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Multiple Communions on Good Friday

March 13, 2018. And More on the Prayer Over the People

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Given that a priest may, in some cases, celebrate the Good Friday liturgy multiple times (per Paschalis Solemnitatis, No. 43); given that the Good Friday liturgy is not a Mass and thus is not a sacrificial act requiring the celebrant’s consumption of the victim for its integrity by divine law; and given the norm of Canon 917 (as authentically interpreted): “A person who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist can receive it a second time on the same day only within the eucharistic celebration in which the person participates, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 921, §2” — may/must the priest take Communion during the second Good Friday celebration? May others (e.g., a deacon who assists in both services) also receive Communion a second time? — G.S., Washington, D.C.

A: Paschalis Solemnitatis, No. 43, says:

“43. It is fitting that small religious communities, both clerical and lay, and other lay groups should participate in the celebration of the Easter Triduum in neighboring principal churches.

“Similarly, where the number of participants and ministers is so small that the celebrations of the Easter Triduum cannot be carried out with the requisite solemnity, such groups of the faithful should assemble in a larger church.

“Also, where there are small parishes with only one priest, it is recommended that such parishes should assemble, as far as possible, in a principal church and participate in the celebration there.

“On account of the needs of the faithful, where a pastor has the responsibility for two or more parishes in which the faithful assemble in large numbers, and where the celebration can be carried out with the requisite care and solemnity, the celebrations of the Easter Triduum may be repeated in accord with the given norms.

“So that seminary students ‘might live fully Christ’s paschal mystery, and thus be able to teach those who will be committed to their care,’ they should be given a thorough and comprehensive liturgical formation. It is important that during their formative years in the seminary, they should experience fruitfully the solemn Easter celebrations, especially those over which the bishop presides.”

With respect to Good Friday it also says:

“59. On this day, in accordance with ancient tradition, the Church does not celebrate the Eucharist: Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful during the celebration of the Lord’s passion alone, though it may be brought at any time of the day to the sick who cannot take part in the celebration.”

We are dealing with a special, indeed unique, case. However, I would say that in my opinion, the answer would be negative and that the pastor would not receive Communion twice on this day.

First of all, as our reader points out, except in danger of death, canon law foresees the possibility of a second Communion only within the context of a Mass, and this is not a Mass.

Second, whereas at Mass the priest must always communicate in virtue of his ministry, in this case there is no intrinsic need to take a second Communion. Likewise, in the rare case that he celebrated a third celebration of the Passion, it would be clear that a third Communion would go against the law. Therefore, the priest’s reception is not essential to the Good Friday celebration.

Third, in 1955 Pope Pius XII restored the possibility of receiving Communion during the celebration of the Passion on Good Friday after many centuries in which it was not distributed. The intention for this change was: “[A]bove all: that, devoutly receiving the Body of the Lord, delivered up for all on this day, they [the faithful] may obtain more abundantly the fruits of Redemption.” The faculty, however, was, and still is, restricted to participation within this celebration except for the sick. Because of these restrictions it would appear that the Church’s mind on this matter would not favor multiple Communions on this day.

Finally: if a priest must celebrate more than one celebration of the Passion it is: “On account of the needs of the faithful.” Although he probably derives much spiritual profit from his dedication, his primary motivation is that of serving the faithful.

* * *

Follow-up: Prayer Over the People

Pursuant to our February 27 response regarding the Lenten prayers over the people, a Missouri reader asked: “You stated, ‘The deacon’s invitation to the people to bow the head for the blessing is also very ancient.’ I question whether the bow there is a bow of the head or a profound bow. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) No. 275b states that the deacon makes a profound bow before the priest when receiving the blessing to proclaim the Gospel, so it would seem to be the same for the assembly when they receive the final blessing from the priest at the end of Mass. Nowhere does the GIRM or missal specify that I have found. What do you think?”

The full text of GIRM 275 says:

“275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bow: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.

“a) A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.

“b) A bow of the body, that is to say, a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (With humble spirit); in the Creed at the words et incarnatus est (and by the Holy Spirit … and became man); in the Roman Canon at the Supplices te rogamus (In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God). The same kind of bow is made by the Deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the Priest bows slightly as he pronounces the words of the Lord at the Consecration.”

As mentioned by our reader, the GIRM does not specify the nature of the bow made by the faithful at this moment.

However, since the “bow of the head” mentioned in 275a is evidently a very brief bow lasting barely a couple of seconds, then the bow for the solemn blessing would fall naturally into the category of the profound bow. This would be like that of the deacon or that of the whole assembly during the creed.

At the same time, since nothing specific is determined, there is no particular standard as to how deep this bow should be, and each person can decide what constitutes the appropriate gesture at this moment.