, the newer rules issued by Pope Paul VI and other popes generally apply.