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An Alb Alone; Delayed Penance. And More on Deacons as Readers and Servers
ROME, JAN. 24, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: 1) Can a priest celebrating a private Mass in a chapel wear simply an alb with a stole on the ground of convenience and nothing more?

2) When does it become sinful for a penitent who has gone to confession to delay his penance (satisfaction) given to him or her by a priest after the confession? Does this prevent him/her from receiving holy Communion in the Mass which comes up before the penance is begun or completed? -- A.E., Onitsha, Nigeria

A: The answer to the first question is relatively simple: no.

Except in those few cases where the Holy See has granted a special dispensation from using the chasuble, it must be used by a single celebrant in all celebrations, or by at least the principal celebrant in concelebrations.

As "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 123, states: "The vestment proper to the Priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole. Likewise the Priest, in putting on the chasuble according to the rubrics, is not to omit the stole. All Ordinaries should be vigilant in order that all usage to the contrary be eradicated."

The second question requires some nuance.

It is necessary to recall that accepting the penance is one of the essential acts of the penitent. And thus is necessary for the validity of the confession itself.

It is one thing to accept the fulfillment of the penance and another to actually fulfill it. The state of grace is restored immediately on receiving absolution and a delay in fulfilling the penance does not affect this. Subsequent failure to fulfill the penance, however, can be sinful if due to neglect.

From this principle a person may receive the Eucharist and the other sacraments immediately after confession even if, for some good reason, they have not yet been able to fulfill the penance.

In principle, one should complete the penance as soon as possible, preferably before leaving the church after making one's confession.

On some occasions, however, the nature of the penance itself implies some delay or is spread out over time. If the sin has merited a more severe penance -- such as praying the 20 mysteries of the rosary, visiting a specific sanctuary, or a day of fasting -- then clearly they must be carried out later, albeit within a reasonable time.

At times external circumstances may arise which limits fulfilling a penance in the short term. If, for example, after accepting a penance to visit a certain place, or fast for some time, a person develops a condition impeding the penance, then he does not fall into any sin.

If a person has not fulfilled a penance due to neglect, laziness or forgetfulness, then this fact must be confessed in a subsequent confession. It is not necessary to confess the non-fulfillment of a penance which has been delayed but which one has the intention of fulfilling as soon as practically feasible.

On the other hand, if unforeseen circumstances have made fulfillment of a previously accepted penance excessively burdensome, the penitent may explain the difficulty to either the same or another confessor, who may substitute the original penance for another one which is possible to fulfill.

In the same way, if, at the moment of confession, a priest were to impose a penance which a person would find impossible to fulfill -- for example, fasting to a person suffering from diabetes -- then the person should explain the circumstances so that the priest may change his mind.
* * *

Follow-up: Using Deacons as Readers and Servers

Some readers commented on our column regarding deacons serving as lectors (Jan. 10). A Texas reader mentioned that it was a legitimate practice before the liturgical reforms.

"In the older form of the Roman rite," the reader wrote, "the priest reads the epistle and Gospel by himself at low Mass. Priests can act as deacons and subdeacons; deacons can act as subdeacons at high Mass. A cleric of high order can always act liturgically in a role normally reserved for a cleric of lower order.. In the uneducated mind of this layman, it seems that this kind of adaptation can be tolerated, both by church law and in practice, in the seminary setting without too much fuss."

(The order of subdiaconate, by the way, was abolished by Pope Paul VI for the present Roman rite; it had functions similar to those of the present instituted acolyte.)

I would say that while there is no specific law that would forbid a priest or deacon from acting as a lector or acolyte if necessary, it would certainly be against the spirit of the present liturgy for him to serve in this capacity if someone who could carry out these duties was available.

A further difference in past and present law is that while present law foresees, for example, that a concelebrating priest may carry out the deacon's functions, or proclaim the Gospel even if not concelebrating, in no case does he ever wear the deacon's vestment, the dalmatic. In the former liturgy, priests serving as subdeacons and deacons would wear the subdeacon's tunic and the dalmatic.

While it is true, as our reader observed, that "active participation" is above all a spiritual and internal act, it is likewise true that present liturgical norms rightly stress that this inner participation is fostered if the celebration truly manifests the whole body of the Church in her different orders and ministries.

The liturgical celebration in the seminary, rather than an exception, should really be the paradigm for celebration in the diocese. It should teach the seminarians how to "actively participate" both internally and externally in exercising, first of all the royal or common priesthood of all the faithful, and then the different ministries and the degrees of orders.

A seminarian who has not learned how to exercise his royal priesthood while still a layman will have difficulty in fully appreciating the exercise of the sacrament of orders and in inculcating true active participation in the faithful under his care.

A couple of other questions from readers addressed related topics.

One correspondent asked: "Is it proper that a lay reader also be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion if there is another reader or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion also available?"

While it is preferable, although not obligatory, that the reader be distinct from the acolyte, there is no incompatibility between reader and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

Indeed, if the reader were also an instituted lector, he enjoys a certain precedence in serving as an extraordinary minister over someone who is not an instituted minister.

In the same manner, if an instituted acolyte serves Mass, he has precedence over any other extraordinary minister, provided of course, that an extraordinary minister is really necessary.

Finally, a San Antonio, Texas, reader asked: "There seems to be a lot of confusion as to when a permanent deacon should wear the dalmatic and whether the stole is worn inside or outside of the dalmatic. Some pastors won't allow the stole to be worn on the outside so as to not confuse them for priest."

Confusion indeed! By the way, there is no difference, with respect to liturgical vestments, between the permanent and the transitional deacon. The dalmatic is the recommended vestment for both.

The deacon's stole is always worn underneath the dalmatic.

This norm, however, also applies to the priest who should wear the stole under the chasuble. The usage of wearing the stole over the chasuble is a fad that seems to be slowing losing ground to traditional practice as well as benefiting good taste and decorum.

Liturgical tradition elucidates this point by saying that the stole, as a symbol of priestly authority, should always be covered by the chasuble, the symbol of priestly charity.