From a reader:
It was announced during our school Mass today, by the associate here at the parish where I teach, that henceforth, whatever class has “planned” the school Mass each week will be invited to gather around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer and will remain until they have given the Sign of Peace to Father.
This is sloppy sentimentality. This crude attempt at being “meaningful” demeans both the Mass and everyone involved.
I don’t believe there is an explicit prohibition in any document against this. However, there are documents which describe who should be where.
For example, in GIRM 295 we read.
The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, where the word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices. It should suitably be marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation.
Lay people are not to be in the sanctuary unless they have a ministerial role. “Standing there” is not a role.
Furthermore, in the USA people are to kneel – not stand – from the Sanctus until after the Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Also, back in 1981 the Congregation for Divine Worships official publication Notitiae (No. 17 (1981) p. 61) responded to a question about this matter.
Query: At the presentation of gifts at a Mass with congregation, persons (lay or religious) bring to the altar the bread and wine which are to be consecrated. These gifts are received by the priest celebrant. All those participating in the Mass accompany this group procession in which the gifts are brought forward. They then stand around the altar until communion time. Is this procedure in conformity with the spirit of the law and of the Roman Missal?
Reply: Assuredly, the Eucharistic celebration is the act of the entire community, carried out by all the members of the liturgical assembly. Nevertheless, everyone must have and also must observe his or her own place and proper role: ‘In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy’ (SC 28). During the liturgy of the Eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the ‘presbyterium,’ which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers.
While this does not say explicitly that that people with no ministerial role mustn’t stand around the altar, it is pretty clear that that is the meaning of the response.
Furthermore, at no point is there an indication in the rite for the priest or anyone else to invite people to come into the sanctuary and stand (against the Church’s clear direction during the Eucharistic prayer) near the altar.
Moreover, the Ceremonial of Bishops 50 states,
“A minister who is not wearing a vestment, a cassock or surplice, or other lawfully approved garb may not enter the sanctuary during a celebration.”
The priest who has this in mind should be dissuaded from starting this, perhaps over a couple mugs of rich and aromatic Mystic Monk Coffee. If he will not be dissuaded, then he should be compelled, either his superior if he is a religious and/or by the local diocesan bishop, whose task it is make sure that the Church’s liturgical directives are followed. One could also explain the situation to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and ask for advice.